You. Yeah, you there. The one with those chips sitting next to you while you click away on the world wide web. Or that Coke close to your hand for maximum drink potential. And yes, you there, the one slouching right now, legs crossed, with your left hand holding up your head, your right on the mouse.
Poor posture, poor diet, it doesn’t matter. You lack discipline. Good old-fashioned willpower my friend. May as well give up now because it’s obvious you won’t amount to much.
I know, I’ve been there. Actually, with a cup full of Pepsi sitting to my left, I am there.
Thought I Was Better Than This
I’ve written before on the training of will, and would like to think that I have a stronger will than most. Recent studies on willpower, however, have opened my eyes to the fact that I may just be too cocky about it.
You see, as it turns out, the will is a feeble, weak thing, affected by such small things as how much sugar you just had and how many numbers you’ve recently had to remember.
While those are silly things that affect will, I believe the larger idea is that will is easily affected by one’s energy levels.
The larger take away from this is that since we are all spenders of energy, this is a potential problem for all of us. Even the strongest willpower can, at the end of the day, falter, and give in to temptation to have that delicious looking cream cheese danish.
Energy, Thinking, and Willpower
When you encounter a desire that has potential to interfere with a goal, a conflict occurs. The part of you that wants to go to McDonald’s is fighting the part of you that wants to lose 10 pounds for the summer.
Where is that fight occurring though? According to Stephen S. Hall, author of Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, it occurs in the brain, between the more basic limbic system, and the prefontal cortex.
Basically, it is a fight between your emotional, snap judgment side, versus your thinking, future concerned side.
The connection to energy lies with the fact that your emotional, snap judgment side is more energy efficient.
This is a useful aspect of daily life. You don’t have to think through how you tie your shoes or how you walk each day or which direction to go to work. That would be exhausting.
Thinking through problems is difficult and takes more energy. You have to evaluate and turn things over in your head. It’s no surprise then, to see that when your energy levels are dwindling, you are more likely to give in to temptation.
Where Does Willpower Reside?
With all of this in mind, what does it mean for the notion of the will?
Well, it means that most of what we think of as will is our ability to think in action. Think about what though?
In the case of Jonah Lehrer’s article, there is evidence to suggest that those that think about anything but the temptation have more success with resisting it. Distracting yourself is the key. Not even acknowledging the temptation in question.
Stephen Hall suggests an alternate route: Thinking about your future self. He explains that when you picture something down the road that you could have and turn that over in your mind, your patience will be increased and temptation curbed.
I believe both methods have some merit. Both provide ammo, and when it comes to defeating temptation, everything helps.
So how do you deal with temptation?
The easiest way is to keep yourself furthest away from it, whether through physically changing your location, or mentally changing it by thinking about something else.
But when the chips are down, your energy is gone, and you still have miles to go? Think about that finish line and what is waiting for you there. In a way this also distracts you, but may also give you some emotional juice to give you the strength to finish whatever you may be doing.
Currently, I am just about finished with my Pepsi, but I have at least some sort of excuse: I’m using it to have the energy to write this article.
So take my sacrifice in willpower, as small as it may be, and take this knowledge and do better things for yourself. You may not have a strong willpower, but nobody really does. Those able to resist are those able to think, so use that glorious mind you have.