Category: Willpower

Revealed By Science: The 4 Elements Of Holy Grail That Jay-Z And Justin Timberlake Are Searching After

In radio right now: “And baby, it’s amazing I’m in this maze with you. I just can’t crack your code.” Don’t worry, Mr. Timberlake, I am here to crack the code for you. You just need to do what MC Hammer did: become a bit more geeky!

You curse my name
In spite to put me to shame
But I still don’t know why
Why I love it so much?

We’ve been told by Mr. Jay (Z) that in the lyrics of the song Holy Grail, Mr. Timber (lake) is talking about his love/hate affair with fame. In the same song, Mr. Jay himself complains how he is “caught up in all these lights and cameras” and ready to “f**k the fame.”

Both of them seem to be confused: How did they end up in this horrific maze of fame? And they still don’t know why they love it so much, even when it is sometimes so painful. Fortunately, the right answers are out there. They have just been hiding in the laboratories of mischievous – and less famous – scientists. So what can they tell to Mr. Jay and Mr. Timber about sustainable happiness?

Consider this: A few psychologists I know from University of Rochester (341 miles from Brooklyn) asked students graduating from college what they want to get in life. Some of the students had cozy dreams about satisfying close relationships, personal growth and serving the community. Other’s were all bling-bling, and wanted the infamous trio of money, fame, and image. And alas: one year later it turned out that both groups had taken some successful steps towards their goals: inner growth people had experienced inner growth, while fame people were a bit more famous. This seems to proof the theorem set forth by professor Eminem from 8 Mile Road University in his highly cited paper Be Careful What you Wish for:

So be careful what you wish for, cause you just might get it
And if you get it then you just might not know what to do with
Cause it might just come back on you ten-fold.

As professor Eminem argues, we should be very careful about our dreams. The truth is out there: All goals are not created equal. The research shows that achieving some goals produces well-being, while achievement of other goals produces – well – ill-being.

What are then the sources of sustainable happiness? What are the goals that produce true happiness?

There are four of them:
1) Having a sense of freedom and autonomy in one’s life
2) Feeling competent at what one is doing
3) Having satisfying close relationships
4) Being able to contribute to the society

The key problem with too much fame is that while 2 & 4 might be satisfied, too much fame can completely trump 1 and 3.

Let’s take Mr. Jay as an example:

1) Feeling Free: He can buy an island for his girlfriend as a birthday present, but at the same time: “can’t even take my daughter for a walk, see ‘em by the corner store.” He has certain freedoms others can just dream about, but at the same time he has been deprived of many freedoms that are self-evident for ordinary people: Being able to visit a corner-store, walk around freely on streets of Brooklyn – or any other neighborhood on this planet.

2) Feeling Competent: Hats off! Mr. Jay is ambitious, talented, and disciplined. He is the “post-millennial embodiment of the American Dream”, who won the game of making money out of hip hop. As regards competence, he is way up there!

3) Feeling Related: Having a sympathetic wife and a lovely daughter is great. But given that both he and his wife are quite dedicated to their careers, they might not have as much quality time together as your average Joneses. In addition, Mr. Jay complains how he is surrounded by pigeons. I am not an ornithologist, but Mr. Jay seems to have some knowledge about the behavior of pigeons: “But soon as all the money blows, all the pigeons take flight.” Finding friends when everybody around you is a pigeon? Not cool.

4) Contributing: A bit mixed really. Mr. Jay gives to charities, serves as a role model, and organizes cool things like Made in America festival. Harry Belafonte (the Banana Boat Song guy), however, criticizes him for turning his back on social responsibility. He thinks that Mr. Jay could do so much more with his high profile status and a net worth of 450 millions. In that sense, Mr. Belafonte feels that Bruce Springsteen is more black than Mr. Jay.

The point being: The fame itself doesn’t make anyone happy or unhappy. As regards happiness, fame helps only to the extent to which it helps to fulfill the four needs of sustainable happiness. And while having no money hurts, having too much money and fame can hurt too. It’s of course nice that if one “just want a Picasso in my casa, no, my castle”, one can buy it. But it is not nice when living a normal life becomes impossible:

“I feel like I’m cornered off enough is enough, I’m calling this off
Who the fuck I’m kidding though, I’m getting high, sitting low
Sliding by in that big body, curtains all in my window
This fame hurt but this chain works.”

