Thursday, February 27, 2020

Understanding Willpower

Our quest for self-care can often lead us to the realization that a certain habit or behaviour is not in our best interest and needs to change.   And more often than not, we resort to willpower as a strategy for making this happen.  Study after study have shown a strong correlation between willpower and success.

In the American Psychological Association's annual Stress in America survey, survey participants regularly cite lack of willpower as the No 1 reason for not following through on a decision to change a behaviour.

We can really be hard on ourselves when it comes to willpower.  When we don't succeed, we tend to beat ourselves up and tell ourselves we have bad self-control and are just not strong enough to resist temptation.  But a better understanding of willpower can go a long way to helping us better use this elusive resource and reach our goals.

An increasingly important body of evidence suggests that willpower could be a finite resource.  

This idea was first suggested in 1998, in a study by Roy Baumeister, where it was shown that subjects repeatedly expected to draw on willpower to resist an enticing treat were drained of willpower for subsequent situations.  Since then many proponents of what is called “willpower depletion” point to a growing number of studies indicating that willpower is comparable to a muscle that becomes fatigued with overuse.

Our brain uses glucose when we are exerting willpower or self-control.  The more and longer we are depending on self-control the more glucose we are using.  As glucose decreases, so does our self-control. (Gailliot, M. T., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Maner, J. K., Plant, E. A., Tice, D. M., Brewer, L. E., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2007).)

Other studies have shown that what we believe about willpower, for example whether we think we have it or not, influences or level of self-control.  
Mood, mindset, attitude and motivation can also be contributing factors.  An excellent book that dives into some of these ideas is Mindset : The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D..

So how can we use what is known about willpower to increase our own self-control and reach our goals.

Here are a few suggestions:

Cultivate positive moods and attitudes.

Mood and attitude influence levels of willpower and self-control, so it is worth spending a little time and energy focusing on positive ones.  If you want to be joyful, peaceful, happy and enthusiastic you have to spend your time creating those qualities in your life.  Spend time with positive people, watch inspiring movies and avoid negative self-talk and gossip. 

Become mindful of your core beliefs and work on changing limiting ones.

What do you believe about your ability to be successful?  Are you internally or externally motivated?
What beliefs do you have around the behaviour you are trying to change?  Who do you want to become?  What do you believe about yourself?  
Answering these types of questions can help you unpack beliefs that might in fact be depleting your willpower reserves.

Avoid people pleasing behaviour.

Studies have shown "that people who feel obligated to exert self-control or willpower are more depleted than those who are driven by their own desires and goals."  (American Psychological Association,  2012). 

Maintain steady blood-glucose levels.

The brain uses glucose as fuel for cognitive functions, which is key to maintaining willpower.  Eating healthy, regular snacks can help avoid crashes in blood-glucose.  

Be kind to yourself.

Don't over exert yourself and set yourself up for willpower depletion.  Work on one goal at a time.
If you know you are going to have a difficult day, set up priorities and make sure you give yourself the care you need.  Work on the most important things first.  
You can do everything you want.....but you can't do it all at once. Pace yourself!

For more information and resources on this topic and others, check out the following links.

Create an awesome week!

Joanne 💗

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