Will Power or Won't Power?

WillPower, Won'tPower and IWantPower

How to be more successful in school, work, relationships, wealth, and health.

Wow, sorry it has been so long since my last email to you!  I have been busy doing my best ignoring the snow (yes, Eileen and Cheryl, I'm pretending there is no snow, and that I didn't have to shovel 8 times so far this winter...so don't talk to me about enjoying it, and "isn't it pretty", and how invigorating it is...I'm done and I'm ignoring now)!  Ok, so now I'm in my happy, head-in-the-sand space (ooh, sand...).  Seriously, I have been so busy with my clients, both with my personal training clients and my coaching clients.  All of my peeps are doing so well and making such great progress!  So proud of them!

Anyway, many of them have been struggling with the notion of "willpower".  So I got on my research hat (it is fuzzy, super warm, and covers my head all the way down to my hands...see pic!) and went to work.

I found out some super interesting things about Willpower....

Willpower is actually a basic survival strategy for humans.  It gives us the ability to slow down so we can think and not react to situations that might harm us in the long-run.  Humans are the only species who can think in the long-run. This happens in the pre-frontal cortex - the front, latest-formed part of our brain.   Our "critter brain" which keeps us in the fight, fight or freeze response wants us to eat the mac and cheese in front of us (we might starve) or tell off the co-worker who used the last of the printing paper (we won't survive if we cant do our jobs),  or run away from dealing with our wonderful children (or spouse) while they are throwing a tantrum.  While we are in that stressful situation, it would serve us better in then long run to take a breath and slow down.   So, think of willpower as a GOOD thing, not something to be exasperated over.

It is such a GOOD thing that people who have this trait are more successful in school and work, their relationships are better and longer lasting, and they are happier.  Want some of that?

Also, you might want to think of the process of self-control, motivation, and commitment as:

  • "Won'tPower - This keeps us from doing things that might harm us in the future
  • "IWillPower" - this motivates and propels us forward
  • "IWantPower" - Keeps the goals in mind

For the purpose of this email, I'll refer to the above collective as "willpower".

Our capacity for willpower is both unlimited and limited at the same time, just like a muscle in our body.  To get stronger,  the muscle needs to work to a point of overload by starting with small weights, and adding progressively as we get stronger.  But, if we do too much, then that muscle is 'shot' for several days, or injured and can't be there to help us until it repairs.  Same with willpower.  We can increase it, but it needs gradual training to get stronger.  And the best part is, if it gets stronger about one thing (say getting up and meditating for 5 minutes),  it gets stronger in other things (like resisting that mac and cheese your daughter just made).

Here are some ways you can help your pre-frontal cortex and work that willpower muscle:

  • Eat Something- When blood glucose levels get low, energy goes away from the pre-frontal cortex, making it harder to be human and slow down reactions
  • Meditate - Humm, seems like you've heard this before...  I'll say again, meditation has ben scientifically proven to help us humans slow down and be less reactive.  It builds neurons and pathways, brings more blood flow to your pre-frontal cortex.  
  • Breathe - Slows down the stress response.  Try to slow down to 4-6 breaths a minute.  Researcher can even predict if a person will succumb to temptation by how their breath and heart rate increases after shown the stimulus.  FREAKY, huh?
  • Exercise - "The closest thing to a wonder drug" *  Great for brain function, gets blood flowing and keeps us healthy so our critter brain can chill out.
  • Start small- pick 1 small goal and action item.  Succeed at that .  Then, pick another.  Don't change everything at once.  That is a sure way to over-train and injure your willpower system.
  • Tidy Up -   Being messy reduces will-power.  Even seeing other's messes reduces willpower!
  • "Catch it" from other people - we are social beings and willpower is contagious.  Ask a buddy to do the same small change.  Or find someone who represents what you want and hang with them more.  (Don't stalk them!)
  • Decision-making, Initiative, and Self-control  - These all consume willpower.  Be careful when you have exhausted your normal amount of any of these. 
  • Keep Positive- Guilt and beating yourself up only triggers more pleasure in the short-term.  Crazy, huh?  It reinforces the critter brain and makes it harder next time for the pre-frontal cortex to do its job.  

Ok, Got it?  Now find one little thing that you can do to train your willpower.  What will it be?  Meditation in the morning?   A downward facing dog before your shower?  A bottle of water with you every minute of every day?  I would love to hear what you're training is.  Please let me know and I will be there to support you.

PS -  Ready to Be The Best You?  So much more than another class or "cleanse".  Let's get clear on your DESIRES and uncover what is stopping you from being Your Best YOU!  Call me or email me to schedule a strategy session to get you there.


* Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), - See more at: http://www.phitamerica.org/News_Archive/Wonder_Drug.htm#sthash.Y7Eq5O7N.dpuf
Baurmeister, R. and Tierney, J. (2011)  Willpower, Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
Keller, G.  and Papasan, J. (2013)  The ONE Thing.
McGonigal, K.  (2011)  The Willpower Instinct:  How Self-control Works, Why it Matters and What you Can Do to get More of It
Johnson, B - The Optimizer Website and Emails   --  highly recommend Brian Johnson!