Lack of Willpower Does Not Mean You Are Weak




Temptations of any kind often lead me to think, “I’m so weak! I have no willpower.” Why is it that we say such things? There is a common misconception that you can achieve anything, overcome any challenge, if you have the willpower to do so. Let me tell you right now, that’s total bull!

Willpower’s Limits

You have only so much stamina and energy unless you recharge…so it is with willpower. I love this analogy that I read in a book titled The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

“Think of willpower like the power bar on your cell phone. Every morning you start out with a full charge. As the day goes on, every time you draw on it, you’re using it up. So as your green bar shrinks, so does your resolve, and when it eventually goes red, you’re done. Willpower has a limited battery life but can be recharged with some downtime.”

I know that when I start my day, I have self-discipline and am totally focused. However, as the day wears on and I have made a hundred and one decisions or have spent the time in deep concentration, I find that I become less effective in the afternoon. I also find that I am far more tempted by distractions – be they Facebook, emails, YouTube or food.

“…each act of will creates a win-lose scenario where winning in an immediate situation through willpower makes you more likely to lose later because you have less of it. Make it through a tough day in the trenches, and the lure of late-night snacking can become your diet’s downfall.”

This may explain the urge to eat a mid-afternoon snack and why so many diets fail. Restrictive diets require an inordinate amount of willpower. The tradeoff is that there isn’t that energy available elsewhere. So, when the day-to-day requires willpower to, say stop you from driving into the jerk who has cut you off or you control the urge to snap at a coworker whom you may feel deserves a set down, it takes away the will to continue to control every morsel that goes into your mouth. You are not weak, your willpower battery needs recharging.

Recharging your willpower battery

Another tidbit of really interesting information that Keller and Papasan discuss is a 2007 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that detailed the impact of nutrition and willpower. The idea was to measure the blood sugar of participants both before and after they had done a task that required no willpower and again before and after they had done a task that DID require willpower. The results showed a marked drop in the levels of glucose in the bloodstream. You may wonder what that means. Here’s a hint – your brain needs glucose to function at peak efficiency.

“What the researchers did next was give one group a glass of Kool-Aid lemonade sweetened with sugar (buzz) and the other given lemonade with Splenda (buzzkill). The placebo group had roughly twice as many errors on the subsequent test as the sugar group.”

That, to me, says that Splenda and similar sugar substitutes provide no benefit to increase the needed blood glucose that sugar does. I am not suggesting that you run out and eat a lot of sugar in order to keep your brain fed and your willpower…well, powered. Sugar gives you a spike followed by a trough. The better option is to eat food that will keep your blood sugar stable over a long period. Your best bet are proteins and complex carbohydrates – yes, carbs!

Here is a quick list of these complex carbohydrates:

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Grains, seeds and nuts
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash
  • Beans, lentils and peas
  • Dairy products, cheese, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese

What you want to stay away from are the simple carbohydrates such as:

White sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses, jams and jellies, fruit drinks soft drinks, candy, white rice, pastries, fruit juices…you get the idea.

Stop beating yourself up when your energy is low and you want to follow the path of most reward and least resistance. Instead, take a break and recharge your willpower. I would suggest you start with a fruit to satisfy the sweet craving. Drink plenty of water. Take a five minute break – yes, that short a time does help.

Now you know that just as your body needs to be recharged, so does your willpower.


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