12 Apr Willpower Part 1: Finite amount or endless supply?
Have you ever noticed your willpower fading as the day wears on? Maybe you find it harder to get things done. You might lose patience and snap at loved ones, or find your thoughts spiraling out of control. Perhaps you experience decision fatigue – feeling like you can’t make any more decisions, and compromise becomes more difficult. The reason is that we have a finite amount of willpower, and it becomes depleted as we use it. We use willpower to
- control our thoughts
- control our emotions
- control our impulses and actions
- control our performance, which includes
- focusing our energy
- using the right combination of speed and accuracy
- managing our time
- persevering when we feel like quitting.
The good news is that we can learn to manage our willpower more wisely, and we can strengthen our willpower with practice.
Fueling the brain for willpower
It’s also very important to feed the brain so it can function properly, and glucose is the necessary fuel. No glucose means no willpower, which results in a hunger for sweets. Glucose is needed to fight infection, so willpower may weaken when we have an infection. Alcohol lowers blood glucose and reduces self-awareness, resulting in less self-control. PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) is caused when glucose is channeled to the ovaries and related activities, making it difficult for women to control their thoughts, emotions, actions, and performance if they don’t have enough glucose for the brain. People who starve themselves to lose weight probably lack glucose, which dramatically weakens their willpower and has them reaching for sweets.
The answer is not to reach for sweets, but rather to maintain a diet of slow burn fuels – all the things we know about eating a brain-healthy diet.
Next time, I’ll share ideas about managing willpower, so that we have it when we really need it.
Reference – Willpower by R.F. Baumeister and J. Tierney. 2011. The Penguin Press, New York. 291 pp.