Tone your WILLPOWER!

willpower beach


WILLPOWER. We need it everyday to stay focused at work, practice a new skill, resist spending money or drinking/eating too much and especially to get ourselves to workout.  But did you know that willpower works just like a muscle?

Exercising willpower depletes resources in the body.

The fuel of willpower is glucose. Glucose is the primary fuel of the body. It’s the same fuel that muscles use to exert their strength, and the same fuel that the brain uses to perform its many tasks. What is surprising is the fact that willpower uses a lot of it, even when the body is at rest.  Willpower is a particularly expensive mental act, engaging many areas of the brain and requiring high levels of fuel.

In a recent study, people trying to lose weight…were put in a room with a plate of broccoli and cookies and told to eat only the broccoli. Immediately following this act of self-control, participants’ glucose levels dropped. Participants were then asked to repeat the act of self-control. Those whose glucose levels had dropped the most from the first task performed the worst on the second attempt. Participants given a sip of a sugary drink between tasks (replenishing their glucose levels) were better able to resist the cookies in the second attempt.

This study certainly pushes the boundaries of how we think about willpower. Not many of us would like to believe that our virtue is dependent on the last time we snacked. However, the implications are important: our ability to flex our willpower depends on glucose. When glucose levels are low (for example, from skipping breakfast),  willpower is impaired.

Does this mean we should be giving ourselves sugar every time we want to exert some self-control? Clearly, that would be a short-sighted strategy. Instead choose foods that keep blood glucose levels relatively stable, and don’t skip meals!

Referenced from The Science of Willpower by Kelly McGonigal, PhD