According to a fascinating experiment published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, just one act of self-control depletes your ability to have self-control in another unrelated area.

For example, when subjects were told not to eat chocolates sitting right in front of them, their persistence in puzzle solving deteriorated. When they were told to suppress an emotional reaction to a movie, they had problems solving a solvable anagram.

The list goes on and on.

The take home is that we all have a limited capacity for conscious self-control. (No wonder it is so hard to stay away from the chocolate chip cookies!).

Think about your everyday life and how many times you tell yourself you are going to do something and you don't. Well, this is your excuse! Your conscious mind simply can't handle too many acts of will without sacrificing on the quality of your other tasks – so your unconscious mind basically decides to let you eat the cookie so you can get on with your life. . .

Of course some people are able to pull off what appears to be willpower. People do succeed at dieting, smoking cessation, overcoming stage fright, constant procrastination and a whole lot more.

How do they do it?

A key is developing what Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz (two amazing performance coaches) call "rituals." Because we have such a low capacity for conscious acts of self control, we need to develop productive unconscious rituals. These are behaviors we don't even have to think about. Brushing your teeth every night and morning is a ritual that (hopefully) you don't even think about. Therefore, it doesn't detract from your overall performance.

You can practice behaviors in small doses so that they eventually become rituals, AND you can speed up this process by using tools such as hypnosis. Hypnosis is a state of focused attention that allows you to bridge the conscious-unconscious interface.

I know this sounds a little crazy, and for a long time I thought it was crazy as well. I am still not completely sure how all of this works, but I have experienced and witnessed some pretty powerful stuff. Not "Woo Woo" stuff, but impressive nonetheless. So my curiosity is killing me, and maybe between us we can figure some more stuff out.

how willpower affects performance

Analysis of multiple studies showing how
exerting willpower affects performance

Source: John A. Bargh and Tanya L. Chartrand, "The Unbearable Automacity of Being." American Psychologist, July 1999, Vol. 54, No. 7, 462-479. Click here to enlarge.