Muscle-up on willpower

In a recent WellBeing news item we spoke about the need to believe in your ability to concentrate. Now another study has looked at another aspect of willpower and found that you can also use your muscles to bolster your determination.

Self-control is often an ephemeral thing, deserting you when you need it most. It is all very will being of iron resolve when offered a plate of rice cakes but can that same steely determination to wait until lunch-time maintain itself when you are offered a donut filled with cream and honeycomb clusters?

If you do find that your willpower crumbles like willpastry at the first serious obstacle then a new study may have found a simple way to bolster yourself.

For the study participants were put through a range of self-control dilemmas that involved accepting immediate pain for long-term gain. For example participants were asked to drink a concoction that was supposed to be healthy made of vinegar and water. In another situation the subjects were exposed to healthy and unhealthy foods at a food hall. In a third study participants were asked to decide whether to look at disturbing footage about children in earthquake ravaged Haiti and donate money to help.

Some of the subjects were instructed to tighten their muscles while making their decisions while others were given no such instruction. The muscle tightening was not restricted to any particular muscle; it might be hand, finger, calf, biceps, or whatever.

Participants who tightened their muscles respectively better able to consume the unpleasant medicine, overcome tempting foods, and attend to disturbing but important information. This tightening only helped if it was done at the moment of decision and if the decision aligned with the subject’s own goals (to be healthy, for instance).

This is yet another example of the connectedness of mind and body and how your mind takes cues from your body as much as vice versa. Tightening muscles often happens as a result of willpower but it can also serve as an unconscious signal to exert willpower. Your body and mind are a continuous feedback loop.

Next time you are faced with some delicious but unhealthy treats use some muscle tightening to harden your resolve. You don’t need to go into a full-on Schwarzenegger bicep flex, a simple discrete buttock clench will more than suffice.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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