“The struggle is REAL”. This may be an accurate statement for many of us in pursuit of a goal that requires us to behave in ways that are atypical to our normal routine. The very concept of behaving differently accurately describes our very own willpower challenge. The ability to exert self-control in the face of our natural impulses.
Like many of you, I am not stranger to the strength one has to muster to avoid the temptations that the lesser me would love to indulge in, so today I would like to share with you some ideas that can help you sustain your willpower and help you arm yourself against…well…yourself.
An Exhaustible Resource
Science has discovered that willpower is an exhaustible resource meaning the more you use it, the less of it you have. This means the more willpower challenges you face during your day, the less of it you will have when it really matters. The one caveat is that you must recognize the choices presented to you as a challenge that must be over come with self control, so it may be a matter of perspective, but that may be a topic for another post. But specific “will power challenges” are not the only experiences that drain your reserve. Anything that the mind and body registers as “stress” can also pull from your precious willpower reservoir, but fret not, there are some simple actions that you can do to help you replenish this valuable resource, and keep you on the straight and narrow.
Willpower Fill Ups
Eat Whole Foods
I know that the initial response to this strategy is, “This is my CHALLENGE!!”, and I get it. For many of us, especially when it comes to our goals of losing fat, a challenge of ours is to eat a more balanced diet, but let me explain why this may benefit you more than you think.
Your body uses glucose or sugar as its source of energy, it fuels everything. When your blood sugar drops the brain favors short term thinking and impulsive behavior, so you can see how this can be a problem.
low blood sugar = no will power
With this information one might think, “well if sugar is the key to more willpower, I’m just going to go ham on all these donuts!”, and while this sounds like my idea of a good time, it will do little in the way of helping you maintain your abilities of self control.
The brain has a very limited supply of energy at and given time, because it is constantly using the energy given to it, so it must rely on a STEADY resource. So our brains have developed a way to “manage” its resources. It monitors the FLOW of available energy and makes decisions whether to slow productivity or keep working at optimal function. This may be why you feel like you cannot focus or concentrate at times, because your brain is opting to spare resources in lieu of expending them. This is why the sudden spike in glucose, due to those highly sugary foods, poses a problem, because the brain does not register these spikes as a reliable resource, but rather an abnormal event.
Whole foods, on the other hand, tend to digest slower making for a steady release of energy into the blood stream; therefore, proving to be a more reliable resource in the view of the brains monitoring system, thus keeping you from an energy depleted state and keeping your willpower intact.
Most people are no strangers to the benefits of exercise. When most of us think of exercise we think of yet another challenge to overcome, but when it comes to “refueling” your will power, a little goes a long way.
It turns out that movement develops the same part of the brain that willpower and self control also inhabit, the prefrontal cortex. If you have ever been stuck trying to solve a problem and decided to walk AND think, then suddenly more solutions come to mind, you may often find that the very act of moving seemed to do the trick. This is movement doing it’s magic by strengthening your cognitive, and in turn, your willpower abilities.
I use the word movement in place of exercise, because research seems to show that the brain does not discriminate between washing your car and strength training at the gym. The only caveat is that the movement must be voluntary, it cannot be forced. You must WANT to perform the act of moving, otherwise the benefits may not be realized.
So if you find yourself in a position where you a little or a lot of free time to move, take that opportunity to “fill up” your willpower tank by getting in a workout, taking a nice walk, or playing a bit of ping pong on your lunch break.
As I mentioned above, specific “willpower challenges” are not the only experiences that pull from your self-contol resources. Anything that the body and mind recognizes as “stress” has the same affect. So it is common sense to reduces stress if we want to sustain our willpower for the long haul.
Actions such as taking a short break, practicing breathing exercises, getting a massage, etc. ANYTHING that you find helps you clear your mind and re-energizes you, falls in this category.
I should also mention that “stress” is subjective. So a simple flip in the way you perceive a challenge you are faced with can also help you move from “stress ball” to “problem solver”,
Play with some of these ideas and try to utilize them during your busy days and work weeks, you may find that you have a little more willpower to spare.