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How to test your willpower even though you don't need it

Willpower is useless. Exercising willpower will exhaust you and this week we're going to prove that you don't need it anyway.

Here's your task. If you're not a chocoholic like me you can substitute this for cream buns, cheese platters or sausages - whatever does it for you in the kitchen.

For the next two days:

Place an opened box of chocolates in full view of the household (count the contents first)

Ask everyone to eat as few as they can manage

Count the total amount eaten over the two day period.

For the following two days:

Place an opened box of chocolates in in the highest cupboard in the house, one you'll need a stool to get to.

Ask everyone to eat as few as they can manage

Count the total amount eaten over the two day period.

Your willpower testers can't remove the box from its place or take more than one chocolate at a time.

Did you find it harder to leave the chocolates alone during the first two days when they were in full view?

I bet it was easier when you'd hidden them away.

Over the last few decades there have been numerous studies into willpower. The most famous may be the Marshmallow tests which theorised that the ability to defer gratification in early years led to happier and more successful outcomes in later life. This was tested by asking kids to choose between one marshmallow right now or two after an indeterminate wait. Mischel and his team studied the kids' happiness and success in later life and found correlation between the ability to delay gratification and later success. These tests have been since redone with varying results, mostly indicating that the children of more affluent parents tended to be able to hold out for longer.

Other researchers maintain that using willpower can exhaust you. It's called ego depletion and here's a description. "This is the intuitive idea that self control or willpower is a limited resource, such that the more you use up in one situation, the less you have left over to deploy in another. It makes sense of the everyday experience of when you come home after a hard day at the office, abandon all constructive plans, and instead binge on snacks in front of the TV." Ref: The British Psychologial Society. Since then, many other studies have negated the ego depletion theory.

The Marshmallow theory would have you believe that your willpower is somehow set at birth and the ego depletion theory suggests that your willpower will run out, however both have been negated but we still seem to cling onto willpower as the final bastion of change making success.

It's not. Willpower is not the act of saying no to the chocolates in full view and it's irrelevant whether either theory is correct or not. You're well trained over years of chocolate eating to go for the chocolate. In the words of Jon Burras, "Willpower is attempting to place a "No" on top of a well-ingrained "Yes."

Here are ways to use your "willpower" that will be more effective. They're nothing more than planning and preparation, you don't need to be born with or enhance skills of any kind to achieve them:

Walk past the chocolates in the supermarket aisle (walk past the whole aisle if need be!),

Refuse to open the gift sweeties in front of the telly,

Regift foodie presents you know you'll regret eating,

Save the really good chocolates for special occasions by keeping them wrapped and out of sight.

Tell me how you got on at the Making Change Stick Facebook group.

Enjoy Good Health!

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