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Willpower has been called the greatest strength of humans, yet most of us do not understand it and are unable to call on it when we need it most. In fact, if we all had the willpower we need and want, there would be substantially less substance abuse, obesity and other issues related to behavioral problems in American life.
The American Psychological Association characterizes willpower as self-control, including ability to delay gratification and resist impulses.
Research links willpower with numerous health benefits. Well-known studies since the 1960s have demonstrated that young children who exhibit self-control grow into adults with better scholastic records, jobs, salaries and health.
Some of the more recent research on willpower concludes that humans do not have an unlimited amount of it, no matter who they are. Exerting willpower for one thing makes it harder to do so for a temptation that immediately follows. One theory is that deploying willpower uses glucose, which can become depleted. According to this theory (successfully tested on dogs and humans) exercising self-control uses up glucose. For most, at least some willpower could be restored by a sugary drink.
One factor that influences willpower may be the mood the person is in at the time – a better mood means less depletion of willpower. Also, an individual’s attitude toward exercising self-control makes a difference. Willpower is depleted more quickly in those who are forced to exert it than in those who choose to do so because they believe it is the right thing to do. Further, another study showed that individuals who believed they had limited willpower depleted it sooner than those who did not share that belief.
The American Psychological Association finds a need for further study in the area of willpower. In the meantime, if you want to try to boost your willpower! Think positively about how much you have, eat healthy and balanced throughout the day to keep your glucose levels even, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Try not to tax your willpower by applying it to several areas at once – for example, starting an exercise routine and restrictive new diet at the same time. A number of research studies show that attention to each of these factors can improve your willpower.
And finally, the experts say, practice self-restraint and you will get better at it.