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How Willpower Works

RELEASED February 8, 2013
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Episode Summary
You use it every day to overcome your lower self (which wants you to eat cake until your vision blurs) in pursuit of the goals of your higher self (which wants you to not develop Type-II diabetes). Yet it was only in the 1990s that researchers began to understand what makes our willpower and how it behaves.

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Female Speaker:   Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

 

Josh Clark:       Hey, Dude –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark:       – before we get started let’s plug our TV show.  The first block comes on this Saturday, February 9 at noon on Science Channel.

 

Chuck Bryant:     That’s right.  We had a time change, so if you’re looking for it on Saturday nights we are now showing this in marathon mainline style.

 

Josh Clark:       Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Like I like to watch TV personally.

 

Josh Clark:       Exactly.  And you’re free to go out on Saturday nights again.  You can spend your Saturday afternoon with us.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yep.

 

Josh Clark:       Just get totally sloppy somehow, you know on potato chips or whatever and then go out Saturday night all pumped up on SYSK.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  So we got what?  February 23 –

 

Josh Clark:       February 9.

 

Chuck Bryant:     February 9, February 23 and March 9.

 

Josh Clark:       Right.  All beginning at noon.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yep.  You can see all of the episodes.  I think there are a couple of new ones at a time and then some reruns – what we like to call classics.

 

Josh Clark:       That’s right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And then on the final date you’re gonna see the lost pilot episode –

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – which we’re kind of knocked out that they’re gonna air that.  That’s awesome.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.  It’s up there – you can see Chuck as a zombie.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  Our clunky little – what do you call that when you’re in a band and you make a –

 

Josh Clark:       A demo?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah, this is our demo.

 

Josh Clark:       A demo, yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     We’re releasing a demo.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.  It doesn’t even – we didn’t even go to the trouble of putting a CD label or label on it, we used like a Sharpie.

 

Chuck Bryant:     That’s right.

 

Josh Clark:       That’s what our demo looks like, so –

 

Chuck Bryant:     So you can also find the show on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Instant.  If you do not live in the United States we hear you and we are really working hard to try and get this available –

 

Josh Clark:       Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – on iTunes all over the world.  But in the U.S., at least for now you can get the first episode for free on iTunes.

 

Josh Clark:       That’s right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And just set your DVRs folks, if you do that, which I do.  Set the old season’s pass –

 

Josh Clark:       Yep.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – it’ll find the shows and then watch and enjoy.  Laugh.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.  And in the meantime we do a neat behind-the-scenes clip show.  We’ll pick a scene from each episode –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark:       – and then you and I talk about it and give a little, you know backstage tour of what was going on, right?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yep.  Bloopers and outtakes –

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – at stuffyoushouldknow.com.

 

Josh Clark:       Stuffyoushouldknow.com.  What’s that website?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Stuffyoushouldknow.com.

 

Josh Clark:       That’s right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     All right.  Cool.

 

Josh Clark:       Join us.  We are on TV.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Now, can we get to the real learning?

 

Josh Clark:       Yes.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Okay.  Great.

 

Josh Clark:       Hey, and welcome to the pod cast.  I’m Josh Clark and sitting across from me putting on his Love Your Mama lip balm – what flavor is that?

 

Chuck Bryant:     That is almond actually.  It’s yummy.  Look at that, a plug right out of the gate.

 

Josh Clark:       This is Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Hello.

 

Josh Clark:       Those are nice lips you got there, man.  Wow.

 

Chuck Bryant:     They’re now moistified.

 

Josh Clark:       Like moist bologna.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yep.

 

Josh Clark:       All right, well the two of us get together as we are right now and you have yourself Stuff You Should Know, the podcast.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Nope.  This is the podcast, it ain’t going nowhere; it ain’t gonna change.  Don’t worry folks.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Same as it ever was.  If you love the TV show, we thank you.  If you don’t like it, hang out with us here online.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.  Not to be confused with our online presence – our website – our new website, the home of Chuck and Josh –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark:       – stuffyoushouldknow.com.

 

Chuck Bryant:     This is pretty cool.  I don’t mind saying words about this because we got a new website and it’s like – it’s awesome.  It’s got video and blogs and photos and –

 

Josh Clark:       It’s like –

 

Chuck Bryant:     – all sorts of cool stuff.

