I Will. Will I?
Ever told yourself that you are going to get out of bed an hour earlier every day and go for a run? Perhaps you did for the first 4 days then you skipped a day. Then another, and another.
Ever decided to join a gym and go there straight after work on your way home each afternoon? How long did you keep paying for that gym membership before you realized you had wasted hundreds of dollars by not using it?
Sticking to these decisions requires a test of your Will Power and it seems that as humans we have a fairly unreliable ability to control that will. Science however has come to our rescue and explained in part why we sometimes suck at life…
It turns out that the part of our brain that is responsible for self control, exercising our will power and focusing our efforts (the pre-frontal cortex) has a limited ability to do its job.
There are several factors at play that will essentially fatigue our “Will Power Muscle” and make it incredibly difficult for us to do the Right Thing instead of the Easy Thing.
Typically our pre-frontal cortex is at its freshest and most active first thing in the morning. As the day progresses and we are required to make more and more decisions about where we will direct our attention and our efforts, this part of our brains begins to get tired and we tend to do things that require less effort or less self control.
Such things as sleep deprivation, higher stress levels and lack of exercise can all de-condition our “Will Power Muscle” and leave it in a less than ideal state. With this in mind, it is no wonder we sometimes slip up and don’t stick to our plans… It’s not our fault, we were given this pre-frontal cortex thingy and it isn’t doing its job properly… right?
Understanding how and why you sometimes take the path of least resistance and avoid making the right decisions, coupled with some simple tricks to maximize the effective use of your will power can make all the difference.
As I mentioned previously, first thing in the morning, your brain is at its most creative and responsive to challenges. This is the best time to set yourself goals and stick to them. As the day continues on, the requirements placed on you tax your blood sugar and low blood sugar has been found to affect your decision making abilities.
For example, when you have lower blood sugar, you are more likely to eat something bad for you. Preparing small meals and grazing on them throughout the day will dramatically reduce your urge to binge. For this reason, never go food shopping when hungry and always eat before you need to make an important decision.
Getting extra sleep can have a huge impact on your pre-frontal cortex’s ability to exercise your will and so does regular exercise.
Why then does it take so much effort to convince yourself to exercise, especially if exercise supposedly boosts your will power? It has to do with conditioning. Every time you make the tough decision to exercise when you don’t want to, your brain gets taxed by the decision. However, over time, that exercise replenishes the energy stores required to make that decision and that tough decision becomes more like a primal need and the choice is no longer an issue.
You love running because it feels good, but you also love it because your brain needs it!
Meditation, spending time in nature, good nutrition and decreasing your stress will all aid in the decision making abilities of your “Will Power Muscle”.
In fact, exercising your will power itself will in fact strengthen you will power. This can be done by simply making a decision, any decision, and sticking to it. You might decide to use only your non dominant hand for a day. It can be anything at all, but if you stick to it and complete the task, your pre-frontal cortex is strengthened in its ability to make a decision and follow it through.
Exercise your Will. It will serve you well.