Kelly McGonigal PhD joined Brain Science for a talk on A Miracle Cure for Willpower.
Strengthen Your Willpower Muscle
Willpower is the inner strength that enables you to make decisions and carry them out. It gives you the strength to take action and perform tasks and plans, despite inner resistance, discomfort, laziness or difficulties.
When there is willpower, there is determination, resolution, persistence, and the power of pushing yourself towards goals and achievements. Willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to reach long-term visions, or goals.
With this skill developed, you are in a better position to overcome procrastination and laziness, focus on what you are doing, and avoid unhealthy or unreasonable temptations. In short, Willpower is that control over self, or self-control. Take a closer look at how you may distinguish between the two.
A Moment on Willpower and Self-control
Although willpower and self-control both refer to the same mental process, the nuance implied by each is difference. Willpower is a muscular Nietzschean word for our ability to overcome whatever gets in our way through sheer personal force of mind. Self-control has more Orwellian doublespeak connotations. Self-control can be read as the ‘the self that is in control’ but it can also be read as ‘that which brings the self under control’Although willpower and self-control both refer to the same mental process, the nuance implied by each is difference. Willpower is a muscular Nietzschean word for our ability to overcome whatever gets in our way through sheer personal force of mind. Self-control has more Orwellian doublespeak connotations. Self-control can be read as the ‘the self that is in control’ but it can also be read as ‘that which brings the self under control’. Matthew D. Lieberman, Ph.D. in Social Brain, Social Mind
Willpower is the #1 reason for not following through on desired change when participants were asked what about their abilities to make healthy lifestyle change. The lack of Willpower is a major reason we struggle to meet, and ultimately reach, our long-term goals.
Successful attainment of goals is linked to:
- Establishing the motivation to change and setting a clear goal.
- Monitoring the behavior toward the goal.
- Exercising willpower stay on course.
Who do You Listen to, The Angel, or The Devil
Willpower can be looked at as having a devil or an angel on your shoulder. The devil is the emotional, or impulsive response where quick and sudden actions are taken without considering the long-term implications. The angel, on the other shoulder, is the knowledge driven response. Here decisions are made with the knowledge of the sensations, emotions, actions, and goals. The impulsive devil most often wins over the rational angel. This is seen in a stressful response to a situation where we may avoid the response(choosing the right food) for the long-term benefit(improved cardiovascular health), and this results in the immediate gratification(satisfying The Sweet Tooth).
What does the Research tell Us about Willpower?
- Self-control, or discipline is a major indicator to success.
- Self-control is a major indicator to higher GPA, higher self-esteem, less binge eating and alcohol abuse and better relationship skills.
- Higher self-control in childhood years is linked to greater physical and mental health in adulthood.
- It is interesting to know that exerting willpower over and over can have a depleting effect that drains the mind under situations of repeated self-control.
- Depleted levels of blood glucose have been found to decrease self-control. Under situations where willpower was exerted, levels of blood sugar were depleted at a higher rate.
- Making decisions that would please another rather than pursuing actions toward their own goal were found to have less willpower.
- Stress creates a shift in the brain making you more tempted, avoiding long-term commitments and values, and focusing on short-term rewards.
Training the Willpower Muscle
Stop trying to control unwanted thoughts and emotions, and they will stop controlling you.
Increasing your activity level with a consistent exercise program will in other areas such as health choices, stress responses and food choices.
Individuals often need to suppress a particular concern, doubt, or impulse. They might not want to focus their attention on their anxiety or their hunger, for example. To fulfill this goal, they should first consider two or three of their unique strengths–attributes or achievements of which they are proud. They should undertake this exercise immediately after they attempt to suppress their concerns, doubts, or impulses. – Ironic Rebound Effect
Practice doing more difficulty tasks first. Your willpower will drain with fatigue.
Maintain a steady blood sugar level by eating foods with low glycemic index instead of high glycemic index foods that cause your blood sugar to spike.
Willpower can be trained like a muscle. While exercising your willpower can cause fatigue, using it frequently will cause it to strengthen.
Reduce your stress response with short bouts of focused breathing, or meditation. Performing this for only 5 minutes a few times a day will balance your autonomic nervous system, and reduce stress in the process.
Get enough sleep. Getting too much, or not enough sleep increases the stress response. Try for 7.5-8 hours for best response.
Don’t be hard on yourself. Relapses, or occasional periods of non-willpower(like one day off per week to let loose on your diet).
Where you are, to where you would like to be.
A few questions to ask yourself in this quest of change and what it will take to get there.
- What would you like to do more of because you know it will improve your quality of life?
- What would you like to give up, or do less of, because you know that it interferes with your health, happiness and success?
- What would you like to perform, or choose as a long-term vision, and focus your energy?
- What would get in the way of this, an immediate want, and keep you from realizing your long-term vision?
Now keep in mind this vision as you take first steps on this quest. Keep your actions aligned with this vision you have and you will stay on course.
- Willpower is Not a Finite Resource (bigthink.com)
- Is Your Mind Separate From Your Body? (Psychologytoday.com)
- All About Willpower (alumni.standford.edu)
- Willpower: The Habit For Success (thetaoofwealth.wordpress.com)
Posted by: Randy Bauer