Willpower is a critical component of success in most circumstances, but many people misjudge the part it plays. Understanding how willpower actually works and when to use it is crucial for those who want to reach big goals.
For starters, willpower isn’t on-demand, and there isn’t an endless supply at any given time. You can’t assume that willpower is readily available when you want to summon it. If you do, you may find that willpower is lacking when you need it most.
Choosing When to Use Willpower Reserves
Knowing when to use willpower is important because it isn’t always at full capacity. Every time you use it you are depleting your willpower reserve. The upside to this limited resource is that it’s renewable. Both of these factors make managing and timing the use of willpower an essential part of success.
What Affects Willpower
The more you exert your willpower the faster it will be depleted. That is why willpower is typically highest for most people at the start of the day, before they begin making choices, controlling emotions and handling tasks. Every decision exercises your willpower and exhausts it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, consuming food can refuel willpower. Like other parts of our body, the brain needs energy from food to function. But the brain requires much more energy than other organs and muscles. The prefrontal cortex where willpower develops is also one of the first parts of the brain to burn out when fuel runs low. Willpower and energy are so closely interlinked that studies have shown that when willpower is used, glucose levels drop. Unless you refuel you won’t be as mentally prepared the next time you need willpower.
These two factors, willpower consumption and food refueling, add numerous layers to deciding when willpower should be used for maximum effect. When you think about how willpower wanes and is restored it becomes easier to understand why it must be managed. More importantly, we must choose to do our most important tasks when willpower is at its highest.
It also provides one more reason to eat healthy, balanced meals throughout the day. Consuming complex carbohydrates and proteins, which aren’t burned as quickly, could be particularly useful in improving willpower management without increasing your waistline.
Willpower Inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made the fight for Civil Rights his ONE Thing, he dramatically altered his life and work. He’s an excellent example of someone who understood that willpower must be reserved for what matters most.
Before he became a Civil Rights leader Dr. King focused his energy and channeled his willpower toward beginning a career in the ministry. He reserved his willpower for this goal and ultimately became a pastor at just 24 years old. He also received a doctorate in theology at 25.
Less than a year later, Dr. King became a leader in the Civil Rights movement. The young pastor was tapped to lead a boycott of the bus system after Rosa Parks was arrested for failing to give up her seat to a white male passenger. As Dr. King’s prominence grew every decision he made was under a microscope and had implications for the entire black community. It was a position that required a tremendous amount of strength and willpower.
Dr. King’s first speech as the president of the boycott acknowledged the toll of strained willpower when he stated, “For many years we have shown an amazing patience. . . we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.” Dr. King was stating that the black community had to manage their willpower in a new, more productive way.
From the onset Dr. King realized the importance of properly managing willpower to make amazing things happen. Reserving willpower for what matters most is a choice that all of us must make every day.