How will you strengthen your self-control?
The Willpower Workout
In their book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney disclosed the idea that willpower is like a muscle that can be strengthened.
The authors argue that the mental equivalent of high-rep, low-weight training can boost willpower. Their method: Start small, then build. Little willpower wins over the course of a day, week, or month can lead to larger gains down the road.
As an example, Baumeister and Tierney cite performance artist David Blaine. When he trains for his strange public feats —such as spending 64 hours inside a giant ice cube—he does so by practicing small acts of willpower, such as not drinking alcohol. “Getting your brain wired into little goals and achieving them helps you achieve the bigger things you shouldn’t be able to do,’’ Blaine said. “It’s not just practicing the specific thing."
If your goal is to diet and lose weight , you can build your willpower by doing seemingly non-related things – like taking a walk every day, or cleaning your home every night.
If you’re Blaine, maybe you shave your creepy facial hair every day. Whatever works for you.
4 Proven Willpower Hacks
1. POSTPONEMENT OF DESIRE - You can, for lack of a better word, trick yourself into better behavior. Nicole Mead of the Catolica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics and her colleagues say that postponing consumption of an unhealthy snack to an unspecified future time reduces snack intake. Mead believes that reducing desire, rather than strengthening willpower, is an effective strategy for controlling unwanted food-related cravings.
Postponement gives the brain a cooling-off period that leads to more snack no’s than yesses, Mead told WebMD. She adds that the postponement should not be specific. In other words, you shouldn’t say, “I’ll eat that entire Fudgie the Whale Carvel Ice Cream Cake in 30 minutes.” You should say, “I’ll eat the cake at some point later.”
2. FLEX YOUR MUSCLES - But there’s another trick you can use if you feel your willpower slipping: Flex your muscles. Iris W. Hung of the National University of Singapore and Aparna A. Labroo of the University of Chicago conducted a study in which participants were who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened, demonstrated a greater ability to withstand pain, consume unpleasant medicine, attend to disturbing but essential information and overcome tempting foods.
The researches theorize that the body primes the mind.
3. USE MENTAL IMAGERY - Mental imagery, used by athletes worldwide, is another willpower hack. According to Harvard researchers, people who do a good deed or who imagine doing a good deed are better able to perform tasks of physical endurance.
In a strange twist, those who envisioned themselves doing something bad had more endurance than those who envisioned themselves doing something good. In this case, researchers believe that the mind primes the body.
The findings are based on two studies. In the first, participants were given a dollar and told either to keep it or give it to charity. They were then asked to hold a five-pound weight for as long as they could. Those who donated to charity held the weight for an average of almost 10 seconds longer.
In a second study, participants held a weight while writing fictional stories in which they helped another person, harmed another person or did something that had no impact on other people.
Participants who wrote about doing good were significantly stronger than those whose actions didn't benefit anyone. Researchers were surprised to learn that the people who wrote about harming others were even stronger than the participants who envisioned helping someone.
"Whether you're saintly or nefarious, there seems to be power in moral events," researcher Kurt Gray said when the study was published. "People often look at others who do great or evil deeds and think, 'I could never do that' or 'I wouldn't have the strength to do that.' But in fact, this research suggests that physical strength may be an effect, not a cause, of moral acts."
So next time you’re jogging and getting tired, picture yourself on a heroic quest to save the princess—or murder her father, the beloved king.
4. MODIFY YOUR ENVIRONMENT - You can also trick your brain by modifying your environment. Consumer psychologist Brian Wansink discovered that people eat and drink more out of bigger containers.
In one of his studies people lost weight when they ate off salad plates instead of large dinner plates, kept unhealthy foods out of sight, moved healthier foods to eye-level and ate in the kitchen or dining room instead of in front of the television.
Like your muscles, your willpower can tire out. According to a study co-authored by Baumeister, the more frequently and recently people resisted a desire, the less successful they will be at resisting subsequent desires. He believes people only have so much willpower to use during the day.
How can you tell if your willpower is depleted?
People with low willpower feel things, both physically and emotionally, more intensely. Baumeister and his colleagues found that people with low willpower reported more distress in response to an upsetting film and rated cold water as more painful during a cold-water immersion test.
