Can You Use Willpower Beat Your Driving Fears? Um, Maybe

WillpowerSince your mind is strong enough to create all your driving anxiety and fears in the first place, it only makes sense it should have the same power to quash them with a bit of willpower, right?

Not necessarily.

Willpower is a pretty tricky thing that may or may not work in specific situations. The big key to making it work for you is to realize a piece of lesser-known information regarding our dear pal willpower.

“Willpower is a limited resource capable of being depleted,” according to the American Psychological Association.

Willpower expert Roy Baumeister, who doubles as one of the authors of the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, adds another useful bit of info:

“We use the same willpower on all sorts of things – making decisions, controlling emotions, resisting temptations and doing stuff we don’t want to do,” Baumeister says.

That means if you already used a bit of your willpower for saying no to dessert and another bit for getting yourself to the gym and a third bit for not turning on your favorite TV show when you were supposed to call your non-favorite aunt, you may not have a heck of a lot of willpower left to aim at conquering your driving fears. In fact, you may not have a heck of a lot of it left for anything at all.

What It Is

So what exactly is this seemingly magical stuff called willpower? The APA notes it goes under numerous monikers that include resolve, self-discipline, and determination. Psychological scientists have their own collection of definitions for willpower, with choices that include things like:

  • Your capacity to use logic over emotion
  • Your ability to regulate your behaviors
  • Your power to achieve longer-term goals by delaying your short-term gratification, such as holding out for your longer-term goal of losing weight by foregoing the instant gratification of that chocolate cake.
  • Your ability to over-ride a specific feeling, impulse or undesirable thought, such as driving your car in the rain to the store despite your urge to run, hide and succumb to your driving fears.

Based on all the functions and situations where we use willpower without always even realizing it, it may seem surprising we have any left at all. When we pile on our driving phobia and fears, which can be fairly large issues to tackle, we wonder why we can’t simply will, think or regulate them away.

At least we can all stop wondering.

The Ice Cream Test

A study noted by the APA involving ice cream and a sad movie showed just how limited willpower can truly be. Researchers opted for dieting participants and had them watch a sad movie. Some of the participants were told to stifle their emotions during the film and all participants were offered ice cream after the showing. Those who used good ole willpower to quash emotions through the film ate more ice cream than those who let their emotions run freely, the latter having larger supplies of willpower on board.

This does not mean you need to weep uncontrollably at every sappy film, but it does mean you need to choose your battles wisely, so to speak. If you’re planning on mustering all your willpower to conquer driving fears, perhaps you may not want to use the limited store for quashing emotions or saying no to chocolate cake.