Maximising Willpower

Whenever you are trying to achieve something really important to you over a prolonged period, having great willpower is a huge advantage. Here’s everything you need to know to start maximising your willpower.

Willpower is a LIMITED resource

The first thing you need to remember about willpower is that it’s a finite resource, and not a bottomless pit!

Willpower is easily depleted by LOTS of different things

The second thing you need to know about willpower is that unfortunately many different things deplete it! The things that deplete it can be grouped into 4 main categories:

  • Controlling thoughts
  • Controlling emotions
  • Controlling impulses
  • Controlling performance

Let me expand on these:

Controlling Thoughts

In this example you will have set goals, and in order to maximise your chances of hitting your targets you should decide in advance what you are prepared to change and what you aren’t prepared to change over this period. If you have something that you have said that you will give up or change, but you aren’t 100% committed or sure then this area is likely to creep into your thoughts, and the very act of thinking about this area will sap your willpower as you rationalise in your head whether you can have this thing or not.

Decide in advance what you will and wont be doing and COMMIT to that!

Controlling Emotions

Trying to improve your own mood or act differently to how you really feel will deplete your willpower reserves. “Faking it” uses up your willpower pretty quickly, which means that at the end of a tough day you will likely have very little willpower left. Stress depletes willpower, as does not getting enough sleep. Both of which therefore reduces your ability to control your emotions and behaviour.

It’s also really wise to limit your exposure to things that might make you feel bad. One example familiar to many people trying to lose weight is the dreaded bathroom scales. If you find that getting on the scales and weighing yourself affects your emotions, then don’t weigh yourself, or at least don’t weigh yourself very often, as the emotions you feel when you get a bad reading will likely do more harm than good!

If you find yourself feeling a way you don’t want to, ask yourself how do you want to feel? Then ask what can you do to make you feel how you want to feel? Then DO that thing. In this respect music can be fantastic as a way of completely changing your mood, as can getting out for a walk in the fresh air, or a little meditation. Changing how you feel in these ways protects willpower!

Controlling Impulses
If you are in an environment where there are lots of things that will make you hitting your targets problematic such as chocolates, sweets or alcohol, then every time you resist (and by resist this includes something as seemingly innocuous as just walking past a desk that has a chocolate bar on it) you deplete your willpower. Walk past that desk 10 times, and your brain will register the temptation 10 times, and reduce your willpower reserve each time you see it.

The best advice is to control your environment whenever possible. The chances of you limiting your alcohol consumption whilst spending time in the pub is going to deplete your willpower reserves far faster than being in an environment with no alcohol (where no willpower will be used).

Remember – If you keep having to tell yourself no, it will eventually become a yes.

Controlling Performance

Making sure you stay focused on the thing you are working on reduces your willpower, as does not checking your emails or mobile phone whilst focusing on a task!

The fewer things you try and focus on the, the less your willpower will be affected adversely!

How can you Maximise Willpower?

We mentioned earlier that willpower is a limited resource, however just like the fuel in your car, willpower can be used up and also topped up!

Just like your muscles, willpower needs energy to function. Theres an area in the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, and it’s this area that’s responsible for willpower. Unfortunately this area does not have it’s own energy reserve and it therefore relies on there being energy available (specifically blood sugar.) Low Blood Sugar = Low Willpower

Keeping Blood Sugar Stable Energises Willpower

One reason why diets fail is that they make you restrict the amount of food you eat, and this is a catch 22 for willpower and therefore the success of the diet. Most people think that to lose weight they need to restrict their food intake, however to maintain blood sugar levels you need to eat regularly!

If your blood sugar levels fall, make no mistake that your body knows how to replenish its levels. It makes you crave simple carbohydrates, often crisps or chocolate to replenish blood sugar and everyone knows these are bad for weight-loss.

One great strategy to keep your blood sugar stable and therefore maintain willpower is to eat small and often throughout the day.

How Can You Tell if Your Willpower is Running Low?

Unsurprisingly the symptoms of low willpower are the same as those often associated with low blood sugar. You will find yourself struggling to control your emotions, and your emotions will be amplified: something that under normal circumstances would irritate you a little, will irritate you a lot! If you think of the Snickers advert with the rugby player turning into Joan Collins you will get the picture. Sorry – hopefully thinking of chocolate wont deplete your willpower too much.

Menstrual Cycle

Its been long accepted that many females will crave specific types of foods during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. What’s less well known is why?

The menstrual cycle requires a significant amount of energy (which is one reason why women with severely restricted diets often stop ovulating) and this energy must come from somewhere. If a woman doesn’t eat extra calories to compensate for this increased demand for energy, then blood sugar will be used for energy, and thus fall too low. Once blood sugar goes too low, cravings take over and foods high in simple carbohydrate calories will be consumed.

My advice is to get to know your body, and record your cravings. In addition when you crave a particular food (e.g. chocolate), you can instead eat something like oatcakes with cold meat. Although it’s not what you craved, it will stabilise your blood sugar which should take care of the craving without interfering with your fat loss!

Top Tips For Maximising Willpower

  • Sleep Well (Quality and Quantity both Matter)
  • Eat Breakfast
  • Eat Every 3-4 Hours
  • Control Your Environment to avoid temptations and stress

I hope you’ve found this useful. If you have any question just get in touch.

author avatar
Gordon McCrorie

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