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Willpower: Mystery or Science?

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By Mudit Jha | 25th June, 2022

Willpower sounds like a thing that just exists within us physically. As if energy pushing us to “Roll up our sleeves and get working”. But in reality, it has a lot to do with how we function as humans psychologically and our brains.

It's not so mysterious as one might claim it to be. Let's see how we can harness this power!

What is willpower? 🤔

First off, let’s understand that willpower is a function related to the prefrontal cortex near the forehead which is responsible for controlling our decisions, behavior, cognition, and emotional thinking.

So, willpower is certainly a tangible thing that functions within our brains actively. Self-control is a common topic when discussing willpower because our ability to control our actions ultimately decides how we distribute our energy to tasks.

Dictionary Definitions:

-The ability to control one's own actions, emotions, or urges.
-A very strong determination to do something.
-The ability to control yourself with strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as lose weight or quit smoking)

One thing that the dictionary definitions lack to explain is that- Will power is a finite resource. More than ability, willpower is the currency of decision-making. You trade your willpower for the choices you make.

“If you use your willpower to make a difficult choice, your next decision may be even harder.”

Willpower is a like battery that eventually runs out. Contrary to what the popular quote- “where there is a will there is a way” says, willpower is always being drained with every decision and resistance we make.

🍫 A Case Study

In a study at Stanford University it was found that in a group of children who were left in a room with chocolate for 15 mins, only a handful actually managed to resist the temptation to pick up the sweet candy. This experiment revealed that our willpower depletes as time goes on and the more we resist and think about resisting, the more quickly we lose control over our decisions.

The brain is designed to burn 1/5 of the human body’s entire calories.

👈 That is a massive amount considering the size of the brain. This explains why after a long day from school or work, we are usually mentally exhausted.

Draining Willpower 😩

According to Gary Keller, Author of The ONE Thing, some of the activities that tax our willpower include:

  • 🏋️‍♂️ Implementing New behaviors

    New habits take willpower to develop. We are asking our brains to consciously implement something in new our life that hasn’t been implemented previously. Such starting a morning workout routine: in the start, it takes large amounts of willpower to get going until it eventually becomes a habit.

  • 🙊Resisting Temptations

    Just like the Stanford chocolate experiment- the more we try to resist, the more our energy to resist depletes.

  • 📝 Taking Tests

    We all know how draining tests are. Well, it turns out they drain our willpower just as much as they drain our energy. Have you ever sat down for a 3-hour test and felt energized and motivated to go and study some more?! Well, most likely not! You would want to rest and relax.

  • 🤡 Trying to impress others

    This is one of those things that we as human beings are instinctively wired to do, but we also have the ability to control and suppress that urge to preserve our energy. It's not wrong to want to impress others; it just matters whom and why we wish to impress. (Read more about this topic in my previous article.)

  • 😩 Doing something you don’t enjoy

    We all have things we hate doing as students: homework, studying for tests, and working on things we don’t enjoy it is just a recipe for draining energy. If we are not interested in doing the task then it will consume and destroy the enjoyment process entirely.

These are just a few things that work towards draining our limited willpower and mental energy.

These are just a few things that work towards draining our limited willpower and mental energy.

Key Term- Instant Gratification ⚡
The need for quick results and satisfaction is known as “Instant Gratification,” which is a strong indicator of low willpower. Whenever we pick short-term enjoyment over long-term results, we are actively giving in to our desires.

📍 What does all this mean?

  1. Our willpower is limited. Managing it is the key to any success.
  2. Willpower is timely. Find out when you are at peak performance and consistently align and reserve that time period for the most important and crucial daily tasks.
  3. Don’t compromise fueling your brain. It consumes 1/5 of our calories and needs to be energized for best performance.

- A quote to end it off! The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.

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