Making choices isn’t the only way to burn through your willpower. Another culprit: hunger. Another Baumeister study concluded that acts of self-control reduce blood glucose levels and low blood glucose levels predict a lack of self-control. It’s the proverbial vicious cycle.
The good news is that glucose is sugar, which is fuel for the brain, and it can be replenished. Ideally your sugar should come from a healthy source, such as fruits.
Don’t drink a regular soda to avoid eating a cookie.
What you want to do is ward off decision fatigue. McMaster University associate professor of kinesiology Kathleen Martin Ginis says that having to make many decisions can cause a person to cave into temptation.
In his efficiency book "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity," David Allen urges busy people who want to be more productive to create folders in their email, and in their file cabinets, into which they can file decisions that don’t need to be made until later.
Allen’s tactic acknowledges that it takes a lot of energy to focus on the present and remain productive. Folders remove the burdens of constant decision-making.
Ginis said making regular plans to exercise at the same time every day also nets positive results.
The Depletion Debate
Not everyone agrees with the Baumeister camp. Many researchers believe that willpower, in fact, can not be depleted. For example, Stanford psychologists found that people who think willpower can be depleted are more likely to be tired when performing a tough task. People who think that willpower cannot be drained easily stay on task longer without losing focus.
So which one are you?
Can you stay focused on one thing for long periods of time? If you can, you’re in the Stanford camp. Soldier on.
Do you find that your energy drains quickly when you’re focusing? If so, you’re in the Baumeister camp. Grab an orange.
The Future of Willpower
It has only been three years since Caltech scientists pinpointed the parts of the brain that regulate willpower—the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
“After centuries of debate in social sciences, we are finally making big strides in understanding self-control from watching the brain resist temptation directly," researcher Colin Camerer said on discovery. Camerer hopes his research will lead to better theories on how self-control develops and how it works for various types of temptations.
Until science makes a willpower pill, find hacks that help you will your way past the donut.
Picture Credit: www.Livestrong.com - My personal training clients have used a lot of these strategies to lose weight. Do you have the self-control to stay away from a cupcake when you need to?
Author: Michael Moody Fitness with excerpt sourced from the article "4 Science-Backed Hacks to Strengthen Your Self-Control" on Livestrong.com
"4 Science-Backed Hacks to Strengthen Your Self-Control" Review
Surprisingly my answer is yes and no (even though I'm a Chicago personal trainer). The benefits of fitness are obvious: increased strength and cardio endurance, greater aerobic capacity,
When people meet with a Chicago personal trainer, they have made the important first step: A commitment to a path of personal fitness and optimal health. While this step is necessary, it isn't the toughest part of a personal training experience. The biggest challenge is staying motivated. Your personal trainer will certainly do his or her best to motivate you while you're in the personal training studio. The rest is up to you.
As a personal trainer in Chicago, I excel at motivating myself but I must admit that it can be a struggle just as much for me. Maybe it isn’t my fault. It isn’t the right time. I don’t have enough money. I’ll do it tomorrow. These are examples of “excu-sease”-or the disease of excuses. I don’t suffer from this disease because I prefer to call my excuses “reasons”-making my excuses “legitimate excuses”. This is a true confession of a personal trainer that doesn’t feel a dire love for personal fitness 24 hours a day or an insatiable need to eat the driest vegetables.
Although I have these faults as a personal trainer (I’m human!), I motivate myself to exercise six days a week, eat vegetables -at least 8 servings per day, and value the least chemically processed foods.
Why do I complete these tasks but am resilient to others? Why do I preach healthy living, but am unwilling to floss each night? Ironically, the simplest tasks in life take years before they are habit. These are my steps:
Step One: People remind me of my responsibility for action. These people include, but are not limited to, my girlfriend, my doctor, my father, my accountant and others who share their unsolicited opinions.
Step Two: I find justification to continue not doing what I need to do (insert excuse here______________). Usually, the excuses begin with the following exaggerated statements: “I am too .....” or “I am very ...”.
Step Three: I complete the task, but in short spurts. This step is an example of the “not completely giving in” or “I’ll try just a little and see what happens” syndromes.
