23 August 11 Boost Your Willpower by Exercising It (and Feeding It!)

Willpower is that thing inside us that keeps us on track - it's there to help us turn choices into habits and habits into lifestyles. Without willpower, or as some call it, self-control, we would give into every temptation that crosses our path. There are many studies that examine what willpower is and how it works, but one study published in 2007 considers the possibility that willpower can be "fed" and is directly related to our blood glucose levels.

On a large scale, increasing one's willpower can produce very positive results in many aspects of one's life. Researchers from the study say that it can help kids do better in school, adults do better at work, and it can be useful for tackling any of life's major complications. In a nutshell, self-control is important. Those who are working hard to eat right and lose weight understand firsthand the importance of maintaining (and increasing) willpower. It keeps us from diving headfirst into the brownie pan the moment it's pulled from the oven (a painful but not unlikely possibility for those of us who like chocolate, by the way).

But how do we improve our willpower? Scientists believe that willpower is a mental "muscle" that needs to be worked and "fed." It must be tested, lightly and frequently, but not thrown to a pack of wolves hiding in sheep-shaped cupcake form and expected to prevail.

The keys are to start small, stay positive and focus on the long-term benefits of your choice at hand. Think of willpower as a limited resource - it can't cover all your goals at once. It is better-suited to tackle one change at a time. For instance, you can build your willpower reserves by picking one food or snack to avoid for two weeks (like those cookies that your co-worker always brings to the office). The important thing is not that the temptation is removed from your life, but that you can withstand the temptation with which you're faced. Don't tell your co-worker to stop bringing cookies - you strengthen your willpower by choosing not to eat them.

To help you do this, focus on positive images of where these good choices will lead you - perhaps that smaller dress size, that new bikini, a smaller belt or that nice suit and tie you want. Whatever you can do to turn the choice you have at that moment into something with greater meaning will help you from giving in to temptation.

And by starting small, you avoid the "New Year's effect," which is when people choose to make a half-dozen different resolutions to change but only have a pool of willpower deep enough to change one, which then means that none of them get accomplished.

In the above-mentioned study, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, it points to another component of building willpower, and it includes feeding it - literally. Researchers have found that blood glucose levels can directly affect our ability to withstand temptation. In the study, researchers asked one group of participants to watch a video and suppress smiles and laughter and one group to be free with their reactions. The stifled group experienced a drop in their blood glucose levels. Both groups were then given a concentration test, and the stifled group performed the worst on this test. When compared to another stifled group that was given sugary lemonade after the video and before the test (to raise their depleted glucose levels), they performed much better than the first stifled group.

The researchers suggested that the body needs fuel to maintain good cognitive strength, and this could be why those who diet by eating more frequent and smaller meals do better with their diets than those who skip meals or try to adhere a very restricted diet. By keeping one's blood sugar levels on an even keel, they can draw upon their willpower reserves when they need them. This makes sense, as glucose is known to fuel brain functions.

Ryan Newhouse

Ryan Newhouse is the Marketing Director for MyNetDiary and writes for a variety of publications. He wants you to check out MyNetDiary on Instagram!

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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