That is the title of a new would-be hit pop-sci book by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. I liked it better than Freakonomics, which is faint praise. It probably deserves more praise than that. Definitely worth reading, but then you can give it away because you won’t need to re-read it.

Some excerpts (no page numbers, because I read it on Kindle):

People often conserve their willpower by seeking not the fullest or best answer but rather a predetermined conclusion. Theologians and believers filter the world to remain consistent with the nonnegotiable principles of their faith.

It would be interesting to study the psychology of people dealing with facts that seem to contradict their world view. How exhausting is it to change your mind?

the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day. Use your self-control to forma daily habit, and you’ll produce more with less effort in the long run.

I can think of a famous blogger and ethnic dining maven who already knew that:

religion is a profoundly influential human phenomenon that has been evolving effective self-control mechanisms for thousands of years.

On the Amy-Chua/Bryan Caplan debate, the authors take Chua’s side:

The many Asian-American success stories have forced developmental psychologists to revise their theories of proper parenting.

A major thesis of the book is that self-control is not entirely innate. It can be taught, improved, and enhanced. The authors claim that parenting styles can affect it. In fact, they claim that the non-absence of a father improves self-control.

Children who had a father in the home were far more willing than others to choose the delayed reward. Most of the racial and ethnic variation could be explained by this difference…when Mischel analyzed just the African homes…About half of the children living with fathers chose the delayed reward, but none of the children in fatherless homes were willing to wait.

The authors concede that some of this difference is genetic (an absent father is likely to have less self-control, and to pass this along to children), but they cite studies that attempt to control for this that still show a difference.

The authors argue that computer games can help encourage self control.

Even when players lose battles or make mistakes or die, they remain motivated because of the emphasis on rewards rather than punishment. Instead of feeling as if they’ve failed, the players think they just haven’t succeeded yet.

Do the players grow up to become financial regulators?