If you have weak will, it's because you're not getting enough food and rest

An article in New Scientist titled Weak Will Comes From Tired Mental Muscles caught my eye. I think of myself as someone with strong will power and never neglects sleep and rest, so I wanted to know whether the amount of rest has a direct co-relation with will power.

It is a long article so I shall summarize the key findings here. The studies, as explained in the article, indicate that:

1. "People with stronger self-control do better at school, earn more and are more respected by co-workers. They are also less likely to be arrested, have fewer personal problems, less stress and live longer."

2. "As the day wears on, the more often the person exercises self-control to try to resist what they desire, the more likely they are to give in to whatever temptation comes along: it's not the time of day that matters, but the cumulative exertion that saps your willpower. If you do not have many temptations to resist, your willpower stays relatively strong, and you may well be able to resist new temptations."

3. "Rather than seeing willpower as a moral quality, the scientific view is that it is like a muscle that tires. After you exert self-control, you have less willpower so you are less able to resist a new demand. Self-control is only temporarily weakened and can recharge after a rest."

4. "Willpower looks as if it is indeed a kind of energy, tied to levels of the chemical glucose used to carry energy from the digestive system and fat stores to muscles and other organs. Neurotransmitters, that enable brain cells to fire, are made of glucose. People perform worse on the next self-control task without being given glucose between tasks... In order to resist tempting foods, we need willpower but to have willpower, we must eat. The essence of dieting (restricting food intake) robs us of the psychological strength needed to succeed. Perhaps dieters should concentrate on filling up with healthy food so they have the willpower to resist fattening stuff."

Almost everyone, including me, need to control our diet. And your friends do make you overeat.
"Shall we order dessert?"
"I can't finish the food. Can you help me with it?"

I noticed that if I'm mentally tired from work or had a distressing disagreement with someone, I tend to have a weaker will power. I'm more likely to skip my exercise, skip cooking my own meal and eat something unhealthy. But if I exercise, my will power tends to be restored because although my body undergoes stress, my brain is more relaxed.

If a people have spent a large amount of time resisting temptations during the day, such as stopped themselves from yelling at a co-worker or resisting snacks, they are more likely to have a depleted reserve of willpower left in the evening to resist buying something they can't afford during the "de-stressing" evening shopping trip, getting impatient with their whiny spouse at home, and indulging on comforting ice cream in front of the TV.

It is good to be aware of this so that we can modify our behaviour, i.e. to get enough food and rest.


CBS said...

That why this is used extensively to break down a prisoner under torture.

Anonymous said...
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CBS said...

Girls, make sure the guy doesn't keep whispering sweet nothings into your ears just to make horizontal contact with you when you are hungry. Or tired.

Anonymous said...

This is Western Science gone nuts!

Will is related to hunger?!

Perhaps so. But in a reverse fashion instead, i.e. hunger strengthens a person's will.

One can verify that by looking at the history of the Long March of the Chinese Revolutionaries that created the modern day miracle - the emerging Superpower.

Hunger strengthened their will, and NOT the other way round!

Anonymous said...

I just get really moody when i'm hungry, Does that affect my willpower?