Will Power is Our Greatest Strength?
According to cold, hard science, willpower is an unlimited resource. And small habit changes over time can drive big gains in our lives.
Willpower is a mind-body response and the active ingredient that allows us to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. Stress is the enemy of willpower, so say the latest findings of neuroscientists, psychologists, and life coaches in the field. Inadvertently, threats of terrorism, economic uncertainty, and work-related anxiety have done their share to hijack current society’s self control. Simply put, we’re living in a time that requires more willpower than ever when it may be harder to come by. Indulgences soothe us—from the after-work cocktail to the weekend shopping spree to excessive Facebook time or that extravagant piece of New York cheesecake. But opting for immediate gratification and having the universe influence our agenda keep long-term goals outside our grasp.
Self-control lives in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, and behaviors like getting intoxicated regularly, sleep-deprivation, overeating, and garden-variety stress have negative effects on the health of this part of the brain. In fact, it’s been posited that one of the reasons for the increase in obesity these days may be that people just aren’t sleeping enough and as a result are more inclined to make poor, short-term choices.
Experts suggest that we need to think of self-control as a “muscle”; something we can train in order to increase our willpower. Not unlike an athlete, in order to strengthen willpower skills we can make a willpower workout part of a daily regimen for goals like losing weight, saving money, or getting out of debt. And not unlike an athlete in training, exerting the self-control muscle, while difficult in the early stages of the effort, will only grow easier with time and increased resolve.
In addition to more sleep and less stress, breathing-focused meditation for as little as five minutes a day has been proven to increase the size of the pre-frontal cortex as the practice helps us maintain a big-picture view of our life and long-term goals. Another tip is to outsource willpower: Enlist family and friends to join you in your goal to give up smoking or get fit. The time has never been better to develop the tools of success that improve our life, and to become the best version we can be as we begin to imagine our future self.
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