Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Willpower

Definitions

Willpower can be defined as ”A control of one´s impulses, actions and attention” or as ”A control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.”

Four uses of willpower

You use willpower to control your thoughts, emotions, impulses, and attention. You have some predetermined thoughts that conserve willpower, because you are not seeking the best answer and you settle for them. Deliberate thinking uses lots of willpower and you should avoid it when it is not necessary. You control our emotions. This is called affect regulation. It means you are focused on your moods. You are trying to avoid bad unpleasant moods and trying to concentrate on good ones. Impulse control, like resisting temptations, is the most common way of thinking willpower. It is not the only one. You also need to concentrate our attention on good things to achieve high performance. Willpower is needed for getting things done, as much as resisting doing things. I did not understand this for a long time. Maybe some readers think so too.

Modeling willpower as a muscle

The best way to think about willpower is considering it as a muscle. You can practice to gain more willpower. It atrophies, when we do not use it. You can also use it too much and it gets fatigued. You can have many ways of improving willpower. You can improve your physical conditions. You can practice by trying to achieve bigger willpower challenges. For example, you can try to push through a physical barrier after having a long run or you can push through even though you feel fatigued. You can also try cutting back on sweets or making a smaller budget for groceries, which is harder to manage. You should not start exercising by trying to get big results. Willpower should be exercised by taking small steps first. Then getting bigger ones later.

You make decisions all the time. Each decision consumes your willpower. When you use willpower, your self-control system of the brain becomes less active. Your brain uses the energy reserved for willpower first, because it is one of the biggest drains of energy in your brain. Your impulsive shelves have more power after you have used all the willpower. You make more decisions based on your impulses and cannot think straight. All of this happens, because your brain is interested in getting more energy for survival, not to think properly. Like your muscles, willpower get stronger with having right nutrition. It also gets weaker with wrong nutrition. When willpower is down you give into temptations and your muscles do not function accordingly, if their energy level is low. Muscles also atrophy if you don´t use them. Same goes to willpower. You need to give it challenges like you have to move your muscles.

Willpower is psychological and physical

Prefrontal cortex controls willpower. When you lose your control in this part of the brain, you lose your willpower. Every willpower challenge is a conflict for our decision making system. Its impulsive and rational parts are fighting together. you can succeed in our willpower challenges by using your impulsive system into our advantage. You can program our impulsive system to overcome willpower challenges by using your rational system. This will take some time. During willpower challenges, your psychological state matters. Without getting into details, you need to slow down your internal state. One of the ways of acknowledging the amount of willpower you currently have is how strong your emotional states are. When you are having lower willpower, your emotional state is stronger. Higher willpower means less emotional state of mind.

Willpower is also a physical state. You can change your physiology into a state where willpower is the strongest. Willpower is tied into our body´s natural cycles and the fluctuation of its energy supply. Controlling your brain´s glucoce level is the key. Your willpower is low, if your glucose level is not optimal. With low glucose level, your willpower cannot function properly. Then, your brain moves to the path of least resistance and starts giving in to our impulses. You should eat slow burning foods to keep it in the right level. Then you use our willpower when it matters the most.

Willpower´s friends and enemies

Willpower has many friends. I have mentioned that right nutrition is needed to keep your glucose levels stable through the day. In the short term, you can sometimes settle for the less effective solution. If there is a situation, in which you need willpower temporarily, like making a big decision, when you are tired, willpower can be acquired by eating something sweet. Exercise is one of the best ways to increase your willpower. It has a short and long term effects. Strengthening willpower can happen through exercise that lasts only five minutes. Relaxing is also good for willpower. When you are in a state with physical and mental rest, your brain takes a rest from thinking about the future and analyzing the past.

When you see other people following their impulses, you give in to our temptations more easily. It is even worse when you identify oyurself as like them. This works fortunately both ways. It is easier for you to use our willpower, when you think these people accept the behavior. Resisting temptations become easier in the short term. All you need is about fifteen minutes of exercise and your willpower increases in the short term. Exercice also reduces one of the biggest enemies of willpower, stress, in the long term, stress in the long term. Remembering why you are doing something is a friend too. When you come into a situation, in which you need to make choice about giving into an impulse or resisting temptation, remembering why to resist can help you overcome your temptations.

Lack of sleep is one of the enemies of willpower. When you haven´t slept enough, your cells have trouble absorbing glucose from our bloodstream. Your brain and body become desperate for energy. And they start craving glucose and are ready to find it from anything. Sleeping one night well and long can restore your brain to work in an optimal level. During the day, even short naps may be enough. Chronic stress is bad for willpower. When you are stressed all the time, our body diverts energy from long-term needs to attacking short term emergencies. It reduces the energy your brain uses. Then, both of them are ready to fight stress and our willpower becomes low.

You should have willpower in use, when it is most needed. You should plan our days and design our environments in ways you can optimize its use. Especially, when you know you have some important decisions to make, you should avoid all the unnecessary decisions. The other way is to plan naps or exercise before making the important decision.

Sources: 

Willpower:, Roy Baumeister
The Willpower Instinct, Kelly Mcgonical
The Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel


-TT

3 comments:

  1. I wonder what is your source here in your writings? Or have you invented all these ideas and methods by yourself? If you do not, it would be nice to mention sources in your text =)

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  2. It is a legitimate question. I have updated most of my sources into the texts. There are some online dictionaries missing for definitions. Those are easy to find By putting the name of the mental model and definition and search with google.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the sources! You have an interesting blog here =) Keep up the good work.

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