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A Smarter Way to Think About Willpower

Angela Duckworth, Katherine Milkman, and David Laibson: Our suggestion is that in place of old-fashioned notions of self-control, we rely on modern science. We know more today about when, why, and how people fail to act in their long-term interests. We can use that knowledge to our advantage. Perhaps the most important discovery about self-control is that it isn’t synonymous with old-fashioned willpower. “Just do it,” as the Nike ads suggest, or “Just say no,” as Nancy Reagan used to advise teenagers tempted by drugs and alcohol, is not good advice. We can’t point to any empirical evidence that exhortations to “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” work. Instead, science shows that helping people do better in the internal tug-of-war of self-control depends on creating the right external environment. Here are three specific recommendations.

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