Thursday, February 6, 2014

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Five of us gathered at Nicolette's to discuss Willpower, by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister. The smaller group made for lively conversation.

Great book! A few concepts stick with me. Ego depletion, for one, and how masking or intentionally magnifying emotions has proven to lead to interesting consequences. Such as the study that showed people were far more likely to give up on solving a difficult problem after they'd been asked to manipulate the display of their feelings. Which makes me think about the demands of work, and why some days may seem harder and longer than others.

Useful advice...

The likelihood of people completing everything on their 'to do' lists in a month's time was better if people gave themselves monthly lists vs. daily tasks, because it allowed for more flexibility in the long run.

Having a tough time making a decision? Is it because your glucose levels are low and you need to replete your stores? Have some protein and come back to the problem in a half hour.

Dieting was described as a 'perfect storm' because depriving the body of food also drops blood glucose levels, which seem essential to storing up reserves of willpower.

"If you're serious about controlling your weight, you need the discipline to follow these three rules:
  1. Never go on a diet.
  2. Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
  3. Whether judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower."
Some defensive strategies include the postponed-pleasure ploy. Tell yourself you can have X later if you still want it, and in the meantime, eat something else. It's less stressful on the mind to say later rather than never. In the long run, you end up wanting less but also consuming less. Remove temptations from your immediate surroundings (don't bring the high calorie stuffs you're avoiding home in the first place). Set realistic goals, like a 5% - 10% overall loss of weight, over a longer period of time.  Weighing yourself every day, vs. once a week, helps to keep the weight off.

This next bit could be why Weight Watchers seems to help so many: "Besides monitoring your body, monitor what food you put into it. If you conscientiously keep a record of all the food you eat, you'll probably consume fewer calories. In one study, those who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who used other techniques."

Alcohol lessens self control in two ways: by lowering blood glucose and by reducing self-awareness.

Stress Less

People with higher levels of self control consistently report less stress in their lives. They use self-control not to get through crises but to avoid them. Realistic goals. Enough time to complete projects. Taking the car to the shop before it breaks down. Avoiding procrastination, which may zap more energy than completing the task at hand.

"While you're depleted, frustrations will bother you more than usual. You'll be more prone to say something you'll regret. Impulses to eat, drink, spend or do other things will be more difficult to resist... The best way to reduce stress in your life is to avoid screwing up, but when you're depleted you're more likely to make mistakes that will leave you with more bills to pay, more relationship damage to repair, more pounds to lose... Beware making decisions when your energy is down, because you'll tend to favour options with short-term gains and delayed costs."

I ended up taking a brisk walk home in the cold, the snow crunching and squeaking underfoot. Bright white sparkles under the streetlamps, white-limbed branches reaching into the dark night sky. A nice way to end the day. Walking is one of those things I wish I had more willpower to do regularly, like my daily yoga & meditation. I think it would help me stress less. Using the principles of the book would be to turn it into a habit, something done more automatically vs. than by decision. Willpower is a finite resource, the more you use, the less you have. Spend carefully!

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