Your Willpower Won’t Last Forever – Instead Try This

Philosophy Isn’t a Real Science

As a preface this will be a ‘get started’ blog post. Though these posts are intended to be read in any order, this particular post is incredibly important for those that want to understand some of the other topics that we will be evaluating later.

It will be combining perspectives from many disciplines, and touch on themes you will surely see over and over again. I acknowledge that some people will read philosophy and think “that’s not science, why would I read that this is a waste of time.” I completely understand, in fact I have had the same thoughts before.

However, it is important to acknowledge that philosophical differences drive alternate camps of thought. For example:

  • Would an AI that has become self aware be conscious?
  • When are we truly alive?
  • At what point is a human sentient, at what point would another animal reach sentience?
  • When are we no longer cognizant?
  • Imagine if someone is in a coma, are they aware of their surroundings?

These are questions, no matter what your opinion on them is, that spark philosophical debates and create different perspectives of thinking.

So please be aware of this when reading this article. Realize that there may be differing opinions and everyone is welcome to express them. In fact I encourage safe and constructive conversations in the comments. Feel free to express your thoughts there and exchange your knowledge with others. However, also come with an open mind and you may be surprised what you will learn.

Values and Beliefs Trump Willpower

Everyone has had to white knuckle through something before. This is a mere part of life. This pure determined grit that carries you through the worst of times or the most unpleasant of experiences is called willpower. We all have it. Sure sometimes we have more willpower during certain situations, but it is there, in all of us.

Willpower though is a finite research. Much like sprinting. We can run as fast as we can to escape a threat, but once that adrenaline runs out, and that lactic acid builds in our muscles we can not run any longer. Willpower will run out at one point or another.

So rather than willing yourself through all of the hard work of self improvement, difficult tasks, and whatever else life throws at you, try setting up values and beliefs that can automate this. It is a lot easier to do something because you hold that belief near and dear to your heart. You feel empowered to make that sacrifice and decision. I understand this sounds a bit non-tangential.

In this post we will dive into motivation, values, beliefs. How we can use them to inform our decision making. Automate some of our actions. Along with implementing them in our thoughts, actions, and behaviors. As you will see this blog is about using techniques, that when coupled together, improve lifestyle creation and automate difficult decisions.

As the title says. You can not will yourself through everything. You need something else to motivate you. If you can attribute these difficult decisions to say, being physically healthy is a core principle of mine, then going to work out everyday aligns with this belief and your mind finds it easier.

For those of you interested there are biological underpinning that support this biochemical exchange of belief alignment and congruency of behaviors (Sathyanarayana Rao, 2009).

With this short disclaimer out of the way let’s get into the article.

Crash Course

Don’t have the time to read right now, and need the main points, no problem here they are!

  1. Values and Beliefs are at the core of all our actions, knowing what your values and beliefs are will help you plan and implement motivation and energy toward your goals.
  2. Tapping into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation so that you can pair an action with a value can be incredibly powerful.
  3. Ensuring that a goal aligns with a value is incredibly important, if it doesn’t then learning to integrate the two will create more impactful change.

Feel free to read the article later for more details along with links to other articles and materials to help you implement this knowledge.

Getting Philosophical

What gets you out of bed every morning? Is it a desire to get a workout in the morning? Is it because the children need to get to school? Perhaps it is because you have to go to class. Whatever the reason is, you have something that serves as motivation to get out of bed. This motivation is driven by all of our values, beliefs, and morals.

For example, why is it that you are reading this blog? Do you want to improve your physical health? Do you want to learn how your brain effectively attains new skills and knowledge? Is your diet off balance and you want to get it back on track? Are you curious and want to explore new skills and techniques that you could apply in your life?

Everyone of those motivations has a value that is rooted within it. These core values drive our motivation, our motivation dictates our behavior and decision making. This seems a bit meta and philosophical but it is important to understand the reasoning behind why you behave in the manner that you do. Once you figure out your values you can plan more effectively, make more intentional decisions, and track your progress adequately.

What Science Says

Values and Beliefs Research

Let’s look at some scientific literature and see what they have to say about values and beliefs. A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Youth Studies found that Generation X (defined as the class of 1985 from High School) and Generation Y (class of 1996) had quite different values and beliefs.

Generation X and Y both saw an increase in their value put on intrinsic work over the course of the study. However Generation Y saw an increase in extrinsic work values as well.

Let’s pause a moment and quickly define intrinsic and extrinsic values. An intrinsic value is something that has innate worth. This could be anything that has value in and of itself, your health or your personality, for example have intrinsic value to YOU. An Extrinsic value could be something like social status, or your income, these don’t innately have worth but we assign a value to them.

Intrinsic MotivationExtrinsic Motivation
Finding value and worth inherently in the action or behavior that you are doing. Finding value or worth in the outcome/reward that comes from an action or behavior.
I love playing video games!I love to win video game matches!
I am feeling stronger with every workout!I hit a new PR today on bench!

Over only one generation a substantial difference in the worth that people put on intrinsic versus extrinsic values was observed. The study shows that values and beliefs can vary by age, even over just the course of 10 years. This may lead to profound differences in behaviors as their core values are shifted.

Though it wasn’t followed in the study, long term impacts of this I am sure were also substantially different. Someone that valued money more probably is at a higher paying corporate job. Versus someone that valued being helpful, is now a doctor. These are generalizations but you can see the point.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

In addition to this line of research there is extensive literature in the field of psychology and economics that looks further at this idea of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

There are different situations when both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may have a role in our lives, and what is intrinsically motivating for one person is not necessarily so for another. That is why it is important for someone to understand themselves and do some self reflection to determine what their values dictate. 

It is important to acknowledge the impact that our values and beliefs have on our actions and how they drive our motivations. It is equally important for someone to acknowledge how this impacts others behaviors. Equipped with this knowledge you will hopefully find it easier to discern where to start your journey on improving your health, wellness, education, career, and life.

Conclusion

The concepts in this article are just scraping the surface. There is a world of research in multiple disciplines that explores more of the science and data behind values, beliefs, and motivation.

In future posts we will dive deeper into some of these concepts but for now this is enough to help get people started and provide a sufficient foundation to allow people to get started on their science-backed self improvement journey.

Know that when setting up a goal you need to have it align with your values and beliefs in some way. If it doesn’t employ your values you will have no motivation to complete it. If you hate a desk job but want to become rich then there needs to be way that you string the steps to achieve that goal with your values and what you enjoy. Working 9 to 5 in a cubical till you are rich is not feasible in this situation.

Effectively learning your values and getting practice with employing different forms of motivation are a great way to start. As a final note there is not predetermined list of values or beliefs scientifically proven to be present in human society. This will require you exploring what is important to you.

As always feel free to comment, ask questions, provide constructive feedback, and of course suggest new topics to cover in the future. This is intended for you guys so I want to be as beneficial as possible. When we learn together, we learn better. Explore our other articles, topics, and materials on the website. Until next time, stay curious!

Quote to Live by

Carpe diem “Seize the day”

References

Ahmed, W., Minnaert, A., van der Werf, G. et al. Perceived Social Support and Early Adolescents’ Achievement: The Mediational Roles of Motivational Beliefs and Emotions. J Youth Adolescence 39, 36 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-008-9367-7

Harvey J. Krahn & Nancy L. Galambos (2014) Work values and beliefs of ‘Generation X’ and ‘Generation Y’, Journal of Youth Studies, 17:1, 92-112, DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2013.815701

Sathyanarayana Rao, T S et al. “The biochemistry of belief.” Indian journal of psychiatry vol. 51,4 (2009): 239-41. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.58285

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