Willpower is the future

I’m excited to read Willpower, the new book by John Tierney (NYT) and psychologist and self-control expert Roy Baumeister (Florida State). I haven’t cracked it yet, but in preparation let me share a couple quick takes on motivation and why I think the future will include a lot of emphasis on hacking self-control. Here’s Jonah Lehrer:

For most of human history, the progress of knowledge was constrained by a shortage of information. Books were expensive and rare, libraries were reserved for elite scholars and communication was extremely slow. Mail moved at the speed of horses.

Now, of course, we live in the age of Google and Amazon Prime, a time when nearly everything ever written can be accessed within seconds or delivered within days. Facts are cheap and easy; the cellphone has become an infinite library.

But here’s the good news: Executive function can be significantly improved, especially if interventions begin at an early age. In the current issue of Science, Adele Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia, reviews the activities that can reliably boost these essential mental skills.

Yet, despite this impressive evidence, most schools do virtually nothing to develop executive function. Even worse, education departments are slashing the very activities, such as physical exercise and the arts, that boost executive function among the broadest range of students.

And here’s Tyler Cowen on “the future of work”:

Cowen also envisions job growth in the motivational sector.

I’ll be writing more about this in the upcoming weeks. If you want to learn more about this stuff in the meantime, I recommend this NYT Mag piece by Tierney, and this Bloggingheads discussion between Baumeister and experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe.

I don’t want to oversell the role that motivation plays in our lives (more on that here), but I think it’s fair to say that it’s a real bottleneck for many of us. And we’re likely to see quite a bit of willpower-enabling technology applications in the next decade or two.