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Is Willpower Innate?

August 24, 2013, 6:00 AM

Is willpower something that we’re born with and live with our entire lives?  We often think about many of our personality traits and our mental traits as being things we’re born with.  But many things, including personality, willpower, intelligence, all things are endowments we are born with a tendency towards, but then we use throughout life and we can build up. 

And so willpower has the interesting quality of being like personality and like other traits in that it’s partly heritable so that we have a certain amount of common amount of willpower with say, our parents, and that’s true even if we’ve never met our parents because it’s inherited through DNA.  But willpower is also something that we can build up through practice like a muscle.  

And so just as a person might have an innate capacity to being a body builder or very good at a particular physical skill, and then also build it over time, willpower is like that.  Willpower is like a muscle where we have some predisposition to have a certain amount of it, but also a thing we can build up over time.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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Is Willpower Innate?

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