 

Josh Clark:       – it’s us, it’s our house on the web.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark:       It’s really cool.  I mean stuffyoushouldknow.com, it’s our website.  Mind blowing.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Five years in the making.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.  So and then not to be confused with our Twitter handle, SYSK podcast, not to be confused with our Facebook page, facebook.com/stuffyoushouldknow.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Boy, you’re front-loading this one.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.  All right.  All that’s out of the way, right?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yes.

 

Josh Clark:       So Chuck, you doing good?  You feeling well?

 

Chuck Bryant:     I’m not feeling great, but you know.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  You ready to be done?

 

Chuck Bryant:     No.  I’m ready to talk about willpower though because it is a topic that I struggle with, as do most people I think.

 

Josh Clark: So you struggle with the topic or you struggle with willpower?

 

Chuck Bryant:     I think everybody struggles with willpower.

 

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah.  Well as a matter of fact I think you’re absolutely right.  There is a very famous guy named Plato, famous Greek philosopher.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Play-Doh.

 

Josh Clark: Plato – oh, Plato.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yes.  Not Play-Doh.

 

Josh Clark: Right.  And Plato decided – well suggested that the entire human experience, the sum of human existence could be basically nailed down with just this.  You have a higher self and a lower self.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And your purpose for living is to overcome the usually more powerful urges of the lower self in order to fulfill the goals of the higher self.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I am down with that 100%.

 

Josh Clark: It makes utter and complete sense, you know.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I don’t know about the reason for living, but the struggle – man’s struggle, or at least –

 

Josh Clark: Okay.  Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: Like that’s – if you were born, you’re going to face that.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: But you’re going to face it varying degrees because as we found, willpower, which is what you use to get over your lower urges and pursue your higher goals, it comes in differing amounts for differing people – different people.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  And Robert Lamb wrote the original article, From House to Forks –

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – from Stuff to Blow Your Mind.  And he points out that we’re at odds with our own nature as we have evolved here on the planet because, you know we craved sugary sweet things because sugar gave us lots of energy back in the day.  And back in the day they didn’t have Little Debbie cakes within hands reach at all times.

 

Josh Clark: Right.  Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     So we’re sort of at odds with ourselves.  And he points out sexually as well, we evolved to spread the seed and procreate as much as possible to ensure the survival of the species.

 

Josh Clark: Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And nowadays you can’t really do that stuff, or if you do you’re a philanderer or a jerk or you’re spreading disease, and –

 

Josh Clark: Right.  You’re a public health nuisance.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  So we’re at odds with ourselves with our very existence.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  And not only internally, but you make the point as a society as well.  I mean society and evolution tussle.  So you can make the case that society represents our higher self and, you know our basic instincts that we’ve evolved to –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – our lower selves.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: So that’s what’s going on.  And it’s willpower – willpower that will get us over the bumps that come along in life inevitably.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  And I think most people relate willpower to things like eating or going to the gym or indulging in sexual proclivities and things like that, but I think it’s broader than that in general.  I think it’s the will to – like Plato said, to strive to I guess do the right thing –

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – by yourself, by others, by society at large.

 

Josh Clark: Right.  And I guess also how often you come up against that – how often you have to exercise willpower because you just hit it on the head.  Willpower is the act of making a decision.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: You’re deciding to do something or not to do something.  How often you do that does depend on how you define the world around you.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: Like are these things – you know are you surrounded by temptations that you have to ward off all the time and you’re paying attention to it and they’re always closing in?  If you’re like that, then you’re going to exercise your willpower a lot.  If you don’t see the world as a temptation, you give in to them all the time you’re not going to.  If you look at the world as something that you can handle, you’re probably not going to have to exercise your willpower too much then either.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: But it’s all – they’re all – those are three different ways of living and they all are I guess described by willpower and how you use it.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  It’s a good point.  Robert makes a point that is backed up somewhat by science – or actually completely by science.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And he puts it in terms of a video game, which makes sense.  That if you were a video game and you have a willpower meter, that that willpower meter is replenished and depleted on a daily – probably hourly basis.  And the more you use your willpower and say you know what I’m not gonna have that Little Debbie cake, your little willpower meter goes down and it depletes itself.  So you’re not gonna have as much willpower maybe for the next decision.

 

Josh Clark: Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     It’s really interesting.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  That’s pretty new – our understanding of willpower like that is very new.  The first guy to really kind of put it out like that was Freud and he basically said we have this thing called willpower, we have an ego.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: That’s what the Freudians associate with willpower is the ego.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Sure.

