Tag Archives: willpower

Revising the Resolution

ImageIt has been too long since I wrote. So long, in fact, that I actually am disappointed in myself. This morning I made a mental note that I had to at least write something today, so here it is:

I started my first week of winter quarter, and of course one of my resolutions for the new year is to get straight A’s this quarter. Even the look on my Mom’s face seeing that report card would be satisfying enough. The class I’m most excited for thus far is Journalism Writing. I went in expecting this class to be an introduction to reporting, but it is actually part of an interdisciplinary collaboration with a Photojournalism class and a Sociology class. The final project among the three groups will be a published portfolio with the theme of “Justice” with writing and photography laid out in an aesthetically outstanding way, with each class focusing on their own specialty. Pretty cool, I think. Plus, it has been quite a while since I’ve taken a class that is not science-related, so it should be a breath of fresh air.

I recently read an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal by Jonah Lehrer on the science behind failed resolutions. He states that willpower is a rare limited resource, and that 88% of resolutions fail according to a 2007 study of over 3,000 people. The prefrontal cortex of our brain is the area largely responsible for willpower, among other functions such as focus, short-term memory, and abstract problem solving.

In an experiment at Stanford University, several dozen undergraduate students were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember and the other group was given a seven-digit number. They were instructed to walk down the hall, after which they were given two different snack options: chocolate cake or fruit salad.

The results show that students given the seven-digit number were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as the two-digit students. The reason, according to Stanford researchers, is that the extra digits filled space in the brain, making it harder for the prefrontal cortex to keep its willpower. Thus, the students are more likely to indulge. “In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.” A brain pre-occupied with problems resists what we want our willpower to do for us. Even moderation must be done in moderation.

So I am now going to alter my resolution. I do not want straight A’s; rather, I want to strengthen my study skills and spend more time focusing on school work rather than on doing nothing like I normally do between classes. I am going to be active and make good usage of my time during the day. What is your resolution?