A few weeks ago I mentioned Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and how it can influence our success and future. I love the topic of neuroplasticity and how we can change our pathways in the brain to expand our thinking, learn new things and improve.
But what about willpower? How does that play into our lives? Do some people have more willpower than others? Turns out some do and it can have an enormous impact on your life.
Willpower lives in the front of our brain, namely in the prefrontal cortex. According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, author of the book The Willpower Instinct, temporary states such as being under the influence, distracted or even sleep-deprived can alter the function and therefore your strength of willpower.
Considering that most people are running on an empty tank filling their lives with coffee or energy drinks due to lack of sleep there’s no wonder their willpower is down. Of course we don’t have to experience lack of sleep to struggle with willpower but I think we can all agree on that when we are tired it’s harder to avoid things we know we should avoid. Most people don’t exactly choose exercise over eating sweets when they are tired and exhausted.
According to research people that showed strong self-discipline and willpower as children tend to fare better as adults, even decades later. Delayed instant gratification played a big role in that. MRI scans of adults that had low willpower as children were different than those that had higher willpower. Researchers are still trying to understand why.
That said, while researchers continue to find answers it is believed that willpower isn’t an unlimited resource. Opposite, it seems the more we try to exert willpower the less of it we have. Ever had the cravings for chocolate? The more you try to not think about chocolate the more you do! And the more you try to avoid it the greater chance you have of giving in. I’m not sure who coined the say but whatever we think about expands.
Willpower is not something we can just call upon. Think of it as a battery. When it’s full and recharged, like in the morning, we have more of it. That’s why exercising and eating healthy in the first part of the day is easier than in the evening when we’ve used up willpower for various things throughout the day.
However, you can alter your willpower by eating a diet that provides your brain better glucose. When your brain is low on glucose your willpower also goes down. This could explain why successful people that tend to eat a healthy diet have better habits. They simply have the willpower to get them in place! And it seems as if willpower is just like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.
In a study where participants had to record everything they ate for two weeks fared better in willpower depleting tests than those that didn’t. Maybe that’s why tracking helps us establish better habits? Personally I use a check sheet to make sure I do things that I want to accomplish daily like my situps. My check sheet is helping me find the willpower to ‘get it done.’
Remember the fixed vs. growth mindset I mentioned awhile back? Turns out that people that think that willpower is unlimited have more willpower, while those that think you are born with limited willpower, i.e. “I’m born this way, I don’t have any willpower!” tend to have lower willpower.
Your mind and what you put into your mind can completely change your life! Now that said, eliminating triggers that deplete your willpower can definitely help.
I have a weakness for chocolate chip pancakes. There’s nothing like that gooey melted chocolate combined with a pancake. My trigger is chocolate chips, if I don’t keep them in my cupboard I simply don’t make pancakes. It’s too much work to go to the store and buy a bag of chocolate chips when the urge kicks in. By not having chocolate chips at home I avoid using up willpower and can apply that to something better, like getting my daily sit ups done 🙂
Habits, mindset and willpower go hand in hand. Here are three great books I’ve read that I recommend you read too.*
I would love to hear your thoughts on willpower. What triggers do you have that reduce your willpower and what do you do to boost your willpower?
*I’m an Amazon affiliate and should you purchase through these links I receive a small commission with no additional cost to you. However, I only recommend products I believe in or personally use. Thank you for supporting this blog through your purchase.