 

Josh Clark: And your ego is this finite thing, it has a finite energy reserve.  It uses energy –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – and therefore it can be sapped.  And then Freud fell out of fashion and everybody just kind of stopped looking at willpower that way.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And it wasn’t until 1996 when a Florida State University psychologist named Roy Baumeister.

 

Chuck Bryant:     The Baumer.

 

Josh Clark: He figured out through this test using chocolate and radishes I believe –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – that if you are staving off temptation using willpower you actually do terribly on like another test of willpower.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  They used persistence tests.  Basically puzzles that you have to just keep at and keep at.  It’s not something you could complete immediately.  And offered some people chocolate chip cookies and other chocolate treats of their liking and offered other people radishes instead, which is not a fair fight.

 

Josh Clark: No.  I mean he really stacked the deck.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Like maybe a radish – a shaved radish in a salad or something –

 

Josh Clark: Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – but if all you’re looking at is a plate of radish, then – you know, I would take the cookie.  So what he found out though is the people who ate the radishes had more trouble completing the test I guess because – I guess the idea is they’re using up all their willpower to not eat the cookie, so they don’t have time for the test –

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – the persistence.

 

Josh Clark: And there was also another kind of follow up study a few years after that by the University of Iowa professor with the greatest name of all of the faculty there, Baba Shiv.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And Dr. Shiv had basically tested willpower by saying this group’s going to remember a two-digit number –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – and this group’s gonna remember a seven-digit number, and then we’re gonna test their willpower by tempting them with chocolate cake.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Right.

 

Josh Clark: And Dr. Shiv found that the people who were using their working memory, their cognitive capacity to remember the seven-digit number had a harder time resisting.  So it basically proves that we use our working memory to resist temptation.  And I guess it’s something like reminding yourself –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – you know at the forefront of your mind not to do something, you know until the temptation passes.  Who knows.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  Maybe I had that cookie yesterday, so, man, I can’t eat it today.

 

Josh Clark: Or we use our working memory to remind ourselves of our long-term goals in the face of a short-term reward.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Well that’s one of the big keys I think.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And that’s something Robert hits on, which is I want that cookie now and I know bikini season’s coming up and you’ve seen me in a bikini, Josh, it’s not pretty.

 

Josh Clark: I will never get that out of my memory – working memory or otherwise.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yellow polka-dot bikini.  But that’s sort of what we’re at odds with is the short-term – I think humans as a group tend to enjoy the short-term pleasures, and if you truly learn to conquer that in lieu of long-term gain, that’s when you’re like – you’re winning as Charlie Sheen would say.

 

Josh Clark: Right.  Exactly.

 

Chuck Bryant:     You know?

 

Josh Clark: Although Charlie Sheen’s not exactly one who’s known to exercise the willpower.

 

Chuck Bryant:     No.

 

Josh Clark: You know?  That was a really odd person to tap for that, but –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Well I think that’s the opposite.  He thought winning was the short-term gain.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  I guess.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  And that is so dated.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah, it really is.

 

Chuck Bryant:     People like when did you guys record this.

 

Josh Clark: But it’s been – I think today might be the very day where you could get away with it.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Okay.

 

Josh Clark: So it was perfect.

 

Chuck Bryant:     All right.  Good.

 

Josh Clark: So from all these tests, like when Baumeister put his 1996 study, Ego Depletion, colon, Is the Active Self a Limited Resource? –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – it just basically kicked off this slew of follow up studies from Dr. Shiv and others.  And one of the things that they found was that you can kind of watch people exercise willpower on the old Wonder machine.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, yeah?

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  Using MRIs, they put people in and had them think about I guess a sweet or a health food –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, right.

 

Josh Clark: – and decide between them.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Is it Cal Tech?

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And they found that the ventral medial prefrontal cortex lights up when you’re making that decision – when you’re considering it, which made sense.  I think they kind of expected that.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: But they were also surprised to find that the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, which is located a little further back –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Sure.

 

Josh Clark: – that lit up as well.  And they think that that has to do with –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Well that lit up for the people who made the good decision only.

 

Josh Clark: Thank you.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Right.

 

Josh Clark: And they think that that’s maybe part of your – that’s part of the working memory where you’re like no, I can’t eat that because this –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – that’s tapping into that higher self-goal pursuit.  That’s the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Right.  You did a nice job there by the way.

