I'm so excited to have a guest blogger this week. This guy really knows his stuff!
Alex Lefkowitz is the writer/content creator at Productive You. He has been a student of productivity for the past 10 years, constantly researching and trying new techniques. His website aims to answer the following questions: “Why is it that some people are more productive than others?” And, “How can one make himself/herself more productive consistently?” For Alex, productivity isn't just a goal, it's a purpose and a way of life. Alex believes that true happiness comes from being your most, well... productive you!
What do the following scenarios have in common?
“I shouldn’t have binge-watched that Netflix special…”
“I should have done my reading…”
“I shouldn’t have eaten those Blackforest Gummy Worms…”
“I should have gone to the gym instead of the bar…”
Answer: Firstly, they’re all real quotes from me. Secondly, they’re all undesirable outcomes that could have been avoided if only I had more willpower.
And I’m guessing that you can relate to at least one of these scenarios yourself. And if you follow Amber, then your scenario may be more related to substance abuse. I come from a long line of alcoholics and drug addicts, myself.
So, trust me, this willpower stuff is important, and it directly relates to substance abuse.
In this article, you’ll learn exactly what willpower is (based on scientific studies), what controls it, and how to have more willpower overall by following 5 practical tips.
(to read the full article head on over to my website at https://theproductiveyou.com/)
Willpower, What’s the Big Deal?
Make no mistake about it, your willpower is the most important thing in your life. You use it every day and it affects every decision you make (like, should I have a drink tonight?)
Are you literally reading this article right now? Then you’re using willpower (thanks for reading, by the way :D) What about when you're watching a YouTube video, or saving money, or setting goals and thinking about your future? You guessed it... they all use willpower.
In other words, it’s pretty important.
In the APA’s annual Stress in America Survey, participants said that a lack of willpower is the main reason why they don’t make life-improving changes.
Put another way, most us understand that willpower has something to do with our decision making, yet, very few of us actually know what it is, let alone where it comes from and how to control it.
Luckily, those mysteries are solved right here in this article. Let’s start with the what, and then we’ll move on to the how. Buckle up, this is going to be fun! (at least for me, I love this kind of stuff!)
What Exactly is Willpower?
Willpower has many different names – such as self-control, self-discipline, and what the scientific community has deemed as “ego depletion” – but they all refer to the same thing.
Specifically, willpower is the ability to use conscious effort to overcome your automatic or habitual responses to stimuli.
And you use willpower anytime you alter your thoughts, emotions, desires, or behaviors. The scenarios you read at the opening of this article were all examples of behavioral willpower, but it affects your thoughts, emotions, and desires just the same.
For example, have you ever been in an argument with another person? Specifically, an argument where you’re fuming mad and want to retaliate, but don’t, because you’re thinking “screw it, just get me the hell outta here!”
If so, then, bam! You actually used a whole lot of your willpower with that argument. And you did so in two ways:
First, you altered your desires. You wanted to retaliate but you chose to bite your tongue and move on instead, and this conscious decision to not follow through with your retaliatory remarks drained your willpower.
Second, you altered your emotions. It’s hard to stay calm during such an argument. So, you had to spend some time afterward bringing yourself “back to center”, emotionally speaking. This, again, was a big drain.
Is Willpower a Depletable Resource?
The biggest takeaway you should get from this example is that your willpower is, indeed, a depletable resource. This is a very, very, important point because it means that every time you use willpower, you then have less of it available.
In other words, if you try to focus on a task (such as homework or going to work) after having an argument with another person, then you’ll likely find that it is much harder to complete your task with a high level of proficiency. There are ways to increase your willpower, but we’ll get into those later.
Think of your willpower like a car’s fuel tank. Every time you drive a car you burn fuel and thus have less fuel available later.
This information alone was a huge realization for me. I used to think that having a lot of willpower meant that you should be able to “will” yourself to do anything, regardless of the situation.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
One of the first studies to demonstrate this “depletion effect” was done by Roy Baumeister. He tested the participant’s willpower by separating them into two groups.
Group one was presented with and allowed to eat a plate of freshly baked cookies (yummy!) Group two was presented with the same cookies but was not allowed to eat them (they got radishes instead.)
