Self-Control, High Performance, and the Limits of Willpower

By Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.

Psychology has found two traits that consistently lead to success in a vast assortment of undertakings. One is intelligence. The other is self-control.

As it happens, there doesn’t seem much you can do to increase your intelligence, but your self-control can be improved. Self-control is therefore atop the list of things to cultivate in order to perform well. Self-control is essentially a matter of changing yourself, or of replacing one response with a different one.

Many people associate self-control with dieting, but that is only one of many applications (and far from the most effective use of self-control). It can involve controlling thoughts, emotions, and impulses, as well as task performance.

My research over the last couple decades has consistently found that self-control works like a muscle. Willpower is thus a kind of strength. Some people have stronger muscles than others — but even very strong people get tired sometimes and...

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Motivation through Goal Setting

By Edwin Locke and Gary Latham

Living organisms differ from inanimate matter. Life is a teleological process. It must be maintained by a continual process of goal directed action. What is needed for survival for a given species is the result of evolution. If the needed action is not successfully taken, the organism or species dies. This applies to plants, the lower animals and humans. Humans, however, have one capacity beyond that of the lower life forms: we have the volitional power to choose our own goals. We have the power of reason which includes the capacity to form concepts and thereby create language. Through the process of thought we can consider alternatives and anticipate the consequences.

Goal setting theory was developed by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. The theory, based on more than 1000 studies, explains how goals can be used to regulate and improve your performance.

Types of goals. There are four basic types of goals. They can be for behavioral (e.g.,...

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Be Foolish Brave Citizen: How To Overcome the Fear of Foolishness and Take The Risks You Always Dreamed Of

By Shannon Thompson 

No one wants to feel foolish. The emotion is an unpleasant one, usually comprised of some embarrassment, and the perception of having been negatively exposed. Encounters with foolishness are usually brief and uncomfortable at worst. However, our fear of foolishness is often exponentially greater than the actual consequences of having been foolish. I believe that the fear of foolishness is a dangerous mental trap that can undermine the quality of our lives outside of our awareness. Last week I wrote specifically about the damage that a fear of foolishness can cause. This affliction can impair innovation, impede learning, poison performance, kill individuality, undermine hope, and prevent connection. For those of you with raised eyebrows, I’m looking straight back at you with grave seriousness. But there’s good news: you can overcome the fear of foolishness. Read on to learn how.

Unlike many other mental obstacles, I believe the fear of...

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The Myth of Talent

By K. Anders Ericsson, PhD and Robert Pool, PhD

There is something awe-inspiring about someone — an athlete, a musician, a chess master, even a doctor or architect — with extraordinary skill. These people seem to inhabit a plane far above what we mere mortals could aspire to, and it seems natural to conclude that they must possess some capacity the rest of us weren’t. Their achievements seems unattainable, and, indeed, it was thought during the 15th and 16th century that they were gifts of God. Today we tend to refer to it as natural talent, but it means the same thing — they got it, we didn’t.

Centuries ago, it would have been heresy to try to understand the details of God’s gift, so the focus was on enjoying the fruits of such gifts and on searching for individuals who possessed these gifts. Over time, however, scientific explanations based on genetic inheritance started to replace the notion of gifts of God, and these explanations...

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To Find Your Purpose, Put Your Phone Away

By Emily Esfahani Smith

A few years ago, I met a man named Coss Marte who taught me something important about leading a meaningful life. Coss, who lives in New York, used to be a drug dealer. But then he got arrested—and, a few years into his prison sentence, he landed in solitary confinement for thirty days. As he reflected on his situation in solitary, he realized that dealing drugs was a mistake. It was messing up the lives of people in his community. He wanted to be and do better. And he began to see how.

When he first got to prison, he helped some overweight inmates get in shape by teaching them exercises they could do in their cells. One guy lost 80 pounds and cried as he thanked Marte for his help. In solitary, Marte realized that that is what he wanted to do with his life—help people lead healthier lives. When he got out of prison, he launched ConBody, a successful fitness studio in New York.