 

Josh Clark: Thanks.

 

Chuck Bryant:     So the Baumer also went on to say that he compares the willpower, your own willpower to a muscle or something like a muscle.  And you can deplete it like he said, if you overwork your muscles you’re just gonna deplete your muscles and be worn out at the end of the day.  Or you can exercise that muscle in a healthy way and make it stronger in the long term.

 

Josh Clark: Right.  Do you do this?  After reading this I started to realize that I actually kind of exercise willpower all the time.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Well, you – I think you especially do.

 

Josh Clark: So like for example, I have a mail key that I use to go get the mail, right?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  Gotcha.

 

Josh Clark: And we keep it in our car.  And I had to go to the car and get the mail key and then go get the mail and it was cold out yesterday.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And then on the way back I could have just taken the mail key inside with me and taken it back to the car the next time I went to the car.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: Again, it was very cold.  But instead I walked up a flight of stairs, put the mail key into the car and then went back home.

 

Chuck Bryant:     So you’re – you’ve made that decision and you’ve struggled with it even in a minor way?

 

Josh Clark: Yes.  I did it specifically because there was no reason whatsoever for me to do that.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: Rationally and as far as commonsense went, there was no – there was no purpose to it.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: But by doing it I basically just exercised my willpower.  It was something I didn’t really want to do –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – but it wasn’t a big deal, but it was – I could – like doing that accumulates.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah, I think – I think you and I are really different in that way.  I see you as someone who actively works that muscle a lot on a daily basis and I don’t enough.  And not that I just have no willpower, but I don’t give decisions like that enough consideration.  Does that make sense?

 

Josh Clark: Completely.  Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I’ll just be like, yeah, I’ll just go upstairs and throw the key on the coffee table.

 

Josh Clark: Which a sane person kind of has that thought.  I think that puts you in the same camp.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah, but that that doesn’t ensure that I’m making good decisions for my life, you know.

 

Josh Clark: Well, you know – no..  But I mean I don’t think you’re making bad ones.  But it’s good to self-reflect, you know.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: I do kind of – it’s kind of fun, you know.

 

Chuck Bryant:     It’s like a game?

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  It’s like how ramrod straight can I stand, you know?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Right.

 

Josh Clark: That’s what I’m building toward.

 

Chuck Bryant:     So another thing Robert points out from the science side of things is – as far as giving in to the short-term in favor of the long-term is glucose plays a big part in that.  And I think they found a quick shot of sugar – I don’t think a whole lot – can sometimes stave off or build up that willpower reserve for the short-term.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  It’s like a – you were talking about how we have like a willpower bar –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – and every time we resist temptation it’s depleted a little more and more.  They found that a shot of glucose replenishes that willpower bar.

 

Chuck Bryant:     So is that in lieu of like hey, boy, I really want that cupcake, but let me have the juice box instead.

 

Josh Clark: That’s the irony of it is giving into that cupcake may help you exercise your willpower with other stuff further on.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Interesting.

 

Josh Clark: Isn’t that weird?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Okay.

 

Josh Clark: But, yeah, I mean if you had something healthier that would be the better choice, but the point is is like any kind of shot of glucose has been shown to re-up your willpower.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Gotcha.

 

Josh Clark: And this was very much pooh-poohed at first, this idea.  I think Baumeister – there’s this really great article by John Tierney in the New York Times Magazine.  It’s from the August before last, it’s called Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?  Our buddy, Chad, loves this.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, yeah.

 

Josh Clark: He like proselytized this article, remember?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, yeah, yeah.

 

Josh Clark: Okay.  This is the one.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Okay.

 

Josh Clark: So I strongly recommend everybody go read it, it’s a good one.  But in it it talks about Baumeister like thinking that, you know glucose has something to do with this.  And it was pooh-poohed at first because everybody knows the brain uses the same amount of energy pretty much all day long.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: So it didn’t make any sense.  Like if you’re ego depleted and you’re suffering from some sort of willpower fatigue but your brain’s still using the same amount of energy – those two don’t jive.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Right.

 

Josh Clark: Again with the MRI, what they found was somebody suffering from ego depletion – from willpower fatigue who took a shot of glucose or whatever –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – their brains lit up in areas that had to do with exercise and willpower.  So while your brain was using the same amount of energy, it was using it in different places when your willpower was fatigued, and that glucose basically was like spinach to Popeye for that part of your brain that’s charged with exercising willpower.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Interesting.

