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Trusting your willpower to be successful won’t get you far

Willpower is fuelled by lemonade

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Willpower is not the road to success, unless you drink lemonade, are in therapy and watch comedies.

Willpower suggests war. The word alone oozes aggression and I can’t say it while smiling. Try it for yourself. Willpower is an reflection of an aggressive internal dialogue between two forces: the part that wants to give in (whatever it is), and the part that wants to stop you. A continuous movement of attack and defence, seduction and rejection, love and hate.

Limited resource

Research has shown that willpower is a limited resource – compare it with a little container inside your head. Every time you go through a willpower battle, you take something out of our container. And then… when the bottle is empty (depletion) you give in. And feel like you have lost the battle.

Choose a cookie or …..

As an experiment, social psychologist Roy Baumeister invited a group of people to geometric test. After arrival, they were asked to wait in a room that was filled with the aroma of freshly baked cookies. Some people were offered a cookie while waiting, the others were asked to eat some radishes. They were then asked to solve the geometric puzzle (impossible to resolve) in 30 minutes. The people who ate radishes (not allowed to devour the cookies) gave up on the puzzle after 8 minutes, while the cookie-eaters persevered for nearly 19 minutes. Conclusion: drawing on willpower to resist the cookies, drained the subjects’ self-control for subsequent situations.

Ways to replenish 

On a daily basis you will encounter lots of depleting events. Think about holding back on a comment, smiling instead of screaming, forcing yourself to go for a run, not having a chocolate bar and the list goes on. Basically, any choice you make that is not the first spontaneous response depletes willpower.

1. Body – sugar

Scientists at the University of Toronto found that people whose willpower was depleted by self-control tasks showed decreased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region involved with cognition. When your willpower has been tested, your brain seem to function differently and there is a suggestion that it might be low on fuel. The brain is a high-energy organ, powered by a steady supply of glucose (blood sugar). People who exerted willpower in lab tasks had lower glucose levels than the control group, who weren’t asked to draw on their self-control. Furthermore, restoring glucose appears to help reboot run-down willpower. One study found that drinking sugar-sweetened lemonade restored willpower strength in depleted individuals, while drinking sugar-free lemonade did not.

2. Mind – beliefs and attitude

Dr Mark Muraven (University at Albany) found that people who had an external drive to self-control  were more depleted than people who were motivated by their own internal goals and desires. Having self-awareness and self-appreciation makes you less susceptible to willpower depletion.

3. Emotions – mood

Both Muraven and Baumeister explored the effect of the mood and found out that lifting your mood can compensate for some of the willpower depletion.

Willpower depletion gets in the way of achieving goals.

Want to know how to replenish apart from drinking lemonade, go in therapy or watch comedies?

Read my blog with 7 tips on how to avoid depleting your willpower.


Dr Mariette Jansen will help you overcome stress and live a more productive life. Give her a call to find out how.

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