The sky is falling! With more people without jobs, rising oil price, falling home prices and a credit crunch in the US have brought consumer confidence to its lowest point in five years. . On the horizon is a fairly long recession coming our way, many American families may be battening down and planning belt tightening measures.
Its interesting to know that curbing consumer spending in the short term, may cause some Americans to loosen the belts around their waists Where's the connection? The brain has a limited capacity for self-regulation, so exerting willpower in one part of your life may lead to backsliding in another part.
However, there is good news. Practice increases willpower capacity so that, in the long run, buying less at the present moment may improve our ability to achieve future goals - such as losing those extra pounds we gained when we weren't out shopping.
Our brain has a store of willpower and this dwindles when we control our thoughts, feelings or impulses or when we modify our behavior in pursuit of our goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on another unrelated task.
In one groundbreaking study, some people were asked to eat radishes while others received freshly baked chocolate chip cookies before trying to solve an impossible puzzle. The radish-eaters gave up the puzzle in eight minutes on average, working less than half as long as people who got cookies or those who were excused from eating radishes.
In another test, people asked to circle every “e" on a page of text then showed less persistence in watching a video of an unchanging table and wall.
There are other activities that saps willpower and these include resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or *** impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone. Task persistence is also reduced when people are stressed or tired from exertion or lack of sleep.
But what holds back willpower? Studies have suggested that it is blood sugar, which brain cells use as their main energy source and cannot do without for even a few minutes. Most cognitive functions are unaffected by minor blood sugar fluctuations over the course of a day, but planning and self-control are sensitive to such small changes.
When you exert self-control, you lower blood sugar and this reduces the ability for further self-control. People who drink a glass of lemonade between completing one task requiring self-control and beginning a second one perform equally well on both tasks, while people who drink sugarless diet lemonade make more mistakes on the second task than on the first.
If you consume foods that raises blood sugar levels for longer periods like foods containing protein or complex carbohydrates, you may enhance willpower for longer periods. In a short term period, you should understand that you have a limited willpower budget and therefore should spend it wisely. For instance, if you do not want to drink too much at a party, then on the way to the party, you should not deplete your willpower by window-shopping for things you cannot afford. Taking another route to avoid passing the store would be a good idea.
If you need to study for a big exam, it might be wise to conserve your energy by saving the household chores for another day, so that you conserve your willpower for the more important task at hand. Similarly, it can be counterproductive to work towards different goals at the same time if your willpower cannot cover all the efforts that are required. Focusing your effort on one or at most, just a few goals at one time will increase the odds of success.
Concentrating on success is vital as willpower can grow in the long term. Willpower is like a muscle, and can gain strength with use over time. The concept of exercising willpower is seen in army boot camp where recruits are trained to overcome one obstacle after another. And the challenges get tougher from one to the next.
In psychological studies, even a task as simple as using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth for two weeks can raise willpower capacity. People who stick to an exercise plan for two months are shown to have reduced their impulsive spending, junk food intake, alcohol use and smoking. They also study more, watch less television and do more housework.
People who take up a short-term memory training course to train their brains report less stress during exams. It is the wisdom that persistently doing and learning a short-term task with memory techniques will lead to long term benefits that motivates such people. The trainees eventually experience better memory recalls when studying or meeting people for the first time, better study skills and accelerated learning and cognitive ability and having a more positive outlook in life. They also experienced better concentration and elevated moods at school or at work and are better at managing their emotions.
Other forms of willpower training, like money-management classes work as well. No one knows why will power can grow with practice but it must be due to some biological change in the brain. Maybe neurons in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for planning behavior or in the anterior cingulated cortex, which is associated with cognitive control, use blood sugar more efficiently after repeated challenges.
Perhaps one of the chemical messengers that neurons use to communicate with one another is produced in larger quantities after it has been used up repeatedly, thus improving the brain's willpower capacity.
Whatever the explanation, consistently doing any activity that requires self-control seems to increase willpower, and the ability to resist impulses and delay gratification is highly associated with success in life.
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