Ok, now we know why Mr. Jay and Mr. Timber both love and hate fame at the same time. But where to go from here? What should they do to break loose and find that holy grail of sustainable happiness?

Mr. Jay asks us to look at “what that s**t did to Hammer”. So let’s look at what happened to MC Hammer!

For those born in the ’90s, MC Hammer was a guy who twenty years ago instructed us to not “Touch This”, leaving us wondering what exactly it is we can’t touch (and is it something we would like to touch in the first place?) He was huge in 1990! And surely, Mr. Hammer went through the usual cycle: huge fame, huge money, huge mansion in Fremont, California. And then the backlash: bankruptcy, loosing the mansion, out of fashion.

But what does Mr. Hammer do now?

It seems that he is living the good life with his wife and six kids while putting in some occasional missionary work for the local church. As for work, he is investing in and consulting tech companies, calling himself a “super-geek.” And he is right: he is definitely less cool when he talks about the user interfaces of search engines at Web 2.0 Summit than when he rapped about 2 Legit 2 Quit wearing Ray-Bans.

In a nutshell, Mr. Hammer in 2013 is less cool, less famous, but more happy.

Let’s break his life into the four building blocks of sustainable happiness to see how he has found his own holy grail of sustainable happiness:

1) Feeling free: Less fame means more freedom to walk on the streets and have the benefits of normal life that superstars are deprived off. Still, he is so well off that he can do most of the things he likes, like traveling or having a nice house.

2) Feeling competent: He can still do it if he wants, for example mashing it up with PSY at the American Music Awards. And he is getting more competent in the geeky stuff as well.

3) Feeling related: Having been together with his wife for over 25 years, and having six children certainly is a good start in having satisfying close relationships in one’s life. Also in his work life he seems to be surrounded with fellow geeks he loves to hang out with.

4) Contributing: His work at the church as well as the way he helps tech startups both seem to give him a strong sense of being able to contribute towards the society and other people.

That’s sustainable happiness, isn’t it! To get there, Mr. Hammer obviously needed to “Stop” before the new “Hammertime” started. He did that, found what is truly valuable in life, and is now living a more peaceful, less famous, but much happier life.

So don’t worry Mr. Jay and Mr. Timber, there is also hope for you. Just become a geek – less cool, more happy!

What is the best way to improve willpower?

I’ll answer with a paradox: The best way to improve your willpower is not to use your willpower.

Research has shown that those with strong willpower actually need it less on a daily basis. This is because they use their willpower not to fight urges but to make sure that they don’t face those urges in the first place.

The single most important fact to know about willpower is that it is weak. Recent research study found that people fight against a desire approximately one fourth of the time during their waking hours – and half of the time they loose that battle.

Willpower is especially vulnerable when it comes to basic cravings such as food or smoking. So relying on your willpower alone to fight those battles is not a successful strategy, because it gets depleted through use. You might successfully fight that urge to peek at Facebook at work, but by the time you get home, you don’t have the energy to win the battle against the donut.


Picture source: SMOSH Food Battle: THE GAME

Therefore, the best and most energy-efficient way to avoid a temptation is to make it impossible to fulfill. A candy bar at your desk is much harder to resist than a candy bar that is still at the store. It is easier to fight the urge to splurge on those designer jeans, if you left your credit card at home before entering the mall.

So whatever your temptation is, take a look at your environment and think: Is there a way to avoid it altogether? If there is no chocolate in the house, you don’t have to fight against that late night craving for a bite. More generally, become conscious about the directions towards which your environment is nudging you. Are the salads more easily available at your lunch joint than the burgers? Are the jogging shoes easier at hand at your home than the remote control? The key is to redesign your environment so that it is as easy as possible to do the good thing, while doing the wrong thing requires more effort. Through right design, your physical environment can support you, instead of undermining you, in achieving the goals that are important to you.

Therefore, time spent on designing your environment is, I believe, the best investment you can make to improve your willpower.

Note: This is a direct copy of Frank Martela’s answer to this question on Quora.

Sources for the research studies mentioned:
* Hofmann et al. 2012: Everyday temptations: An experience sampling study of desire, conflict, and self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
* Hofmann et al. 2012: What People Desire, Feel Conflicted About, and Try to Resist in Everyday Life. Psychological Science.
* De Ridder et al. 2012: Taking Stock of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis of How Trait Self-Control Relates to a Wide Range of Behaviors. Personality and Social Psychology Review.