By Forest Melton
I woke up this morning to missed texts from my running buddy Devon, “We’re still meeting today, right!?” Oops! Unfortunately, I’m a failure, and sometimes it feels like my brain has no control in the battle of willpower, especially when my body is fatigued. And apparently this morning my body said, “Nope! I’m on strike, buddy! We’re going back to sleep“. Despite setting 3 alarms, and not recalling ‘snoozing’ any of them, I managed to miss our morning run date. Ironically enough, I’m reading a book by Dr. Kelly McGonigal called “The Willpower Instinct”, and it is awesome. I’m only on Chapter 3 of 10, but so far it’s been a great read! Dr. McGonigal talks about willpower being a muscle you have to train and build through practice. And much like a muscle, things that prevent muscular growth seem to prevent willpower growth.
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that I had been sleeping for 2 hours when my alarm went off this morning, definitely setting myself up for failure a little bit there. One of the key ingredients in decision making is glucose. With sleep deprivation, the body has a harder time delivering glucose to the brain, which has obvious taxing effects. So, less sleep = less glucose delivery to the brain = less willpower, ouch.
As stated above, with less glucose comes less willpower, and low blood sugar has the same effect as sleep deprivation. When we starve ourselves, less glucose is reaching the brain, resulting in a reduction in willpower. Who knew a well-balanced diet effected so many aspects of life.
One of the most interesting things McGonial covered in this book, so far, was a study out of the University of Sydney where researchers found a ‘wonder drug’ that was massively effective in increasing willpower, the study found that after only 2 months of treatment participants had the following results:
- Improvements in attention and the ability to ignore distractions
- Reduced smoking, drinking, and caffeine intake
- Participants ate less junk food and more healthy food
- Participants spent less time watching tv more time studying
- Participants were saving money and spending less on impulse purchases
- Participants felt more in control of their emotions
- Participants procrastinated less and were less likely to be late for appointments
What in the heck is this ‘wonder drug’ and how do I purchase a life time supply!? …it was actually exercise, weird! Participants only exercised once a week for the first month, and up to three times per week by the end of the study. Exercise has been shown to be the single most effective tool in increasing willpower. Say what!? And you can purchase this ‘wonder drug’ for the low low price of Free!
In conclusion, for all of you, who like me, feel willpower deficient, here are 4 other ways to increase your willpower per Dr. McGonigal’s research.
- Exercise – because duh.
- Sleep – a full night’s rest, but also naps help.
- Meditation – 5 minutes to 20 minutes a day has been seen show immediate and lasting benefits. In fact, studies have shown that meditation creates positive physical changes in the brain (Taren 2013).
- Slow Breathing – in times of stress, consciously slow and deepen your breathing. It physiologically minimizes the fight or flight response, making you less impulsive and more intentional. An instant increase in willpower reserves!
- McGonigal, K. (2012). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of it. New York: Avery.
- Taren, Adrienne et al. (2013) “Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults”. Plos Journal. May 2013.