Can you imagine your life without any willpower at all? Would it be hollow, meaningless? And what about your needs, your wants, your ambitions? What would become of them?
We drive our lives with the power of our will. But what is willpower? Are we born with a set amount of it? Does it level off by the time we reach adulthood, or can we acquire more of it later in life?
Preeminent psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University tells us that there are two key factors that influence our success in life: Willpower and Intellect. Unfortunately, intellect (IQ) can only be changed marginally throughout life. But we can develop our willpower. Studies have shown that children who have shown greater willpower in their earlier years, turned out to have better family lives, and were more successful in their adult life professionally, economically, and socially.
Our willpower has two main attributes:
It is a depletable resource; and
It can be developed, even later in life.
Willpower – a depletable resource.
The centre of our willpower is located in the Prefrontal Cortex of our brain. This region is also called the Executive Function of our brain and is responsible for: long term goal planning; motivation; reward anticipation; emotional integration; impulse control; and several other functions. Collectively, these functions greatly influence our willpower.
One of the main limitations of our Prefrontal Cortex is that it requires a significant amount of energy to operate efficiently. Consequently, its processing capacity is diminished when the level of its primary source of energy (glucose) in our blood declines. This happens especially before lunch and dinner.
An interesting study illustrates the effect of mental processing depletion on parole judges in Israel. Researchers found that the rate of paroles awarded by the judges first thing in the morning, after they had a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast, was around 70%. It dropped to nearly zero just before lunch, when the level of energy in the brains of the judges was depleted. And guess what, immediately after lunch the rate at which paroles were awarded increased again to 65%.
Developing your willpower muscle.
Scientific studies also reveal that we can develop the area of the brain responsible for our willpower. One way to achieve this is by performing simple exercises such as using your non-dominant hand to perform tasks such as operating your computer mouse, brushing your teeth, and even washing the dishes (if you can tolerate a broken plate or two). After performing these tasks repeatedly for at least 8 weeks you’ll notice that that the new routine, which initially required a lot of mental effort, has evolved into an automatic habit, which doesn’t require direction from your conscious awareness. Once you’ve reached this level of proficiency, it’s time to tackle a new routine.
Stay tuned for next week’s post on things you can do to maintain the wellness of your willpower.
About the Author Uri founded The Will To Change Inc. (www.thewilltochange.com) in 2008, with the objective of helping his clients develop and harness their willpower, intellect, and talent to reach personal and professional growth opportunities they could not imagine possible. Uri helps his clients achieve clarity of purpose and develop a sound change strategy. He also supports them throughout their change journey and holds them accountable to pursue their goals. Before launching his career as an executive and corporate coach, Uri was an executive management consultant for over 25 years. In this role Uri climbed the corporate ladder to become a partner with the international consulting firm Accenture in South Africa, a vice president with Oracle Corporation in the USA, and a senior vice president with PwC Consulting in Canada. Uri is a frequent writer and speaker in the areas of Willpower, Personal and Professional Change, Leadership, Business Transformation, and Project Management.
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