From Chapter 14 ”Habit” from the book ”Live Younger, TWO Times Longer”.

Willpower is a skill we can develop, and it is closely related to establishing good habits. Kelly McGonigal describes it well in her book, ¨The Willpower Instinct¨. But what is willpower? It is the ability to set goals and stick to them, by engaging in activities that move us towards those goals and refusing to opt for activities that stray us away. There is no willpower without goals. And you will surely be interested to know that people who have a strong willpower have fewer diseases and greater success in life. They are also more likely to live longer! People with willpower will more often make the right choices, among other things, regarding their health. It is always a question of choice.

How does it work ?

There are two systems in our brain, which often oppose one anotherin controlling our behavior. One is an instinctive part (the limbic brain), the fight-or-flight response, shaped by evolution, for our survival in an environment that is now extinct (There are no more dinosaurs!). And another part (the neocortex and the prefrontal cortex) that is more thoughtful, which gives us the power to resist our impulses shaped by evolution, allowing us to live in society.

Any act of willpower is a conflict between these two parts of our brain. And willpower is like a muscle: the less we use it, the less strength it can provide us to resist temptations. Paradoxically, the more we use it, the more we risk exhausting it. So the more choices you have to make in a day, the less we can resist our impulses (especially by the end of the day!) Therefore, in general, we have more willpower in the morning than in the evening. One study showed that we spend 25% of our waking time resisting our desires, at least 4 hours a day. The use of willpower can be classified into four categories:

  1. The control of thoughts.
  2. The control of emotions and mood. In general, we try to escape unpleasant emotions and replace them with pleasant emotions.
  3. The control of impulses. Unlike animals, humans can choose the responsethey can give to their impulses.
  4. The control of performance, that is to say, to concentrate on a task and to persevere, to be productive.

Since there seems to be a limit to the use of our willpower, it is important to use it wisely and move towards our goals, but without depleting our “willpowercapital”; which would leave us vulnerable to the temptations of this world.

Having more willpower…

Since there is no willpower without objectives, it is important to define them and put them in perspective first, before taking the necessary steps to achieve them. With regard to aging and health, it is essential to have as precise an idea as possible of what you want to achieve in the long term. What is amazing in the willpower-muscle model is that research shows that any decision we make, even the most trivial, diminishes our reserve of willpower. The accumulation of the simplest choices reduces our capital of willpower.

Here are three ways to boost your willpower in order to develop good habits.

  1. Slow and deep breathing, associated with cardiac coherence, is a good way of boosting your willpower, because a state of relaxation diminishes our vulnerability to impulses that hinder the pursuit of our objectives.
  2. Meditation. Imagery allows you to see changes after only 11 hours of practice. The meditative practice known as “full consciousness” therefore increases willpower.
  3. Physical activity. Regular physical activity reinforces willpower, both immediately after one session and in the longer term. Ten minutes of exercise is most often sufficient.

Also, in order to preserve our “capital willpower” and carry out our habits effortlessly, it is important to develop rituals to automatically accomplish routine tasks of everyday life and thus reduce the number of choices we make in a day. It is also important to consciously create positive habits that automatically steer you toward your goals.

“Research shows that the strength of willpower is a better predictor of success in life than IQ, and the more you have, the more likely you are to be happy in your relationships and to live a long life.”

-Olivier Roland.