The research of willpower

swimming-championships-by-ocean-header

When I introduced running into my exercise regime, I quickly realized that running was more a battle of the mind (will) than a battle of the body.  There’s a LOT of self-talk that goes on  … tuning in to the voice on the right shoulder saying “You can do it, just keep putting one foot in front of the other” and rejecting the voice on the left shoulder that’s saying, “Go ahead and stop short of your intended mileage.  What does quitting halfway through your goal matter?”

The same can be said for making lifestyle changes, such as eating or exercise habits.   There is a definite need to tap into willpower at points along the journey of change.  

Stanford Medicine published a Q&A session in 2011 with Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, who studied the research on the science of willpower.  According to the article, willpower is “a complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition and that can be strengthened through certain practices (italics mine).”

Hmmmmmm.

According to McGonigal, research shows the following:

  1.  When you exert self-control, it results in a “pause-and-plan response”.  These are changes in the brain and body that help guard against temptation and urges.  When the body and brain experience these changes, it actually sends additional energy to the area of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that is responsible for goal tracking and overriding impulses/cravings.  “The result is you have the mindset and motivation to do what matters most.” 
  2.  “Learning how to better manage your stress – or even just remembering to take a few deep breaths when you’re feeling overwhelmed or tempted — is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower.”  
  3. Improve how much quality rest and sleep you get and you’ll increase your ability at self-control.
  4. “Something as simple as eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to brain and can improve every aspect of willpower from overcoming procrastination to sticking to a New Year’s resolution.”
  5. Any muscle in your body can be made stronger through exercise. If willpower is a muscle, even a metaphorical muscle, it should be possible to train it. That’s what the research shows.”  McGonigal states that practicing self-control increases the strength and stamina of your self-control, thereby making it easier as time goes on.   “New behaviors become habits, temptations become less overwhelming and willpower challenges can even become fun.”
  6. Meditation and physical exercise strengthen the brain’s willpower.  “Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.”  And physical exercise is similar.  Regular exercise “also makes the body and brain more resilient to stress, which is a great boost to willpower.”
  7. McGonigal’s advice for meeting goals or resolutions?  Think big:  “Research shows that when you scale up to the big want, the biggest why, you automatically have more willpower. You’ll look for opportunities to make progress on your goal and be more likely to see how small choices can help you realize your goal. ”   Think small:Allow yourself small steps toward your goals.   “Sometimes we get frustrated when we don’t know exactly how we’ll reach our goals. We can’t imagine how what we’re doing now will ever get us where we want. Or we try to take huge steps all at once and end up exhausted and overwhelmed. Choose small steps you can take that are consistent with that goal. When those steps are easy, or have become a habit, look for next steps and keep going.”

I only summarized how you can improve your willpower, but I encourage you to read the entire article because it also detailed how willpower can be sabotaged.  If willpower is as much about the mind as it is the body, then you need this information!

Mwah,

Valerie

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Let it go – stress release

Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” had it right … let it go, let it go…

Many people struggling with weight and poor health cite stress as the beginning of their health woes.  They turned to food for emotional comfort during stressful situations, and oftentimes experienced depression which led to a sedentary lifestyle, further compromising their health.

According to WebMD, stress has also been known to drive people to alcohol, tobacco, and drug use in efforts to reduce the feelings of stress, but obviously, it increases it on the body instead.

WebMD published the following list titled, “The Effects of Stress on Your Body“:

  • “Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.”

There are a myriad of articles about reducing stress in order to improve health.  But the best advice I’ve ever heard is … let it go.

In fact, it’s such a great piece of advice that even Serenity Prayer addresses it:

Serenity prayer

“… And the wisdom to know the difference. ” Bingo.  That is the letting go.

We can get our minds wrapped around the axle about all kinds of things.  But in the big scheme of life, over all the things that could possibly be important, what are the chances that what we’re fretting about doesn’t really rank up there with life-altering issues?!

Freedom from worry occurs when you finally let go of the outcomes, let go of anger, let go of owning someone else’s emotions.  Own what is yours and what you have control over, and stop right there.

Peace.

Valerie

Stressed? Pound it out…

dog in blanket

I have a saying… if you’re upset or stressed, take it out in a way that will benefit you, not hurt you.   Yes, punching a hole in the wall would be a negative way to handle anger!  Yes, eating a bag of Doritos and a gallon of ice cream would not be good for your body.  And yes, storming into  your boss’s office and screaming at her, as tempting as it sounds, would be a harmful choice as well!

So what’s a healthy alternative to unleashing your stress?  EXERCISE.  When I went back to school to get my MBA during my divorce, in the midst of working 50 hours per week, and learning to be a single mom, I began to run.  Seriously!  It became my catharsis … “me” time in a world that was swirling and demanding everything from me.

I began by telling myself I was allowed one hour of “me” time per day.  That became my exercise time.  At first, I could only run one minute, so I then walked 59 minutes.  Then I worked up to four minutes of running and 56 minutes walking.  Within a few months, I was running the entire hour!  With headphones on, listening to music or podcasts of sermons, it was a healing time of sorts.   And don’t think it was easy…there were times I couldn’t fit that hour in until 10:00 PM!  But I did it because the alternative wasn’t pretty. Continue reading “Stressed? Pound it out…”