Tag Archives: Roy Baumeister

You convinced yourself in advance: willpower and predetermined conculsions

During spring break, I’ve been reading Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (Penguin, 2011).

Baumeister, a psychologist, and Tierney, a New York Times science writer, argue that willpower (a) really exists, (b) predicts success, and (c) depletes with use, whether it’s being used to resist temptation or accomplish ordinary tasks.

They cite a study in which researchers suggest fighting spouses should come home early from work, while they still have reserves of willpower, so they can avoid conflict caused by long hours of disciplined labor.

The below excerpt from the book is particularly loaded and interesting, for reasons that regular readers of this blog should understand. First, two introductory thoughts:

Christian tradition has long held, “we believe in order to know.”

It turns out “we believe in order to do,” too.

People often conserve their willpower by seeking not the fullest or best answer but rather a predetermined conclusion. Theologians and believers filter the world to remain consistent with the nonnegotiable principles of their faith. The best salesmen often succeed by first deceiving themselves. Bankers packaging subprime loans convinced themselves that there was no problem giving mortgages to the class of unverified borrows classified as NINA, as in “no income, no assets.” Tiger Woods convinced himself that the rules of monogamy didn’t apply to him — and that somehow nobody would notice the dalliances of the world’s most famous athlete.

Baumeister and Tierney, Willpower

The good news about human willpower: a new book by John Tierney

Human willpower doesn’t have the best relationship with Christianity. Human will has been described as rebellion against God, and pastors throughout history have spoken of willpower’s inadequacy for obtaining salvation.

All that is true enough in Christian theology. However, much of what’s expected of me on a daily basis — care for my own health, care for my family, care for the necessary material blessings of this life, care for the duties of my job — require a willpower available to all people at all times through common grace. 

In this video interview with Reason magazine, New York Times science columnist John Tierney talks about the recently released book he wrote with psychologist Roy Baumeister (Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength). Tierney talks about changes in the self-help movement in recent decades and goes on to say that a child’s achievement later in life can be predicted based on his or her demonstrated — or parentally developed — willpower.  

Perhaps we could say the problem is not willpower, but what we hope and expect to accomplish with it.

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