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  • Writer's pictureLisa Magnuson

Will Yourself More Willpower

After secretly gobbling down your kids' Halloween candy have you ever asked yourself, "I wish I had more willpower."

At one time, willpower was viewed as a limited resource, meaning you only had so much of it and once you used it all up, you were up to your elbows in candy wrappers. This belief was built on scientific studies examining how the brain works with varying levels of glucose (brain fuel) and having subjects complete difficult tasks. The results were basically, if your brain runs out of fuel, you run out of willpower and tenacity.

However, after further research, it has been discovered that willpower is actually a skill you can develop. The research found that there is a specific structure in your brain that helps you regulate your own willpower and tenacity. This is amazing news for those of us lacking the drive to do certain things, or the ability to resist the urge to do things we ought not be doing. I'll spare you the nitty gritty science geek speak, and just tell you how to use this knowledge to enhance your own tenacity levels.

Given what we all know about strength training and progressive overload, building tenacity and willpower follow the same pattern. You have to push yourself into situations where you need to use willpower and tenacity, in order to build willpower and tenacity. Yep, you've got to use it, or you lose it.

This can be doing a behavior you don't want to do, or resisting a behavior you do want to do- simple as that.

For example, you have eaten 1 cookie, you REALLY want to eat 3 more cookies, but instead you say to yourself, "I'm going to flex my willpower muscle and not eat any more cookies." This does two things:

1. It preserves your waistline.

2. You have resisted the urge to do something therefore activating the brain structure that regulates willpower and causing it to "grow" (for lack of a better term).

Voila! That's it.

I wish I could tell you there was an easier way to do this, but it has been found that subjecting yourself to "micro-sucks", is the fastest and best way to increase your ability to withstand macro sucks down the road. A "micro-suck" is a very non-technical term for engaging in an activity you don't want to do, or abstaining from something you do want to do. You have to overcome some type of friction to activate this brain function.

Examples of "micro-sucks" could be:

  1. Not eating dessert most of the time, when it's a habit you've formed.

  2. Taking a cold shower when you REALLY don't want to.

  3. Not having a glass of wine when all your friends are imbibing.

  4. Turning off the TV and going to bed at your pre-set time even though you want to binge watch one more show.

  5. Finishing a workout and adding 5 more minutes of hard work at the end.

  6. Not looking at your phone while working out even though you heard it ding and know there is a message waiting for you.

It also goes without saying, that our tenacity and willpower ride on the tide of our autonomic functions; i.e. when we are tired, distracted, sick, stressed, etc, our ability to engage our tenacity and willpower is diminished. This makes perfect sense for any of us who have had a "hard day" and indulge our bad habits with abandon (hey, no judgment, we've all been there!).

By overcoming these small challenges, you can steadily build your tenacity and willpower and be able to easily engage these skills for future events that may be MUCH more challenging allowing you to enjoy life that much more.

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