 

Josh Clark: Isn’t it?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  So what?  Do you carry around a pack of sugar with you at all times?

 

Josh Clark: I’m on so much sugar right now.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah?

 

Josh Clark: Also in that same article they talk about this kind of landmark study of an Israeli parole board.  And they found that if you were a parolee and you came to them after it had been a while since a break or lunch or breakfast, your chances of being paroled dropped by like 50 or 60%.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, if the parole board had not had breakfast?

 

Josh Clark: Yes.  Or, no, if you came to them like right after things got started after breakfast or after lunch –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Gotcha.

 

Josh Clark: – your chances of being paroled were like 50 to 60% greater than people who came to them for identical crimes –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – like a couple hours later.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I’m sure that makes the criminals of the world feel pretty great.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  Exactly.

 

Chuck Bryant:     It’s so arbitrary.

 

Josh Clark: And what they found is it’s not laziness, it’s not like physical fatigue –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – where like you can tell you’re tired.  What our brains do is they employ this strategy where you become risk adverse.  Like you don’t want to make a decision.  So you say you know what, I’m just gonna put this off.  You’re gonna go back to jail.  I’m not gonna grant your parole because that’s risky behavior to let you back out in the world and I’m just – I’ve made too many decisions today.  But you’re not thinking this, so you just say parole denied, and you have no idea why.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: It just makes sense to you at the time.  But if you had had some glucose that same instance you may be like well, yeah, I think you’re ready to come back out in society.

 

Chuck Bryant:     That reminds of the band RUSH –

 

Josh Clark: Yes.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – that we’ve talked about before.

 

Josh Clark: Of course.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I remember this from when I was a teenager.  You know the lyric – oh man, what song is it?  If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.

 

Josh Clark: Free Will.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, yeah.  That’s from that song, of course.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I think on the original album jacket it says, if you choose not to decide you cannot have made a choice.

 

Josh Clark: Is that right?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  My brother and I used to laugh that – I think Neil Peart actually wrote a lot of the lyrics back then –

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – that Geddy Lee just like, you know etched it out with a pencil.

 

Josh Clark: Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     But it’s the complete opposite meaning so it’s interesting that at some point RUSH I guess had maybe a band argument or something.

 

Josh Clark: I’m glad Geddy Lee won.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  You have made a choice.  No, you cannot have made a choice.

 

Josh Clark: Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Just shut up and play drums.  Your voice is weird.

 

Josh Clark: I remember hearing that the first time, I was like oh, man.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, yeah.  It blew me away.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  Free Will, I can’t believe I didn’t remember the name.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah, and you’re like I can’t think of the name of this song, but it’s about free will.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  Was it Red Barchetta?.

 

Josh Clark: All right.  Let’s see, Chuck.

 

Chuck Bryant:     What else we got?  Oh, I didn’t really fully get the Stanford psychologist, Walton and Dweck – and that is Dweck, it sounds like I’m saying direct wrong.  I didn’t fully get that, that they said that people who have willpower fatigue tend to slack off when they felt their resolve wavering, but then people who felt their resolve was limitless pressed on.  Like that just – I don’t get the point there.  It seems like a no-brainer.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  I think it is.  You may just be looking too deeply into it.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, maybe so.

 

Josh Clark: It’s like what I was talking about earlier at the beginning where like depending on how you see the world is like, like you have willpower so you can overcome any temptation.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, okay.

 

Josh Clark: You’re going to last longer on tests of willpower than somebody who is like oh, I’m feeling kind of weak today, you know –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Gotcha.

 

Josh Clark: – and then you’re just gonna give in.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Okay.  So it is pretty simple.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     All right.  I thought I was a dummy.

 

Josh Clark: Not only is it simple, I managed to make it more complex and talk about it at length.

 

Chuck Bryant:     They do know that people – generally there is some genetic component involved, like if your parents are super self-disciplined then you are more likely to turn out that way.

 

Josh Clark: Right.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I found that to be true from friends of mine whose parents were like super self-disciplined and their kids kind of turned out that way too.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah, but I wonder – and Robert makes the point in the article like is it genetic or epigenetic.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  I don't know.  Probably both.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah, I would think so.

 

Chuck Bryant:     That would be my guess.

 

Josh Clark: We just chose not to decide.