For the past few years, I’ve interviewed dozens of people like...

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Overcoming our Fear of Greatness

By Shannon Thompson 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

- Marianne Williamson

This winter I marched down the steps of the NAU Skydome, yellow cardboard sign in hand. On the sign I’d written inspiring phrases for the NAU women’s basketball team who would soon begin a game that evening – phrases we’d agreed describe the team at its best. I sat alone, a few rows above the bench. I hoped the team would see me, and I feared that they would. I was embarrassed to hold my sign. Eventually, once noticed, the players were hesitant to look too long, and nervous to smile.

Last summer, a dear, brilliant friend sat across from me. He’d spent the preceding hour describing his struggles, fears, and perceived inadequacies. Grateful...

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Are you Biased? (Hint: The Answer is Yes)

By Jess Hopkins 

If you’re like most people, chances are you consider yourself to be a fairly reasonable, level-headed person who makes wise decisions based on the facts. But, if you are in fact anything like most people, it turns out that the opposite is true: many of your decisions are impulsive, biased, and sometimes even irrational.

To prove the point, let’s play a quick game. I’ll share brief story, and will then ask you to fill in the blank:

I recently went to a fantastic vegetarian restaurant and the food was delicious! I had a salad and a sandwich, both of which I would recommend.

Now fill in this blank:

Now let’s do that one more time, but let me tell you another brief story first:

I recently stocked up on cleaning supplies but I forgot to buy both dishwashing and laundry detergent at the store! Dirty dishes and clothes are piling up quickly.

Now fill in this blank:

If you saw SOUP the first time and SOAP the second time, you just...

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Love: The Legal Performance Enhancing Drug

By Shannon Thompson 

Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

It was spring, 2016 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Early winds rolled down the slopes of our mountain, and flowers peeked tentatively from the easing grip of thaw. Flagstaff, which is situated seven thousand feet above sea level, is a rich training ground for elite endurance athletes. Numerous lithe and rapid dreamers have made the town their home. They come to breathe this particular thin air, which will enrich their blood and improve the fuel upon which they run their grand dreams. This spring held particular significance because it was an Olympic year. The US track trials beckoned three months away.

At this point I’d lived in Flag for almost one year. Although I’d worked with numerous collegiate athletes, the local professionals had...

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Pressure is a Privilege

By Danny Southwick

We all know what it feels like—that churning you get in your stomach before an important performance.

You may have felt it before a sports competition, in a new role at work, or during a high stakes test. The truth is, we all have nerves and feel stress when we’re under pressure to perform our best. For some, pressure sharpens performance (we call these people “clutch”). For others, pressure seems to bring out the worst (we call these people “chokers”). If you’ve ever secretly worried that you’re a choker, or ever feared that deep down you don’t have what it takes to rise to the occasion when it counts, this blog is for you.

The truth is that none of us is born clutch, or born a choker. Each of us has a part of themselves that retreats from challenge. And everyone has something within them that is ready to rise to the occasion. People who consistently rise to the occasion under pressure have a different way of...

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Be Remembered: How to Make Your Message Stick

By Shannon Thompson 

This is the shortest blog that I have written. Period. Its brevity is for your sake. The less I say the more you will remember. I’m going to tell you a story about how I have seen this to be true, and I’ll share the science that explains why. Then I’m going to leave it at that.

The story:

At Northern Arizona University we have a problem. There is no free time (sound familiar?). My office sits near the main door to the Athletics Department, so I’m a constant witness to the human traffic: its volume, its speed, its mood. Our student athletes train twenty hours per week. Academically, most of them manage a full course load. Volunteer hours are mandated. If I were to list the coaches’ responsibilities I would triple the length of this paragraph. I’m keeping this short, remember?

I love my work as a mental performance consultant, and I always want to do more. I’m valued at NAU, but sometimes finding time to implement my...

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