Jonah Lehrer explores willpower as a muscle:
Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.
Resolutions, therefore, such as New Year’s resolutions are “exactly the wrong way to change our behavior.” So what now?
While this willpower research can get dispiriting — the mind is a bounded machine, defined by its frailties — it also illustrates some potential remedies. Prof. Baumeister figured that it might be possible to strengthen willpower by exercising it, and in 1999, he asked a group of students to improve their posture for two weeks. Interestingly, these students showed a marked improvement on subsequent measures of self-control, at least when compared to a group that didn’t work on sitting up and standing straight.
Simple exercise is more often than not the answer.