 

Chuck Bryant:     We could not have made a choice.  And then the old marshmallow experience, the Stanford – not the prison experiment, but the marshmallow experiment –

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     – from the 1960s.  A very famous one where they placed these – tortured these kids basically by placing a marshmallow in front of them and saying if you hold off on eating that marshmallow, in 15 minutes you will have two.  And of course not many of the kids could hold out.

 

Josh Clark: Sure.

 

Chuck Bryant:     But they found that the ones who did hold out for the second marshmallow went on in life to greater successes, at least if you count SAT scores as a measure of success.  210 points higher than the ones who chowed down on the marshmallow.  And the ones who ate the marshmallow, later on had struggles with relationships and stress and attention.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     So I wonder if that has anything to do with like, you know OCD.

 

Josh Clark: I wonder as well.  I wonder how much of our modern problems are really just crises of willpower.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: I wonder.  There was a follow up to that 60’s experiment – there’s been a bunch, but there was one at the University of Rochester that was carried out last year that found we are more willing to exercise willpower if we think that what we’re holding out for is actually going to happen.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: You know?

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And they did that by – this is hilarious – it’s funny, studies with kids are always – they’re so cruel and funny.  I mean not the really truly cruel ones –

 

Chuck Bryant:     No.  We’re not talking [inaudible] –

 

[Crosstalk]

 

Josh Clark: – but like any psychological study that has to do with kids –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – almost invariably has some cruel aspect to it, and this one was no exception.  Basically they said here’s the control group; here’s the experimental group.  And the control group, we want to give you some extra art supplies, let us go get them.  And they came back with some extra art supplies.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: The experimental group, they said hey, we’re gonna get you some more art supplies, we’ll be right back.  And they came back, they’re like we don’t have any more art supplies.  We know you were really excited, but sorry.  You’re gonna have to make do with that old red pen.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And then they tested them with the marshmallow experiment and found that the ones who had gotten the art supplies, the promise hadn’t been broken –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Sure.

 

Josh Clark: – they held out longer than the ones who had been lied to.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  They’re like screw that, you’re not bringing me two marshmallows.  I’m eating this marshmallow right now.

 

Josh Clark: Exactly.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I’m gonna kick you in the shin afterwards too.

 

Josh Clark: I’ll show you.  Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah, that’s not cruel on the level – what was that one, the one kid – remember that we talked about that was tested on?  Like kept in a closet?  No.

 

Josh Clark: No.  They tested fear conditioning and [inaudible] in the kid.  It was Little Albert.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, Little Albert.

 

Josh Clark: Where they like –

 

Chuck Bryant:     That’s right.

 

Josh Clark: – they would put a bunny in his lap and then bang on –

 

Chuck Bryant:     My God.

 

Josh Clark: – a bar of metal with a hammer and scare the bejesus out of him.

 

Chuck Bryant:     That’s right, and then there was this –

 

Josh Clark: And he came to like fear rabbits – like bunnies.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And there was a search for him, right?  And they eventually found him they thought – as an adult.

 

Josh Clark: I think so.  I don’t remember.  I wrote a blog post that –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – I’ll have to republish it or whatever because it’s been a while and I don’t remember.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: But yeah, they figured out who it was pretty much.

 

Chuck Bryant:     So this isn’t on that level?

 

Josh Clark: No, no, no.

 

Chuck Bryant:     This is just marshmallows.

 

Josh Clark: Yes it is.  So – oh, there was one other point I wanted to bring up that I thought was pretty interesting and horrible from that John Tierney article with decision fatigue with exercising willpower.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: It disproportionately affects the poor.  And they think that possibly now that poverty exists in a cycle because if you’re a poor person you have to exercise willpower.  You have to make more decisions than somebody who has more resources – more money.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: Like say you’re walking through the grocery store.  You know I want this soap and this food.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: If you’re poor you might have to say I want both, but I have to just buy one.  I don’t have enough for both so how much is it gonna be.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: And their willpower, their resources of willpower, of decision-making become fatigued a lot faster because they have to exercise it lot more.  And they don’t have the resources to get themselves out of poverty.

 

Chuck Bryant:     To indulge?

