By: Hassan Moiz

Willpower resembles a muscle; it can be strengthened through exercise, or become worn out with overuse. Things like an unhealthy diet, not exercising, chronic anxiety, and explosive anger are related to failure of self-control. Willpower is not something which is only required in difficult situations. Here are a few important points:

  1. We have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted with use.
  2. We use the same reserve of willpower for different tasks.

We use willpower for personal betterment when we follow a diet, get work done, and exercise regularly. Willpower involves thinking of a situation as part of a pattern. Eating a piece of cake or taking sweets once will not make us fat. But to stay healthy, a person would have to treat every occurrence of these events as part of a bigger pattern which will be harmful in the long term. This is why conscious self-control is important, and that's how it determines success and failure. Self-control lets us relax by removing stress and enabling us to save willpower for the im­portant challenges.

We have reserves of willpower. We use this reserve when we resist getting angry in traffic, or restrain ourselves from certain types of food. If we set more than one self-improvement goal, we may succeed for a while by using reserves, but that leaves us depleted and prone to mistakes later.

Through eating, energy is converted to glucose. The glucose produced by digestion goes into the bloodstream and is pumped throughout the body. The ability to think is diminished when glucose is in short supply. Glucose itself doesn’t enter the brain, but is converted into neurotransmitters, which are chemicals used by brain cells to send signals.

The link between glucose and self-control appears in people with hypoglycemia; the tendency to have low blood sugar. Hypoglycemics are more likely to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked, they tend to be more anxious and less happy than average. Low self-control might be due to an impaired glucose tolerance, a condition in which the body has trouble converting food into usable energy. The food gets converted into glucose, but is not absorbed as it circulates. The result is an abundance of glucose in the bloodstream. It remains there uselessly, instead of being converted for brain and muscle activity. If the excess glucose reaches a sufficiently high level, it turns into DIABETES.

Most diabetics keep themselves and their glucose levels under control by monitoring themselves and using insulin. They might face above-average challenges. They can be more impulsive and might have shorter tempers than other people their age, and might be more likely to get distracted while working on time-consuming tasks. Stressful conditions can be harder. Coping with stress takes self-control, and that’s difficult if our body isn’t providing the brain with enough fuel.Using willpower to resist impulses leaves less energy to regulate thoughts, feelings and actions, this phenomenon is called ego depletion. When we’re bothered, or happier or sadder by an event more than is usual, it could be a sign that the brain’s circuits aren’t controlling emotions well and our willpower is weakening.

Glucose can reverse the brain changes produced by depletion. Ego depletion shifts activity from one part of the brain to another. Our brain does not stop working when glucose is low; it stops doing some things and starts doing others. Depleted people feel things more intensely than normal. Certain parts of the brain are over-activated and other parts function less. As the body uses glucose during self-control, it starts to crave sweets.

Glucose depletion has a dramatic impact on behavior. We should eat a good breakfast on days when we’re physically or mentally stressed. If we have a test, an important meeting, or a vital project, we shouldn’t take it on without glucose, or skip calories when dealing with serious problems.

The body converts food into glucose at different rates. Carbohydrates; like white bread, potatoes, white rice, and junk or fast food have high glycemic index are converted quickly. They produce a quick rise and fall in blood sugar, leaving us short on glucose and self-control, and often unable to resist the craving for sugar. To maintain steady self-control, it is better to eat foods with a low glycemic index, like vegetables, nuts, raw fruits, cheese, fish, meat, and olive oil. These foods also keep us slim. We should focus on smart work rather than hard work.