Learn How To Optimize Your Willpower (so Your Behaviour Matches Your Desires)

happy brainNow when I talk about ‘desires’ I am talking about the ones you have thought about and have purposefully planted, as opposed to the desires that talk to that animal part of your brain and pull you in numerous different directions, plus they often come with literal or metaphorical hang-overs. πŸ˜‰

So…are you ready to learn even more about the brain? Your brain. That incredibly powerful tool at your disposal that often stands between mediocrity and joyful success and happiness.

It turns out that willpower trumps IQ when it comes to success. When researchers measured the willpower of children, and their IQ, they found that willpower was a bigger determinate of whether a child would be successful, as opposed to IQ. No surprises really. I like the saying that successful people do the things that unsuccessful people refuse to do, not because they want to do them, but because they know it needs to be done. The tool they use is WILLPOWER. Like my favourite Michael Beckwith quote: “What does not feeling like it have to do with it?”

This might just be my favourite subject…

Willpower Optimizing Tip 1: the context

So neuroscientists have done a pretty good job of mapping the brain and therefore indicate the firing up of your willpower activates the prefrontal lobes or frontal cortex of the brain. Just behind your forehead. When we are thinking hard, or using our willpower, it actually feels like something behind our forehead is being fired up.

These neuroscientists have also suggested that the last major growth spurt of our brains development happens from puberty into our 20’s. And one of the last things to fully develop is the frontal lobes. This is why car insurance companies know that they can reduce insurance premiums after someone turns 25, as their likelihood of doing something really stupid decreases. (Note: the brain still continues to evolve all through our life)

One of the main functions of the frontal lobes is to draw on past experience and created thoughts to determine the likelihood of something happening (or not) – i.e. determining the potential consequences. If the potential consequences seem a little grim, it is our ‘willpower’ that allows us to physically refrain from doing something stupid, even if it seems like it is a great idea and will be a lot of fun.

For instance, driving really fast on a wet road.
Jumping off a bridge into the water without knowing what is below the surface.
Climbing trees that have narrow or rotten branches.
Posting a really stupid photo or comment on Facebook.

These all require willpower to refrain from doing them. PS: Are you guilty of any??? πŸ˜‰ (me too)

The other thing about willpower is it consumes A LOT of energy in the brain. Meaning the actual physical fuel that comes from our diet. Plus itΒ  consumes more oxygen. So the first thing of benefit to you is…

USE YOUR WILLPOWER SPARINGLY.
(I will show you how soon)

Willpower Optimizing Tip 2: the practical stuff

The brain, in many regards is just like a muscle. For it to work at its peak (will lots of willpower potential) it needs the same things that a muscle needs if we want it to perform well and get stronger. Our brain needs:

  1. Fuel
  2. Fluid (that Water stuff ;-))
  3. Rest
  4. Regular use
  5. An appropriate resistance

Let me expand on them one by one.

Fuel

To have the most willpower, you need to have lots of the right fuel. If your glycogen stores are low in your body, your brain may have a struggle firing up. Just think of how effective your willpower is when you are hungry. I am tipping that it is between poor and atrocious! Eating before you go grocery shopping is an old, but great, rule. I usually have a green drink in the afternoon before any Coaching sessions. It fuels my brain and increases my vitality, so I will be at my best.

Fluid (water)

If the brain is between 75-80% water, then it makes sense that we need to be well hydrated. When we are dehydrated, our willpower is significantly impacted. The solution: a glass of water before you fire it back up. πŸ˜‰

Rest

Our brain needs rest. Therefore when we are tired, our willpower is reduced. I am sure you get this. This does not only mean sleep at night. But mini breaks all through our day, and ESPECIALLY before we need to make some big decisions. If you need to make a big decision, that might require willpower to resist the easy options, then take a walk in nature and rest the mind, or take 5 deep cleansing breath’s.

Regular use

Like a muscle we need to keep working our brains otherwise they will atrophy. Like that saying: use it or lose it. The more we practice exerting our willpower, the stronger it gets. And as I said, willpower generally trumps IQ over the long term. So regularly exercising your willpower is a highly beneficial practice.

Right resistance

In the gym, if I lift a really light weight my muscles will not become stronger. They need a high enough resistance to grow. The body actually responds to the resistance through a process called over-compensation. It prepares itself for more, in response to the challenge. However, if in the gym I lift too big a weight (resistance) I can actually injure myself. So we need resistance to build our willpower, but not too much otherwise we become overwhelmed and chronic overwhelm can lead to depressive symptoms.

So think of your brain and willpower as a muscles. Tick off the 5 boxes. Especially before you are going to do something that is very important to you, and you may require a lot of brain power. Be strategic. Optimize your gifts.

Willpower Optimizing Tip 3: the superpower of priming

So we have established two very important points:

  1. Using our willpower consumes vast amounts of energy.
  2. We can do certain practical things to optimize our willpower.

This means we want to be wise about how we use our brains. Let’s not use our brain aimlessly on stuff that is not important and use up all our energy, so when it comes to the important stuff, we are too tired to make our best decisions. Plus we don’t have the willpower to execute those less than stellar decisions. Save your brains for the things that really matter. The most meaningful and fulfilling.

The second thing I want to teach you is how ‘priming’ our brains lowers the need willpower. Now I have talked about this before. It is an IF-THEN strategy. What we do is make a decision in advance of a situation that normally requires a lot of willpower. This means because we have made the decision in advance (when we were relaxed, calm and at our most intelligent) we don’t have to exert willpower on the spot to get what we want, and refrain from going to the dark side. Our brain needs to use less energy, because it already knows what it needs to do. As opposed to doing the should I / shouldn’t I routine, which requires a LOT of willpower to resist short-term pleasure for long term gain.

A very simple example for me is that I love chocolate, and I also know that over 70% cacao content it is getting into being a healthy food (good probiotic from the cacao). So I have an IF-THEN strategy primed. IF I buy chocolate, THEN I can only buy 70% plus. I have made the decision in advance. So when I am in a corner store and feeling a little bit hungry, if I pick up a chocolate and it is not dark chocolate 70%+ then I put it down.

Parting words
I am a big believer in making full use of the tools we have within our person. That means using our brains most effectively. As you understand now, having to apply our willpower to something is hard work. Using the will uses a lot of the brains energy, so the brain and the body lean in the direction of the thing that is most easy (in the short-term). And often that is not what we intellectually want or we realise it will have potential negative consequences in the future.

You want to make it as easy as possible to succeed, so to recap:

  1. Save your willpower for the important and meaningful stuff.
  2. Take care of the physical things that optimize your brains effectiveness.
  3. Where possible, make your decisions in advance, if you know your willpower will be challenged.

Final tip: know your limitations. Don’t make life harder for youself than it needs to be. For instance: don’t buy junk food and keep it in your cupboard. You will resist eating it when your brain is fresh, but when you get tired your willpower will be reduced and you are likely to give in. I don’t have junk food in the house. If I feel I need some, I have to leave the house and walk or ride to the shop, which 95% of the time I could not be bothered doing.

Set yourself up for success!!

As always, please ask questions of me, or share your thoughts in a response email or by putting a post on Facebook.

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