Willpower and the left hand

by Vivek Slaria Share via -



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, was bad.

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 -

1.       Control 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.

2.       Control 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.

3.       Impulse control- This is the ability to resist temptation. This includes tobacco, sweets and sex amongst other things. 

4.       Performance 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 will power?

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.

Happy practising.

The world is limitless. Let us take the first step. 





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