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Wanting a bit more willpower? Try a bite of chocolate…

If you are struggling with self control, a little bite of something sweet may be just the thing to boost waning willpower. Researchers have been studying what actually goes on in the brain when a person is exercising “will power” or self-control.  The part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex is responsible for will power and self-control, and different regions of the prefrontal cortex influence different aspects of will power. The left side gets things going and energizes your attention on the tasks and behaviors that are your goals, while your right side acts as the brakes and keeps you from falling victim to temptation.

It also turns out that will power requires a goodly amount of energy, primarily in the form of glucose.  If your glucose levels are low, either due to not having enough “fuel” or the body simply not processing the glucose efficiently due to stress or lack of sleep, then your will power is more apt to run out of gas.  Psychologist Roy Baumeister of Florida State University conducted studies where a small number of jelly beans or half a can of soda provided the brain with a boost in glucose to produce more self control.

Members of AA have long advocated the “HALT principle” when undertaking one of the greatest challenges of will power: abstinence from alcohol.  HALT is a reminder to never get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  Modern brain imaging research validates the HALT principle.  If you are hungry and struggling with will power, a bite of something sweet may provide the sugar boost that you need to sustain self control (just make certain is is only a bite!).  Likewise, engaging in pleasurable activities that promote emotional and mental recovery, can help restore one’s will power “muscles” and strengthen them in the process.

These current findings also give insights as to why eating several small meals throughout the day is typically more effective than restrictive crash dieting.  By eating throughout the day, a person is better able to maintain the glucose levels needed to fuel the parts of the brain that exercise self-control.  That means making better choices as to both types of foods and portion sizes.  By contrast, if a person restricts food for an extended period and experiences a drop in glucose, will power crashes and the probability of binge eating skyrockets.

To learn more about recent findings on the neurological basis of will power, check out this article from the Boston Globe: click here.

So now about that chocolate… The researchers used a small number of jelly beans to boost glucose levels. Personally, if I’m going for an energy boost, chocolate is my “fuel” of choice.  The challenge is to stop with just a bite.  If you eat it slowly (and good chocolate should always be savored slowly), the added glucose can help you say “enough.”  Sounds like a “win-win situation” to me.

So what have you found that helps your will power?

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