The concept of willpower has undergone many fundamental changes throughout history. From a sense of personal commitment, to an almost mystical force, willpower truly has a strong place in our mind's eye of productive and healthy living.
Willpower Isn't the Mere Ability to Control Your Actions
Our willpower is a direct reflection of our mind's functionality and is intimately tied to our brain chemistry. It is in essence a brain muscle 🧠💪 that flexes with every decision making process. Just like the skeletal muscles of our body, willpower tires with use.
From choosing broccoli over home-baked cookies, to being nice to your in-laws, all of these tasks contribute to the depletion of our willpower.
By the way - Willpower - is the other side of the - Self-Control - coin.
It is a measure of our mental reserves for control of subsequent actions and tasks. And they may not even be related tasks. Roy Baumeister famously conducted a cookies and radish experiment to illustrate willpower. In it the willpower to persist and solve geometry puzzles was assessed following exposure to the smell of cookies, and either eating cookies (group 1), or radishes (group 2).
Can you guess the results?
Yep, those exposed to the smell of cookies, but given radishes gave up sooner.
Using their willpower to resist the cookies left them with less stamina available to tackle difficult tasks later...
Checking in on my own decision making and willpower:
I've noticed this past fortnight has been very draining with the number of demands on my mind. The willpower to; write my revue, continue work in my spare time, exercise, solve work problems, coordinate projects, communicate with stakeholders, and more has had me running on empty.
Having to make so many decisions on a regular basis exhausted my available willpower, and I hadn't given my mind time to recover it.
What did this state look like? You may know it yourself.
Home from a long day at work, exhausted, bickering with a spouse instead of compromising together
Lazing around unproductively (whether on days off or after work).
How am I getting back to it? Recognising the positive behaviours that contribute to strengthening my willpower, and consciously accepting that rest is okay.
The good news: Willpower is trainable 🤩
You don't have to specifically target your willpower muscle to strengthen it either! Simply using your willpower to make positive changes in your behaviour can strengthen self-control and awareness in other areas of your life. This builds into the idea of Self-Efficacy, which is a topic for another letter.
By following through on sdimple positive behaviours that you know you can accomplish, you in turn flex your willpower muscle and, just like your bicep, it grows.