Willpower is genetic?

October 8, 2009 · 5 comments

A few weeks ago, I briefly mentioned an article at I Will Teach You To Be Rich. It was titled Ugh,why don’t fat people just eat less? I have wanted to talk about my opinions in reference to the article for a while, so I do so today. Here’s a brief passage from the article.

Most importantly, behavioral change is not simply about trying harder. Yes, effort is important, but whether it’s passive barriers or the variety of other reasons that illustrate how personal finance is not about more willpower, let’s be real: Behavioral change is incredibly complex and difficult.
Anyone who believes people overeat and overspend simply because of a lack of willpower is simplistically ignoring decades of research so they can ideologically mislead themselves.

Although I do agree that both nature and nurture play huge parts in human development, I am still skeptical of blaming genetics for all our problems. Few would say DNA has no role in our development, but, and this is a big but, I do think we have allowed our DNA to limit us. It’s become a crutch that too many use as a reason to underperform.

I’m just not buying the “My DNA has cursed debt upon me” argument. People get caught up in the “This research shows….blah blah blah” and never think past it. I would like to remind them of Newton’s third law of statistics...For every statistic there is an equal and opposite statistic (that’s what it was right?) You can also find stats that show saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup are beneficial to the human body. Don’t live a life bound by how statistics tell you to live.

Maybe I am ignorant, but I refuse to subscribe to science that says I am forced in to medocrity. For anyone that disagrees, take a good look at Barack Obama, little (if anything) in his upbringing, would lead anyone to believe he was going to be President. I say, “Be the exception, not the rule.” Do you think I’m ignorant for ignoring scientific research? Well, ignorance is bliss and I’m one happy ninja.

1 Carrie...On The Cheap

You go Debt Ninja! That's awesome! I totally agree. Sure, I want to eat a dozen donuts just like everyone else – but I don't. Because they're like 1/10th away from being plastic and they're bad for me. Have some respect for yourself and stop blaming science.

2 Josh

Right on Ninja. It's just like alot of things in life. Some of us are born with green eyes, some brown, some people are short, some are tall, some are predisposed to gaining weight while others are not, some are born with personalities prone to addiction while others aren't.

It's all about recognizing the hand you've been dealt by mother nature, and doing the best you possibly can with it. And that's where the willpower comes into it.

This is pretty lame comparison but I've been a nail biter all my life, and a pretty bad one, like really short. I am now growing my nails because it's about time I did. It's hard, and I have to constantly remind myself not to do it. Is it a genetic trait to bite your nails? Perhaps. But it's still no excuse and you gotta use your willpower to stop doing it.

3 HighClassLowIncome

I work in a profession where we deal with modifying behaviors so I found this post interesting. I'll have to go back and read the original post but I don't really like blaming genetics for people's actions. Instead I think people engage in certain things because they have been reinforced in some kind of way. I might be going off on the technical nerdy end here, but plain and simple I think people have repeated occurances of overeating/spending because in some way it makes them feel good. Yes, the side effects of overeating and overspending are negative.. the direct outcome of doing these things makes people feel good. Who hasn't eaten one too many cookies or spent way more than intended and felt fantastic after? In a short period that can lead to more eating and more spending.. for me it's when I see that I've tipped the scale a little too far or see my credit card statements that I realize I need to calm the hell down! Haha! Great post!

4 SS4BC

Any scientist (like me) would tell you that everything is caused by TWO factors: Nature (DNA) and Nurture (your conditions, ie personal choice or conditioning).

And for somethings Nature will dominate the equation and for others Nurture will – but many are just a combination of the two.

For instance, just because you have the gene for breast cancer does NOT mean you Absolutely, 100% will get breast cancer. It just means that statistically, the odds are in the favor of getting breast cancer. However, by controlling the Nature part of the equation you can reduce that risk. (Some people go so far as to get preventative breast-ectomies, I don't know if I would do that…)

However, there are also genes that are unavoidable, like getting sickle-cell anemia or Huntington's disease. These are genetic conditions that you can't avoid. No amount of changing your external environment will stop these genes from doing what they want – just like you can't change your eye color or the size of your heart or the shape of your feet.

So really the problem with people "blaming" their genes for their problems is that they don't know what they're really talking about.

There isn't a "motivation gene" out there that anyone has discovered. There is no DNA test that will tell you that it takes your more energy to get things done than anyone else. However, it may be TRUE that some people are more inclined to do things than others. But there is NO scientific evidence that this is a 100% genetic phenomenon. More likely the genes give you the spring board from where you will begin and your own person free-will or how you were raised (Nurture) decides that you would rather sit on the couch eating Doritos than go for a walk, or go shopping than go to a free concert in the park.

Anyone who says that it is because of their genes that they have no motivation is hiding behind a misrepresentation of science in order to support a personal choice they've made to be a lazy-ass. They need to just own up and admit to the fact that they would RATHER be lazy.

SS4BC, Ph.D. ;)

5 SS4BC

P.S. – I'd like to see those stats on saturated fat – I HIGHLY doubt that exists

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