Look at any elite fitness model or athlete who has a beautifully sculpted body and you know that their physiques are the result of hard work, dedication, and sure, some genetics. No one is going to dispute this.
What you may also credit them with having, however, is more willpower than the average person. According to psychologist Roy F, Baumeister, this assumption is fundamentally flawed.
In his book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, he explores how one’s ability to exercise willpower is much like one's ability to exercise any part of their body: it comes down to fuel, repetition and recovery.
Willpower and Fuel
The fuel (glucose and energy) our bodies take away from food actually affects our willpower. Blood glucose has been linked to self-control, so when you're feeling hungry, you are not only more likely to indulge in less than ideal food choices, but you're also more likely to make imprudent decisions in general. (Think splurging on an expensive new gadget or designer coat you really can't afford.) However, when glucose levels are brought back up to balance, your willpower improves.
Consuming pure sugar is not the only way to boost glucose levels. You don’t need to power back a can of Dr. Pepper to get your willpower back on track. Clean, healthy, whole foods work just as well. In fact, they work better, since an apple, for instance, will fill you up more than a handful of jelly beans while also providing your body with fibre and nutrients instead of just sugar and empty calories.
Willpower and Repetition
According to Baumeister — and just about anyone who's ever had success cleaning up their diet or starting a new exercise program — willpower gets stronger the more you use it. Saying 'no' to dessert the first time you have to do it may feel painful (just like that first time you trained with kettlebells), but do it enough, and it will gradually get easier.
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Willpower and Rest
But just like doing too many kettlebell cleans can leave you crippled, exercising your willpower too much can leave you equally defenseless. In an interview with Time.com, Baumeister gives an example:
“A study with Audi dealers [found that car buyers] were more effortful with their first few choices. [After that] they were more likely to take the default option, which can end up costing lot of money. They used up their energy deciding which of 200 interior fabrics they wanted and ended up buying lot of stuff they don’t need and spending extra money.”
To replenish your willpower, you need to be able to give it a rest. Even making decisions about what to wear in the morning can milk your willpower, so if you anticipate a stressful day ahead, try to make your morning as decision-free as possible.
Then there are other times you're going to want to throw caution to the wind entirely: eat the cake. Drink the wine. Go back for seconds. As long as this is the exception and not the rule, it won't do you any harm and your mental muscle will get a break.
Other ways to perk up your willpower?
In addition to food and rest (which includes quality sleep), a great way to amp up your willpower is through exercise. This has been shown to increase focus, memory as well as cognitive functionality.
You have what it takes.
People may be born with certain personality traits that make them more likely to exercise their mental muscle, but anyone can develop their willpower. You got this!