Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Will power is back in style - for three months, maybe? - Denyse O’Leary

A review of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Baumeister and Tierney begin by telling us that they “think that research into willpower and self-control is psychology’s best hope for contributing to human welfare. Willpower lets us change ourselves and our society in small and large ways.” One quells a nagging doubt: Who said Stalin and Hitler didn’t have willpower? Was that progress?

The book starts off promising. Baumeister is an experimental psychologist who, earlier in his career, bought into dominant 1990s fads. It later began to trouble him that most psychologists not only denied that willpower existed, but considered it would be a bad thing if it did exist. They associated self-control with oppressive Victorian culture.

Trouble was, as he recounts, their substitute virtue - self-esteem - was everywhere a flop. It produced a generation that felt very good about very minor achievements. Meanwhile, he noticed that, in lab experiments, people routinely exercised self-control - or didn’t. Thus evidence contradicted theory. Not only that, but when research subjects were followed up later, those who showed self-control, even as small children, achieved significantly more. So despite colleagues’ skepticism, he decided to study willpower and self-control, and the result is this book on how to maximize it.


1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Very interesting subject, Denyse. Thanks for raising it. Hmm, Amazon reviews and discussion / response comments are quite diverse. What you reflect here is helpful, though.

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