Book Look – Did You Know Your HEART RATE can influence WILLPOWER?

Always on the lookout for a magic pill for will-power we picked out this book in the library.

“The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works and What You Can Do to Get More of It”  by Kelly McGonegal, PhD

Kelly McGonegal touches on a lot of measures of willpower but one of the most interesting signs or index of self control is heart rate variabilitywhich can be used to predict giving in to temptation, and is sometimes known as the body’s reserve of will power.

(Additionally, heart rate variability (HRV) decreases chronic pain, anger, depression, stress, illness.)

Why willpower flags 

1. Low blood sugar

Low blood sugar can actually predict loss of will power. Your brain interprets low blood sugar as a sign of scarcity and neurochemically increases your risk taking. (Do ANYTHING to find food NOW, so you don’t starve & die). It’s been shown people with low blood sugar take more risks.

2. Feeling tired

Fatigue is an early warning sign generated by your brain, NOT your muscles.  Will power takes energy, and your brain wisely doesn’t want to squander what energy there is on non-survival needs, like will power.  

Take inspiration from athletes who learn to push through fatigue.  Practice focusing on your goal, pushing through and experience your will-power getting stronger.

3. Thinking negatively

Your brain likes to protect your positive mood by continually seeking rewards – and giving in to temptation.  Motivating yourself by making yourself feel bad or guilty increases your stress response, decreases your willpower and makes immediate rewards more appealing.

Ways of lowering the stress response include:: exercise, religious  services, reading, music, family & friends, massage, walking, meditating, yoga, a hobby – all increase GABA and serotonin, not reward-seeking dopamine.

Willpower Brain Bootcamp  

1. Exercising 3 times a week for 15 minutes increases HRV.

2.  Go small.  Train your brain to think first before you act.  Start with small, easy things, to practice willpower.

3. “Dopaminize” tasks you don’t want to do.  McGonigal uses this term to mean make it fun: play music, do the task in a pleasant setting, put lottery tickets next to project. –you get them when you are done.

4.  Ten minute time-out 

When you wait 10 minutes your brain takes your desire/urge out of its immediate focus and into long term storage. This strengthens will power helps you delay gratification. Try this:

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes
  • Sit down, feet on floor
  • Tell your brain you can choose what to do, or not to do, in only 10 minutes 
  • Breath, meditate, pray or daydream

Kelly McGonegal lists other ways to stimulate your brain and raise your HEAR RATE VARIABILITY by:

  • eating a plant based diet
  • eliminating or reducing processed foods  
  • breathing good air quality 
  • meditating 
  • exercising
  • getting good sleep 
  • sending time with friends 
  • maintaining a spiritual practice

We’ve covered a very small sample of what is in this interesting and informative book.  She includes a lot of exercises based on research.  Now all you have to do is find the will power to get the book and read it.

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* “Heart rate variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval”. Wikipedia: