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Keep Your Cool: Roy Baumeister On Self-Control & Emotion [VIDEO]
Science | May 21, 2013

Keep Your Cool: Roy Baumeister On Self-Control & Emotion [VIDEO]

It's a common belief that our current emotional state dictates our behavior. From a evolutionary standpoint, however, science speaker Roy Baumeister says that doesn't add up. Why would we have developed emotional responses that drive us to do self-destructive things, for example? How does anger benefit us if that emotion often leads to us doing things we wouldn't otherwise—ultimately making us feel regret? Baumeister explains that despite emotion playing some role in our behaviors, research suggests that the emotions we feel at present are less influential than our emotions of the past and the future. That is, we developed emotion so that we would experience happiness, sadness, fear, etc., after a certain event and then use that feeling to learn how to behave in a similar situation in the future.

This is the theory of anticipated action. In this case, emotion is more of a byproduct of behavior rather than necessarily being the guiding factor of our actions. And, as Baumeister says in this interview with Yale University: "if we want to understand how people act, anticipated emotion is the way to go." The Florida State University Professor of Psychology is studying that idea right now. He is also researching the effect that willpower has on our emotions. And, how a depleted supply of self-control and self-regulation impacts the emotional responses we experience. "After say, you've had a hard day at work, or after you've been making yourself concentrate, or controlling your performance to make yourself persevere, or whatever, then you might have less willpower for controlling your emotions afterward," Baumeister says in the interview, "and you might react more strongly or you might let your emotions guide your behavior in some way." That being said, you might not want to watch a sad movie after a tough day at the office if you don't want to start blubbering during the sappy parts of the film.

In his popular book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Baumeister describes the way we develop and exert willpower in our daily lives. And, in his talks, he explores solutions to successfully harness the power of this coveted human virtue. His speeches on personal motivation present cutting-edge research that teaches audiences they have a limited amount of self-control—and they have to conserve what little they have.  Willpower is like a muscle, he also says, and it can be strengthened with use and weakened with overuse. With Baumeister's insight, you can learn how to find that balance and exercise self-control to achieve all of your goals.

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