Instant Willpower

Have you ever woken up in the morning, full of energy to take on whatever the day throws at you only to find as you overcome obstacle after obstacle that as the day draws on you feel less and less motivated, more depleted and your willpower gone?

You aren’t alone.

Research has shown that we only have so much willpower to use in a day before it needs to be replenished through sleep.  For example, one study showed that the best time for an inmate to be in a parole hearing is first thing in the morning or right after lunch.  Judges were repeatedly shown to grant parole at these times than later in the day when they were tired and depleted in which case it was just easier to say no and move on.

But there is a way, even late in the day, to call up willpower reserves and strengthen your resolve.

To understand what this is and why this works, we are going to turn to something called Embodied Cognition.   Basically this means that not only do our brains control our bodies but vice versa.  As we have seen in other posts, such as in the case of the facial feedback hypothesis, just by making the muscles in our face into a genuine smile, eventual one feels happier.  Research also shows that Power Posing, (e.g., a wide stance with hands on hips a la Wonder Woman) actually increases Testosterone and decreases Cortisol.

Iris W. Hung, assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, and Aparna A. Labroo associate professor at the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, conducted not one but five different experiments to see if they could impact willpower and outcomes in various situations such as the ability to withstand immediate pain, overcome food temptation, consume unpleasant medicines and so on (reference).

The authors state,  “Much of the time, people go about trying to work rather than relax, exercise rather than become a couch potato, and regulate their diets rather than give in to indulgent food choices—in general, pushing their endurance, physical and mental, further in an effort to become better people in the long term. Past research has suggested that people can exert better self-control if they try to boost thoughts about their long-term goals and avoid thoughts about immediate temptations. But this form of conscious self-control requires willpower, and willpower is a limited resource that can become easily exhausted, resulting in people giving in to immediate temptations (Baumeister et al. 2008). The current research is important because it suggests a powerful way to firm willpower: a person can simply firm her muscles.” 

Yes, you caught that right.

The key to instant willpower, tensing/firming up your muscles.

Ever experiment demonstrated that those that tensed their muscles showed improved motivation and willpower resulting  in subsequent improvement in outcomes. In one of their experiments, they“…had volunteers visit a local cafeteria and asked them to try to avoid temptation and not buy sugary snacks. Some of the volunteers were asked to make their hand into a fist or contract their biceps, and thus behave as if they were more motivated. Amazingly, this simple exercise made people far more likely to buy healthy food.” 

The next time you are looking to firm up your resolve, tense up! and find instant willpower!

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