Ahhh willpower... that old chestnut!
Do you ever beat yourself up for not having the willpower to get healthy and release weight?
We often think of willpower as an indicator of our moral character...or as a tool that gets more effective with an increase in commitment.
We believe that all the willpower we need is there, waiting for us to tap into it, and if we fail - then shame on us - and we feel like a failure.
But, willpower isn’t what you think it is, and doesn’t work how you think it works.
Willpower is a simple brain function.
But here’s what’s important to understand:
It is not just a mental ability that resists temptation - it also influences other things, like our ability to focus.
It also monitors our performance doing tasks, regulates our emotions and, most important, helps us make choices.
For example: Have you ever thought to yourself at the end of a long day,
“I cannot make one more decision!”
You tell your spouse or partner to choose what’s for dinner because you just CAN’T.
That’s what is scientifically called “decision fatigue” and it’s real.
Professor of psychology at Florida State University, Roy Baumeister - the world’s leading expert on willpower wrote a paper for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that put willpower on the map as a subject of scientific study.
He conducted a study called “The Radish Experiment”
Participants were told to fast overnight and arrive hungry at the lab the next morning. They were taken into a room that was filled with the aroma of fresh baked cookies (how cruel is that?). Then the subjects were asked to sit at a table that had 2 things on it:
- a bowl filled with raw radishes, and a plate full of chocolate chip cookies and chocolate candies.
- One group was told they could eat the radishes while filling out a questionnaire, but were warned not to touch the cookies or candies as they were to be used in another study.
- A second group was told they COULD eat the cookies and candies, but to please not touch the radishes.
- A third group didn’t find any food in the room at all.
Each person was given about 15 minutes to complete the questionnaire, then taken into an adjacent room, where they were told they would “do the actual study”. They were led to believe it would be an intelligence test. In reality, it was a set of geometry puzzles that were impossible to solve.
The researchers noted how many attempts the participants would make and how long they would keep trying to solve the puzzles.
The group who had just resisted the cookies for 15 minutes had little willpower left to force themselves to work on those impossible puzzles - and quit after 8 minutes.
But, the participants who were allowed to eat the cookies, AND the participants who had no food in the room at all, kept working on the geometry puzzles for nearly 19 minutes - even though they were impossible to solve! They just kept trying! They had the willpower.
This was the first experiment where researchers realized,
“Whoa, willpower is actually a thing.”
The study not only showed that willpower was measurable - but it also proved that exerting self-control in one area of our lives uses up this precious, finite resource and prevents our ability to regulate other functions (tasks, decisions, etc.) as humans.
So, on the average - most of us naturally have only about 15 minutes of willpower available at a time. JUST 15 minutes people!
And, there’s a huge list of activities and stressors that can deplete it - particularly the kinds of things that most of us do all the time.
Like, checking emails.
You may not consciously realize it but every email requires your brain to make a number of decisions: Delete it? Read it? Store it? Reply? All? Now? Later?
Controlling our emotions also depletes our willpower quickly.
Like mothers taking care of the kids:
Getting kids ready for school, picking them up, getting them home, through their homework, dinner, a bath and bedtime - not to mention the squabbles and whining - all without losing their patience!
All that depletes willpower BIG TIME.
And so often after tucking the kids into bed - the mother heads for the kitchen for something sweet…that’s because keeping her emotions in check brings her blood sugar level down as well as dropping the level of glucose in the brain...and the entire brain runs on glucose!
Basically what this means is this:
After we’ve been working for a few hours, or at the end of a long day when blood sugar levels are at their lowest, our higher brains abandon us and leave us working from the reptilian brain which is incapable of making a wise choice as to what to eat.
I share all of this so you know and understand that if you end up making a poor decision as to what you eat for dinner at the end of your crazy busy day - there’s a reason for it… and it doesn’t mean you lack the willpower to be GOOD.
Which is why it is so important to set yourself up for success by being PREPARED. Have a MEAL & SNACK PLAN ready that will support your health!
No matter how much you know about nutrition, you’ll never succeed if you’re making your food choices on the fly.
Remember, willpower is a thing and there's limit to it.
So, it's NOT that you’re weak sister.... YOU'RE HUMAN.