The weirdest thing about the research on willpower is this phenomena that when we start consciously working on one thing that takes self-discipline, we also tend to start improving our lives in other areas as well. When researchers ask college students to attend to one area of their lives—trying to improve their posture throughout the day, for example, or to attend to their finances for a few weeks—they end up doing other things that might end up on a New Year’s Resolution list, too, like watching less TV, working out more, and improving their eating habits.
We can’t consciously pursue too many goals at once, or goals that are too ambitious at the outset, because our willpower muscle isn’t strong enough yet. But strengthening our willpower eventually works wonders on the things that we aren’t consciously focusing on, too.
One last thing: if you feel you and your kids have willpower fatigue—you’ve used up your stores for the day—find a way to laugh. Research shows that it improves your mood and in so doing restores your willpower reserves.
Christine Carter, Ph.D.