Jonah Lehrer has a great piece in the WSJ today about the limitations of willpower. Here’s Lehrer:
“Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.
Given its limitations, New Year’s resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. It makes no sense to try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, or to clean the apartment and give up wine in the same month. Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year.”
This is a key theme in Switch — that self-control (willpower) is exhaustible. Surely we’ve all experienced this fatigue personally; after a long, stressful day at work, we’re more likely to come home and snap at our spouses or to have one drink too many. We’ve run out of self-control.
But the same is true in organizational situations. Managers often lead change initiatives as though employees have infinite resources of self-control, rather than treating self-control as a precious resource to be conserved.