The door slammed shut as Amit
stormed out of his house. There was a deep silence. The kind that comes after a
lot of noise. Naina was crying inside, anger and hurt written all over her
face. It was 8 PM.
They had both come home together
after a busy day at work. Amit picked Naina from her office. She had a call
from her office so she it took on her phone. He was driving. The traffic, as usual,
Amit sat down with a plonk in front
of the TV. He took off his shoes and casually left them on the rug. Naina went
in to change. When she came back she heard the loud noise of the TV, the shoes
casually thrown on one side and Amit slovenly lying on the sofa. She could not
control herself and spoke out, harsh words pouring out of her mouth.
“It wasn’t that I was
particularly bothered about the shoes”, she said later. I don’t know what
happened, I just completely lost it. “Normally I always make sure I put my shoes
in place”, Amit added later. It wasn’t what she said was wrong, just…. This had
been going on for the past few days. Huge fare ups on seemingly minor issues.
This is not new. On an average, the
number of crimes go up in the night. The proverbial wolverine wakes up at this
time. What is it about the night that makes it so crime-laden? Or could the
answer be a little deeper, lying in what happens during the day that makes us
susceptible at night.
Prof Baumeister is amongst the
most renowned researchers in the field of Willpower. He started as a sceptic of
the subject, thinking of it as no more than a metaphor. “The need to have will”
He and a set of psychologists performed
a series of experiments using carrots, radishes, smelly socks and cold water
amongst other things. This opened the world to a whole new insight into the
science of willpower.
They defined willpower as the
ability to restraint the self for a larger good.
Further, and I quote-
1) ‘’You have a finite amount of
willpower that becomes depleted as you use it’’
2) ‘’You use the same stock of willpower for all
manner of tasks’’
Think of willpower therefore as a
muscle. Like any muscle it can be used for any task like lifting a weight or
running. The strength depletes with use and the performance degrades. This happens
till a certain amount of rest is allowed for it to recuperate.
The willpower muscle is consumed broadly
in four areas. These are -
of thoughts- This is the mind wandering into the past and the future, judging itself
and others amongst other things. Each of these thoughts then takes a life of
its own, consuming willpower.
of emotions- This is the self-restraint to adhere to the norm in the current
environment. This includes the need to stay cheerful in company, to be proper
in a funeral etc.
control- This is the ability to resist temptation. This includes tobacco,
sweets and sex amongst other things.
control- This is the ability to stay focussed on a single task. To find the
right combination of speed, accuracy, time and perseverance to finish the task
at hand, without allowing the distractions of thoughts, emotions and impulses.
So what happens when the
willpower goes down? Our ability to restraint ourselves goes down. This results
in signs of irritability, oversensitivity to noise and people. In a way, the
body is telling us that it is not able to restraint itself to acceptable societal
norms, resulting in a reaction that may have actually been restrained.
What are some of the sources of
Sugar is one of the biggest
sources of willpower. Our brain is two percent of the body weight it consumes and
twenty percent of the body fuel. Sugar gives the brain the fuel to replenish
itself. A recommendation would be to consume natural (nuts, fruits) versus
artificial sugar (candy, sweets)
Rest is another source of
willpower. It may take the shape of sleep or an activity like meditation,
listening to music or running. These quieten the brain and flush the toxins out,
restoring the self.
How can we strengthen will power?
Willpower, much like a muscle,
can be strengthened. Like any learning cycle it should be strained above its
normal level and then allowed to rest. Growth happens during restful times.
An exercise for strengthening willpower
is practising self-restraint. Use the opposite hand for routine tasks, adopt
the correct posture for sitting on a chair and so on.
Self-restraint exercises help
brain strengthen willpower. The effects reflect in all the tasks we perform
like focus at work, better relations, controlling substance abuse etc.
Go ahead, use your left hand to
open the door and see your relationship with your spouse improve.
The world is limitless. Let us
take the first step.