Perceived Complexity and Will Power

While will­power and ded­ic­a­tion mat­ter con­sid­er­ably in sus­tain­ing a res­ol­u­tion and reach­ing a desired goal, the per­ceived com­plex­ity of the pro­cess can have a big influ­ence on wheth­er we are likely to achieve that goal or not.

This con­clu­sion comes from a study show­ing how the sub­ject­ive “cog­nit­ive com­plex­ity” of a diet was a major factor in wheth­er people suc­cess­fully man­aged to stick to a diet.

“For people on a more com­plex diet […] their sub­ject­ive impres­sion of the dif­fi­culty of the diet can lead them to give up on it,” repor­ted Peter Todd, pro­fess­or in IU’s Depart­ment of Psy­cho­lo­gic­al and Brain Sci­ences.

[…] This effect holds even after con­trolling for the influ­ence of import­ant social-cog­nit­ive factors includ­ing self-effic­acy, the belief that one is cap­able of achiev­ing a goal like stick­ing to a diet regi­men to con­trol one’s weight.

“Even if you believe you can suc­ceed, think­ing that the diet is cog­nit­ively com­plex can under­mine your efforts.”

This agrees with the con­clu­sions drawn from sep­ar­ate research show­ing how some simple tricks to mak­ing suc­cess­ful res­ol­u­tions include redu­cing our “cog­nit­ive load” and accept­ing the lim­it­a­tions of will­power.

Will­power, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely lim­ited men­tal resource.

Giv­en its lim­it­a­tions, New Year’s res­ol­u­tions are exactly the wrong way to change our beha­vi­or. […] Instead, we should respect the feeble­ness of self-con­trol, and spread our res­ol­u­tions out over the entire year. […] A tired brain, pre­oc­cu­pied with its prob­lems, is going to struggle to res­ist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.