 

Josh Clark: Or to –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Oh, well, yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – like study or do more.  That they already have the deck stacked against them –

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: – resource wise, but then you throw in this idea of willpower possibly that makes it even more difficult.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  Boy, I never really thought about that.  That’s interesting.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  It’s pretty interesting stuff.  It makes you – it makes – you know you feel for them even more.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.  And it makes me feel bad when I say do I want the peanut butter ganache cupcake or the chocolate.  You know what, just go ahead and give me both, right.

 

Josh Clark: Exactly.  Well you can buy both and then just take one to somebody who’s struggling in the grocery store trying to figure out if they’re gonna buy soap or food.

 

Chuck Bryant:     That’s a good idea.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     You got anything else, man?

 

Josh Clark: No.  This is a good one.

 

Josh Clark:       Yeah.  I like willpower, it’s fun.  Go out and exercise it in little ways, it’s fun.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Or don’t.

 

Josh Clark:       Either that or strap a car battery to your inner thighs just for fun.  Okay, well if you want to learn more about willpower and read this good article by Robert Lamb, you can type in willpower in the search bar at howstuffworks.com and it will bring it up.  And I said search bar so it’s time for listener mail.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah, Josh.  Quickly before we do that we need to say a special thank you to a fan of ours who helped us out with our Wikipedia page.

 

Josh Clark: Oh, nice.  Thank you.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And he was very cool and his name – and he’s been mentioned on [inaudible] evidently too.

 

Josh Clark: Oh, wow.  This guy’s a star.

 

Chuck Bryant:     We’re not gonna hold that against him.  And this is how his name is spelled, A-n-t-r-i-k-s-h, Yadav, Y-a-d-a-v.  And he says you pronounce In-triksh, the t is soft though as in math.  So Antriksh – Antriksh?

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  There you go.

 

Chuck Bryant:     He phonetically spelled it out, he told me what it sounded like and I still can’t quite do it.  So we just wanna say thanks a lot for helping us with the Wikipedia page.

 

Josh Clark: Nice.

 

Chuck Bryant:     And now a listener mail that I’m gonna call SYSK can help you get ladies.  This is from Todd in Oklahoma City.

 

Josh Clark: Okay.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Guys and Jerry, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may owe you a big thank you.  Your podcast has created the impression, whether fiction or reality, that I am somehow a guy who knows about stuff with the ladies.  My new girlfriend in fact mentions as one of my winning traits that I am often saying interesting things.  And this really interested me so I asked her for some examples of things that I say.  And it was notable that every example that she cited was something that I learned listening to your podcast at work.

 

So it is quite possible, sirs, that you and your podcast made my baby fall in love with me.

 

Josh Clark: Nice.

 

Chuck Bryant:     I’d like to shake your hands.  Every single guy should listen to your podcast because it may at least get you a second date.  And that is Todd from Oklahoma City who is banking on our knowledge to woo women and I guess he got a girlfriend out of it.

 

Josh Clark: Good going, Todd.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Good for you.

 

Josh Clark: We’re glad we could help, man.

 

Chuck Bryant:     We’re married dude, so we live vicariously through these emails.

 

Josh Clark: That’s not true.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Well, no, I think it’s great.

 

Josh Clark: I’m happy for Todd.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah, I don’t mean I live vicariously, it’s that I wish it was –

 

Josh Clark: You like to tell me all the details of your love life, Todd.

 

Chuck Bryant:     No.  No.  I just mean like that’s great.  I’m glad someone out there’s getting a date because of this.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  I love helping people find love connections.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah.

 

Josh Clark: As a matter of fact we should do a speed-dating episode.  I wrote an article on it once and it’s pretty neat.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Yeah, my friend PJ – you met PJ, he just texted me yesterday and said hey, this girl – he does a lot of online dating – he said part of her profile’s that she’s like a huge fan of you guys.  And I said date her.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.

 

Chuck Bryant:     Go out on a date with her.

 

Josh Clark: Yeah.  There you go.  We doing it all over the place, man.

 

Chuck Bryant:     That’s right.

 

Josh Clark: Let’s see, if we have affected your life positively we want to hear about it.  Not negatively, just positively.  You can tweet to us at SYSK podcast, you can join us on Facebook.com/stuffyoushouldknow, you can send us an email to stuffpodcast@discovery.com and you can always find us hanging out at our home on the web, stuffyoushouldknow.com.

 

Female Speaker:   For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit howstuffworks.com.

 

Male Speaker:     Brought to you by Toyota.  Let’s go places.

 

[End of Audio]

 

Duration:  32 Minutes

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