In my last blog we looked at what will-power is and what it isn’t. We learned that will-power is not a moral trait that some are lucky enough to be born while the rest of us are just out of luck. We learned that will-power exists in biological structures we all possess and that we can do things that strengthen those structures so that when we need strong will-power, it is at our ready.
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In that blog I also covered two amazing strategies that will most definitely strengthen will-power when put into practice on a regular basis:
1) Meditation and
2) Remembering to slow your breathing down to 4-6 breaths a minute in the face of a will-power threat.
I hope that you had a chance to give one or both a try and that you are noticing some benefits already! Personally, I love both of these practices and I regularly recommend them to my clients because they improve other equally important aspects of well-being including sleep quality, mood, lower levels of anxiety, increased self-awareness, and reduced irritability.
BREAKING NEWS: “Buy One Get MORE FREE” Sale on Will Power
According to research into will-power, an interesting phenomenon happens when people are asked to make one change in their lives: They begin making other changes in areas that require will-power without being asked to and seemingly with ease! One change in particular has been shown to create this surge of will-power for other goals and it is EXERCISE.
In one study that demonstrated the beneficial impact of exercise on will-power, participants who were not exercisers to begin with were given free gym memberships and encouraged to use it as much as they wanted to. They were also asked to keep track of other aspects of their life involving will-power including what they were eating, how much they were spending, their temper, their consumption of substances such as caffeine and nicotine, etc. The study found that people who used the gym the most, that is three times per week, as opposed to those who used it just once per week were reporting amazing changes in other areas that require will-power, even though they had not been asked to make any other changes.
In her book, The Will Power Instinct, Dr. McGonigal provides a physiological explanation for this phenomenon. She explains that the brain experiences exercise as a kind of stress. The brain adapts to the stress by increasing certain chemicals and this in turn improves the metabolism of the brain. In other words, when you ask the body to do something that is hard, the adaptation process changes your brain for the better. Neuroscientists find increased gray matter (brain cells) and increased white matter (protective insulation for brain cells) in exercisers, most especially in the areas of their prefrontal cortex where will-power is housed. So, if you have been debating whether or not to reach out to Antonella and have her amazing help in making exercise a part your life, let this motivate you to do so!
Quick Tip: If you want to double up on the beneficial impact of exercise, do it outside! Dr. Qing Li in his book, Forest Bathing, explains that spending time in nature improves mood, reduces stress, increases energy, improves memory and problem-solving capabilities, improves optimism, increases immune function, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep, among other beneficial outcomes!
Along with Dr. McGonigal’s explanation, I believe there is a psychological reason why making one change can empower us into making others:
We get a serious boost in self-efficacy when we watch ourselves persisting towards our goals, no matter the challenges.
We are always watching ourselves and what we observe can have a powerful impact on how we feel about ourselves. Watching yourself persevere through a difficult workout, watching yourself getting out of a cozy bed in order to get to an early morning workout, watching yourself saying no to that second slice of pie will rewire and re-write how you define yourself.
You stop thinking of yourself as some who can’t and start seeing yourself as someone who CAN!
With this new self-image in mind, we approach other problems in our lives with a sense of belief in ourselves as people who can overcome anything.
To quicken the self-learning process and to amplify the power of re-writing your self-definition from someone who can’t to someone who can, I suggest taking a few minutes towards the end of your day to review your day with a journal. I call this a time to “connect the dots” between our actions and what they say about who we are and our values. You see, there is actually a plethora of evidence scattered throughout our day of our self-efficacy, our capabilities, our resourcefulness, our strengths and talents, our courage and determination, our compassion and kindness. But, when we don’t pause to deliberately notice, record and savour these experiences, so many of our best moments get lost in the busyness and noise of the day or tend to be drowned out by the negative aspects of our day. This is due to something called the Negativity Bias of the mind.
My suggestions for journaling include:
Start by calming your mind and body:
With your journal ready, start at the top of your day and look for one or more of the following:
Next, savour one or two of these moments from your day:
Now, connect the dots between these experiences and see yourself accurately as someone who can!
I would also recommend that in your journal you periodically record and update two other important aspects of Self:
This increases our awareness of who we are and what is important to us. But why is this important? When we are in the midst of a will power crisis, we want to immediately bring to bear our values and our goals to empower us to deal victoriously with that crisis! So keep a full bank account of information to strengthen your motivations and keep you strong.
(McGonigal, K. (2012). The willpower instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it. New York: Avery.)
(Qing, L. (2018). Forest Bathing. New York: Viking.)