Would you like to know how you can boost your will power so you can resist temptation and do the “right” thing in just a few seconds?
It turns out that research into a concept called mental construal has the answer.
Construal level theory suggests that people have more will power when thinking abstractly and less will power when thinking concretely.
In one study for example, participants were put into two groups. One group was asked to ponder why we should maintain positive relationships with others to get them to think abstractly. The other group was asked to think about how we maintain good relationships so they’d think concretely.
Next they gave both groups an implicit associations test to see what kinds of unconscious thoughts they now had about apples and candy bars—something completely unrelated to relationships. They did this because thinking abstractly or concretely for a few seconds tends to spill over into your thinking on the next topic.
Members of the abstract thinking group thought of apples positively and candy bars negatively. Those in the concrete group thought of apples negatively and candy bars positively.
Next both groups were asked how much they wanted an apple or a candy bar right now. The concrete thinkers chose the apple over the candy bar only half the time. The abstract thinkers chose the apple 76% of the time.
So by thinking about something in the abstract for just a few seconds you can boost your will power. Other studies have shown that thinking abstractly increases endurance and resistance to pain.
So how can you use this idea to help yourself?
Next time you are tempted to do something that will interfere with your goals, try thinking abstractly. You can do this by thinking about why you want to achieve your goals or by thinking abstractly about anything else.
When you do you’ll find that all-of-a-sudden you’ve gained an increase in will power that will allow you to resist temptation.
Reference to study mentioned above:
Fujita K., Han H.A. Moving beyond deliberative control of impulses: The effect of construal levels on evaluative associations in self-control conflicts
(2009) Psychological Science, 20 (7), pp. 799-804.