It’s that time of year…How about we take one more swing at our soon-to-be-forgotten resolutions? It might help to know this about willpower, stress, and your brain:
Dr. Kelly McGonigal of Stanford University tells us that “will power is like a muscle. The more you work on developing it, the more you can incorporate it into your life.”
It takes practice. It is a skill. Keep in mind though, that you need the right conditions to succeed.
Understand that stress and willpower are incompatible. At the studio, we talk a lot about stress and recovery. Stress, especially chronic stress, will undermine just about anything from your work to your health, but it’s not often we think about how it undermines our decision-making.
Any time we’re stressed, it’s harder to find our willpower. According to McGonigal, “the fight-or-flight response floods the body with energy to act instinctively and steals it from the areas of the brain needed for wise decision-making [in other words, your rational capability declines–it’s harder to think]. Stress also encourages you to focus on immediate, short-term goals and outcomes–but self-control requires keeping the big picture in mind.” Keeping the goal in mind–your eyes on the prize–is critical to long-term success.
McGonigal says, “Learning how to better manage your stress is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower.”
One thing you can do when you get stressed out, is to go for a walk. Even a five minute walk outside can reduce your stress levels, boost your mood, and help you replenish your willpower reserves.
And get more sleep! “Sleep deprivation (less than six hours a night) makes it so that the prefrontal cortex loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings. Science shows that getting just one more hour of sleep each night (eight hours is ideal) helps recovering drug addicts avoid a relapse.”
So it can certainly help you resist a doughnut or a cigarette or whatever you’re trying to accomplish using will power, ie, self-discipline.
Need more help? Register for our regularly scheduled Power of Calm Educational Hour! by clicking here