How You May Be Sabotaging Your Willpower
If you had more willpower, just think of all the things you could achieve: your goal weight, financial security, six-pack abs, actually finishing a book before book club, world domination. Every day your self-control is tested in myriad ways. Luckily, psychologists are starting to better understand our ability (or disability) to delay gratification or resist temptation in favor of long-term goals. Some of their discoveries, as outlined in a recent report of the American Psychological Association, may surprise and even encourage you.
What is willpower?
Psychologists studying self-control describe a "hot-and-cool" system. A person's cool system is cognitive and reflective, and the hot system is emotional and impulsive. Willpower fails when a "hot" stimulus overrides the cool system. It seems people are more, or less, susceptible to their hot triggers, in a pattern that can persist throughout an entire lifetime. Some studies suggest this may be hard-wired in your brain.
Willpower can also be depleted. Like a limited resource, if you use all your self-control in one area of your life, you can sap your stores for other areas. For example, if just getting through your workday requires heroic discipline, you may have no restraint left when it comes to your diet. Your willpower is all tapped out.
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How to flex your willpower muscle
The good news is that psychologists now believe willpower is like a muscle. The more it's exercised, the stronger it becomes in the long run.
There are also certain things you can do to buffer yourself from the effects of willpower depletion. Here are suggestions from the APA and clinical psychologist Elaine Ducharme:
- Eat regular, healthy meals. Your brain requires glucose (blood sugar) to run. Suggests the APA report, "Brain cells working hard to maintain self-control consume glucose faster than it can be replenished....Restoring glucose appears to help reboot run-down willpower." That doesn't give you license to hunt down a Snickers bar. Healthy foods without refined sugar are best for keeping blood sugar at even levels.
- Put yourself in a good mood. Had a long day of restraint that's starting to feel like deprivation? Try to look on the bright side. Replay in your mind a happy memory. Watch a funny movie. Advises Ducharme, "Find ways to take care of your emotional self during the day, because you're going to be far more likely to exercise willpower then."
- Do it for yourself, not others. A study at the University at Albany found that those who exercised discipline to satisfy internal goals and desires rather than external demands were less likely to experience willpower depletion. In other words, people-pleasers are more likely to feel their self-control run low. If you're having trouble sticking to a resolution, ask yourself why you're doing it in the first place.
For several more ways to strengthen your willpower, visit DivineCaroline.
Originally posted on DivineCaroline by Kathryn Williams
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