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Give your self-control a longer leash

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Scientists are discovering that the concepts of willpower and self-discipline may be counterproductive.

How so? One experiment at Tufts University indicates that people who are not hypercareful—that is, trying too hard not to say the wrong thing—mess up less often.

Researchers first wore out subjects with mental exercises. Then they sent the mentally weary volunteers into a five-minute, racially mixed interview on the topic of racial diversity, and had the subjects rate the interaction for comfort, awkwardness and enjoyment.

As reported in Psychological Science, the experiment found that subjects who were mentally depleted—that is, those who were less hypercareful and couldn’t exert self-control—found the experience far more relaxing and enjoyable. Being cognitively drained apparently made them less inhibited, which felt good.

Race relations aren’t the only area where a little less self-control might go a long way. Relinquishing some self-control may help leaders thwart their tendency to overthink, help them come across as fairer and, incidentally, make them happier.

— Adapted from “Try a Little Powerlessness,” Wray Herbert, Scientific American Mind.

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