John Tierney—Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength


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Are you an impulsive marshmallow eater? Your success—or failure—in life may depend on how you answer that question, says John Tierney, New York Times science writer and co-author, with Roy F. Baumeister, of the new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

"The marshmallow test," explains Tierney to, "was this [experiment] where four-year-olds would be given a marshmallow. They were told they could eat but if they waited 15 minutes, they would get two marshmallows. The kids who managed to resist the marshmallow [and waited] did much better in school, did much better in life. That's what really kicked off the modern self-control movement."

Drawing on groundbreaking research—including work done by Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University—Tierney and Baumeister argue that willpower is like a muscle. It can be built up and toned through conditioning, and it can be overworked and strained through "decision fatigue." Eminently readable, Willpower mixes the latest developments in the study of the mind with helpful methods of self-control. In a world in which all too many things seem to scuttling into chaos, Baumeister and Tierney beautifully articulate the science of self-control.

Interview by Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward. Shot and edited by Joshua Swain.

About 7 minutes long.

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