Is there a cap to the will power we possess? There is no question that we have all been at a crossroads at one point or another in our sport and have asked ourselves: “Can I take this anymore? Do I have anything left in the tank to get this done?”.
For decades, social psychologists assumed that we only have a certain capacity for volition/will power. However, up until recently there was very limited objective research done to determine whether or not this was a valid assumption because will power was deemed “too subjective”. As a result of this assumption, people tend to view this “will power ceiling” as truth and have placed undue conscious and/or subconscious limitations on their performance.
Between 2007-2011, there were a variety of studies that finally countered the will power ceiling assumption. Through some very basic cognitive restructuring techniques (i.e., all the researchers did was tell one group of performers in the study that there was no limit to their will power) and they saw significant improvements in overall performance when compared to the performance of the control group participants (i.e., performers either left to their own preconceived notions and/or reminded that there truly WAS a limit to will power). In summary, researchers found that when we worry about will power depletion our performance suffers. Here’s an analogy to illustrate: Sometimes when we’re driving and we see the fuel gauge hit “E” and the next gas station is who knows where, it’s all we can think about. Our preoccupation with becoming stranded in the middle of nowhere takes over and we become scary drivers. Don’t be that person! Adjust your thinking and focus on what’s right in front of you! In the driving analogy, it’s the road and the safety of ourselves and everyone around us. In sport, it’s pretty much the same…focus on what we can control. What’s tangible. We don’t truly know how much will power we have until we’re laying on the floor in a puddle of sweat having failed like Dr. Phil Kriss’ “Heartbreak” example from a few weeks back.
Don’t let assumptions control you! Be your own benchmark!
In a follow-up to this entry, I’ll be discussing the neurological/neuropsychological findings that further debunk the assumption that there is a will power ceiling for all of us…