Afterward, both groups were tasked with completing the same puzzle as a way to test their willpower.
The results found that group two did far worse on the puzzle than did group one. This is because group two depleted a significant amount of their willpower by resisting the cookies (desires and behaviors), and thus had less of it leftover to focus on the puzzle.
In another study, participants were tasked with first watching a short video (remember, focusing your attention on something, including a video, uses willpower.)
After the video, the participants were then given a Stroop task. A Stroop task is where words for colors are highlighted in different colors, and participants have to differentiate between the world and the highlighted color. You can see an example here.
The results found that the participants who focused less on the initial video did better on the Stroop task because they had higher levels of willpower.
Based on these studies and numerous others it seems fairly clear that willpower is indeed a resource in and of itself.
But what exactly is this resource? Is there some sort of “magical willpower ooze”, possibly, of the TCRI variation? (it’s a teenage mutant ninja turtles reference)
(P.S. I also did an article analyzing the motivational techniques of one of the best in the business, John Wick. You can read it here: https://theproductiveyou.com/stay-motivated-when-life-gets-hard/)
The Willpower Resource – Your Blood Glucose Levels
More recent studies on willpower have concluded that it is, unfortunately, not determined by a magical ooze. Rather, it is directly correlated to your blood glucose levels.
Your blood glucose levels, aka your blood sugar, aka the fuel that your entire body uses, is the same fuel that your willpower uses as well.
To really understand this, we have to talk about the brain for just a moment.
There’s a nice area of your brain called the prefrontal cortex that’s located, unsurprisingly, at the front.
The prefrontal cortex includes a whole host of other areas and has a lot of important functions. Namely, it is responsible for moderating your decision making and your behaviors. And this is thought to be the area where your willpower comes from.
So, whenever you are exercising willpower you are actually activating your prefrontal cortex. And because your prefrontal cortex is such an important area it burns a lot of fuel (think of it as akin to driving a rocket ship instead of driving a car.)
But wait, I already know what you’re thinking…
You’re thinking that: “well, if using willpower actives my prefrontal cortex, and my prefrontal cortex drains my blood glucose levels, then all I have to do is pop some sugar pills and increase my blood glucose levels and I’ll have infinite willpower! Muahahaha… MUAHAHAHA…”
First of all, enough with the evil laughter.
Second of all, it won’t work.
Willpower and your blood glucose levels don’t have a one to one relationship. Meaning that one unit increase of glucose does not equal one unit increase in willpower.
Try and think of the relationship as an “enough vs not enough” type of relationship; if you don’t have enough glucose then you’re screwed, but once you cross the “enough” threshold you’re ok.
Also, there seems to be a cap – a limit where more glucose doesn’t increase willpower at all.
Also, blood glucose levels aren’t the end all be all of willpower. Other factors are known to affect it as well.
The Willpower Triad – Other Factors that Control Your Willpower
Numerous studies indicate that are three primary factors, other than your blood glucose levels, that affect your willpower – I call these the willpower triad.
They are your mood, the time of day, and how well-rested you are.
For mood, being in a horrible mood surprisingly gives you more willpower…
The truth is that being in a good mood seems to give you more willpower and make it last longer while being in a horrible mood hurts your willpower and makes it drain more quickly.
Now, the second part of the triad, time of day, is an interesting one. Everyone seems to have a particular time of day that is best suited for their willpower. In other words, your willpower may perform most efficiently at noon, while mine may perform most efficiently at midnight.
Think of this as being similar to sleep schedules, in that some people are more naturally “morning people” while others are more naturally “night owls.”
The third part of the triad, how well-rested you are, is simple: the more tired you are the worse your willpower will be.
Why exactly the triad affects your willpower is still a mystery. It could be that they are independent variables in the willpower formula itself. Or, it could merely be that they affect your blood glucose levels or the way your body processes glucose, which in turn affects your willpower.
The latter explanation would effectively make them just another component of the blood glucose levels and willpower formula.
Regardless, always keep the triad in mind when you have important work to do…
But wait! A recent study has uncovered one more factor that affects your willpower that may supersede the triad and even your blood glucose levels!
To learn exactly what this factor is, and to see the 5 tips you can use today to increase your willpower, read the rest of the article here: