Exercising Willpower to Unplug from Technology

“Willpower,” a new book by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and “New York Times” science writer John Tierney, provides some great tips for exercising self-control. It’s a great skill to have for those of us who have resolved to be less tied to technology in the new year.

The authors of “Willpower” liken willpower to a muscle that can be both strengthened or weakened. In Baumeister’s experiments, students asked to engage in tasks requiring tremendous impulse control later suffered from serious willpower lapses when asked to perform subsequent tasks also requiring willpower – something Baumeister calls “ego depletion.”

But the psychologist also found out that like a muscle, willpower can be strengthened over time by undertaking small tasks requiring self-control. For example, Baumester asked students to exercise regularly, use a mouse with their weaker hand, or speak in complete sentences without swearing. He found that students who accomplished these tasks successfully were more resistant to ego depletion and showed greater self-control in other areas of their lives. Not surprisingly, say the authors, people who exercise willpower frequently – such as observant religious people – often have better self-control than those who don’t.

We at Unplug and Reconnect were inspired by “Willpower” to think about how Baumeister’s and Tierney’s strategies could be put to practical use for those who want to take an occasional break from technology. So, with a nod to the authors, we offer these ideas:

  • Start small. If your goal is to drastically cut down the time you spend glued to technology, don’t try to go cold turkey – start with baby steps.
  • Practice. Build your willpower muscle by designating a tech-free hour everyday. Work your way up as you build your self-control muscle.
  •  Out of sight means out of mind. Put your cell phone in another room during meals, at bedtime, or at any other time you want to avoid using it.
  • Make it less convenient. If you want to spend less time on the computer, shut it down completely so it’s less easy to log on.

 

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