Tag Archives: Willpower

The myth of willpower

Same thing happens every year; I completely forget just how quiet the intertubes go when our American friends are sleeping off the Thanksgiving indulgences. Well, for those of you who’re still reading (and those of you not in the US, of course), here’s a tenuously topical link: do those who manage to push away that last few slices of turkey have more willpower than those who scoff the lot? Or is willpower one of those words we have for something that doesn’t really exist in the way we think it does? [via BigThink]

Think of it this way: Our ancestors didn’t need willpower to go for a run because the only time they ran was when they were chasing something or something was chasing them. When we run today, it’s usually to stay in shape. We don’t have that motivating factor of trying to catch our dinner as it hops away, or the fear of death as a polar bear nips at our heels. We use willpower instead—a more modern and, in some ways, unnatural notion.

Which is why willpower, says Hirsch, is weak. Compared to these basic, primitive drives, it has trouble holding up. In fact, willpower may be so weak that it is not even “a meaningful idea,” says Hirsch, when it comes to understanding how to make change in our lives.

Instead, current neuroscience holds that “impulse control” is more accurate than willpower—a slight but important distinction. The idea of impulse control is a much more specific vision of what’s happening in the brain when we experience the tug of old habits, whether it’s food or sex or drugs or booze. It’s the ability to mitigate any stimulus that sets off the brain’s reward circuitry. Unlike willpower, impulse control is not a judgment about the strength of one’s character. This is not just a politically correct revision. The concept of impulse control comes from a better understanding of the brain mechanisms that underlie self-restraint.

The idea here is that framing one’s attempts to change one’s habitual behaviours as ‘impulse control’ is psychologically beneficial, because framing it as a willpower issue implies a character flaw as opposed to a mastering of momentary drives. Whether that will make it any easier to haul my Seasonal Affective Disorder’d carcass out of bed on these cold dark nearly-winter mornings remains to be seen.


I’m willing to bet a pretty big percentage of people reading this have harboured the fantasy of being an astronaut, even though you knew it was a virtually unattainable dream. But sometimes dreams can come true by the least expected route possible… even when those dreams are not necessarily your own.

Jason Stoddard is no stranger to the pages of Futurismic or numerous other science fiction publications, both online and off – and with good reason. In “Willpower” he walks the talk of his own ‘Positive SF’ manifesto, balancing old-school optimism and sensawunda with a plausible (and far from utopian) future setting. Enjoy!


by Jason Stoddard

Michael Delgado needed something to do. Today. His last willfare job had ended last Friday, which meant tomorrow morning was contract breach. The foodcard would stop working, and the ever-efficient borgots of the Balboa Arms would be down to usher him out of his 300-square-foot studio apartment. Not that he’d miss it, with Van Nuys cranking to 105 today and him with only a swamp cooler.

He scanned quickly through the willfare crapwork and sinkers:


Dog walking, Cerritos area, 0.5D willfare credit (4 dogs, large, aggressive). ACCEPT >>

No way. Not for a half-day credit.


Street cleaning, crew of 16, Chinatown and surrounds, multiday contract. ACCEPT >>

(Currently 11 accepted)

Surrounds, as in southeast LA, no way.


Research assistant, UCLA medical campus, great status! Includes transpo and housing. Minimum 45-day contract (90 willfare creds), extensible to 90-days. Standard disclaimers. ACCEPT >>

And take a chance that the cancer they infect you with they might not be able to cure? Oh, no.

Michael Delgado frowned, the chant of the taxpayers echoing in his head. WE pay your salary, so you do what WE want. We want you to cut our grass, you get out here pronto! And Congress agreed. Needed for a smooth transition to a post-scarcity economy, they said. Allows them the dignity of productive work, they said. Gets them off the streets, they said. They who drove comfortably to jobs not-yet-outsourced in SUVs with large leases not-quite-paid.

And then:


Take my place on the Ares. 180 day contract. I’ll vouch for the full 720 willfare days, even if I have to pay ’em. I’m done. ACCEPT >>

Michael felt something like an electric shock as he eyeblinked on ACCEPT. Strange shivers worked up and down his spine. He heard something like a whisper, deep within his mind. He felt suddenly strong, powerful, alive.

Oh, no. Continue reading NEW FICTION: WILLPOWER by Jason Stoddard