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Willpower is a response that comes from both the brain and the body.
The willpower response is a reaction to an internal conflict. You want to do one thing, such as smoke a cigarette or supersize your lunch, but know you should not. Or you know you should do something, like file your taxes or go to the gym, but you would rather do nothing.
The prefontal cortex, that section of the brain right behind your forehead, is the part that helps us with things like decision-making and regulating our behavior.
Self-control, or willpower, falls under this heading, and thus is taken care of in this part of the brain.
To be effective at controlling our urges and making sound decisions, the prefontal cortex needs to be looked after. That means feeding it with good-quality food so it has enough energy to do its job and getting enough sleep.
Our willpower does get depleted throughout the day. One of the most replicated findings about willpower is that it seems to be finite. We only have so much and it runs out as we use it.
Trying to control your temper, ignore distractions or refuse seconds all tap the same source of strength.
We can look at willpower like a muscle. It can get exhausted by overuse, but just like our physical muscles, there are some researchers who believe we might be able to strengthen our willpower by training it.
We know that we only have so much willpower and as we go about our day, stress and normal self-control depletes our resource. Let us see what options we have for increasing the pool of willpower we have to draw from.
Increase your capacity for pressure: Learn how to manage stress. To start with, we need to manage our stress levels. Being under high levels of stress means that our body’s energy is used up in acting instinctively and making decisions based on short-term outcomes. Our prefrontal cortex loses out in the battle for our energy when high-stress is involved.
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