Willpower Only Gets You So Far. That's Where Motivation Comes In

10/21/2013 08:30am ET

Willpower can be drained. And that's where unconscious motivation comes in, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Technische Universität München in Germany found that because willpower can only take us so far in completing a taxing task, we also use unconscious motivation to get things done.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality, had several parts. For one experiment, researchers gauged study participants' motivation for control and influence. Then, they had them watch a scene from the Dead Poets Society movie, where a dad forbids his son from becoming an actor. Afterward, the participants were assigned to play the role of the father in a reenactment of the scene, or to just write down dialogue from it.

Next, researchers had participants watch a funny scene from the Ice Age movie, but they were instructed not to laugh or smile in response to it.

People who had more motivation for control and influence were more easily able to stifle their laughter or smiles during the Ice Age scene. Researchers said that this is likely because they were able to draw from their own motivations for control and influence to do the first task -- to play the part of the controlling father -- which then left them with the remaining willpower to be able to successfully stifle the laughter in the second task.

However, past research suggests willpower may not be a finite resource for all people. LiveScience reported on a study, published earlier this year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that showed that people's beliefs about willpower -- if you believe it can be quickly depleted, or if you believe you have unlimited amounts of it -- influence their ability to perform.

Want to boost your willpower? Check out these five tips from HuffPost blogger Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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