Step Four: I a.) realize the importance of this action and institute it as part of my foundation of daily living or b.) return to Step One.
Realizing your steps, or approach, is the first and easiest part. Putting your goal into action is another. I’ve witnessed many clients who know what they need to do but can’t push themselves to do it. I can personally relate to this.
My dentist, Dr. Gamalinda, explains the need to floss on each checkup. In fact, his suggestions are pleads. In the first 3 visits, Dr. Gamalinda asks me to floss once or twice a week (a modest request). Although I understand the health benefits of flossing, I am still unmotivated to floss.
When I finally buy floss, I talk myself out of it each night. I think “I’ll just do it later”-which isn’t realistic since I jump in bed after brushing my teeth-or “I don’t have enough time”- even though flossing takes approximately 2 out of the 1440 minutes in a day. I am a health professional and can’t complete this healthy task for my body.
Day after day, I talk myself out of flossing but eventually I stop and ask “Am I doing everything to be my best self?” I realize the shortcuts I create living my life-eating on the run, avoiding important work projects with busy work, etc. I also realize how often I sacrifice my physical and mental self while trying to create the perfect career, workout, and relationship. Within time, I see how my self-talk affects my behavior too (especially dining out-justifying the experience as special and extending my dietary boundaries). Why would I sabotage myself? Is it a life script? Out of habit?
Sometimes we wish we would just do what we need to do. It isn’t until we experience an “aha” moment-a moment of clarity. If we knew what it takes to automatically find this moment of clarity, would we achieve greater things every day? I think so. Finding this mental clarity is different for everyone and requires observation and reflection. We must observe our behaviors (and intentions) and their effects. Discover our innate and fostered tendencies. Find out why we’re impulsive in many situations or why we turn right when we tell ourselves to turn left.
Our mind is our friend and also our greatest enemy. Over time our experiences create a hard -wired script for action (or in my case of flossing, avoidance). We depend on this script when multitasking-especially when we drive, think about work, and eating a sandwich….at the same time. We rely on our bodies to continue motion without thinking about it.
Unfortunately, this reliance on our mental script can reinforce bad habits and make them very difficult to break. Despite your willingness to quit smoking or eat less, your mind continues to fall back on what it knows best based on past decisions. When you’re stressed, you nibble on candy bars. When confronted with a decision in a relationship, you take a step back.
We need to examine the root of our behavior and the underlying influences. Do we believe we can improve ourselves? Do we have the confidence to take control over our bodies? Is insecurity leading to avoidance? Observing, reflecting, and adapting habitually may be the key to overcoming our hurdles.
With this being said, I no longer think I need to put everything else before my body. I take the time to take care of the little things (including flossing) to better myself. Now, I need to figure out why I never listen to my girlfriend. And you should too!
In Chicago, there seems to be an endless number of personal trainers. How do you choose the right personal training experience for you? There are a number of things you should consider when selecting your personal trainer in Chicago. Here's my "choosing a personal trainer" cheat sheet:
-A professional, up-to-date website design: With the access to design templates and current research, your next personal trainer should present her or himself in the most professional way. Old research, poor layout design, and non-transparent pricing should raise flags. If they aren't willing to put the time into their "online resume", what makes you think they'll put anymore effort in your personal training sessions?
-The trainer asks you questions before your first workout: How can a personal trainer tailor a personal fitness program if she or he doesn't know your history in the gym, injury history, and goals?
-Your personal trainer corrects your posture and micro movements during your session: It doesn't matter if you're a trainer or not-all of us need our movements corrected from time to time during a fitness session. If your personal trainer never adjusts your position, mentions your posture, or reminds you of the muscles you need to engage, start to question her or his focus on you. We can't be perfect all the time. You hire a personal trainer in Chicago to help keep you in check.
Even before I began personal training in Chicago in 2005 I've always been interested in our ability to change our minds. After all, the very root of the experience with a Chicago personal trainer is change and it always starts with the mind. Whether you want to lose weight or have a stress free job, you need to examine your internal obstacles as much as your external. These obstacles include your habits, insecurities, and fears. Dr. Hanson recently dove into the subject of changing our minds by physically changing our brains. Watch his video from Chicago Ideas Week here!