Are You Suffering From the Willpower Gap?

July 25th, 2015 by Cath King from Seeking Health

Did you know that there’s a secret formula for losing weight successfully. And, not only is this formula effective for weight loss, it’s effective in producing results in any area of your life – career, relationships, sports, personal development – you name it, this formula will get results.

Now, this formula isn’t mine. I didn’t create it. I’m not clever enough to come up with something like this. But I am good at sifting through the brilliant ideas of others and selecting what’s the most helpful in a given situation.

This brilliant idea originally came from Abdu’l-Baha. And it really is the secret formula for success in any endeavour.

The simple formula for success is: knowledge + volition + action = results.

And like most brilliant ideas, it’s actually very simple and logical. If you want results, first you need to learn about the subject matter. But knowledge alone won’t produce results.

The next thing you need is volition, which is the will to make it happen. Volition also includes a decision. It’s like grit or determination. You have to want it – really want it.

And once you know what to do, and you are committed to making it happen, the final step is action.

So, if the formula for weight loss is so simple and logical, why do so many people struggle with weight loss?

What part of the formula are people missing? The knowledge? The volition? The action? Where is the formula breaking down?

Well, the first part of the formula that breaks down for many people is the knowledge. But it’s not as if there’s not plenty of knowledge out there. In fact, that’s part of the problem – sifting through the flood of weight loss information in the public domain to find what will work for you. And often the information that’s the most visible has reached you more because someone has a really good marketing team rather than because their information is any good. And given the increasing obesity statistics, most of the information out there is NOT good. Otherwise how could there possibly be so many overweight people.

The next part of the formula that breaks down is right between volition and action. I’m assuming that you DO really want to lose weight here. In which case, it’s not a problem of volition. But somewhere between having the desire to lose weight and taking action, something happens. That something is the Willpower Gap.

The Willpower Gap is the gap between what we know we should be doing or what we should be eating and what we actually do pick in a given choice scenario. And it doesn’t happen due to lack of volition.

Scientists recently discovered that willpower is an actual “thing”. It’s a unitary power source, in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, that’s similar to a battery. So when fully charged, we have plenty of willpower and when we do things requiring willpower, it gradually depletes it, until it runs out and we have none (usually right when we most need it). Scientists estimate that we have about 15 minutes of willpower at our disposal.

So what depletes the willpower battery?

  • Making choices (Where shall we go on holiday? Which restaurant to go to? What to have for tea tonight?)
  • Regulating emotional responses (Remaining calm while dealing with a demanding customer. Not using bad language in front of your parents/children.)
  • Regulating your performance (Being professional at work. Learning something new.)
  • Dealing with frustrating situations (Running late while stuck in traffic. Dealing with a two year old throwing a tantrum in the supermarket.)
  • Trying to do a good job on a task (Writing a report. Sitting an exam.)

As you can see, we spend most of our day doing things that deplete our willpower.

To make matters even worse, the anterior cingulate cortex, like the rest of the brain runs solely on glucose. And when you’re hungry and glucose stores are running low (the precise moment you most need willpower), your willpower refuses to cooperate at all. It leaves the building entirely until suitable fuel is obtained.

Then, when your willpower is depleted, your left hemisphere takes over and creates a story that justifies the behaviour that our survival mechanism (called the motivational triad – maximise pleasure, avoid pain, minimise effort) really wants us to engage in. So we tell ourselves that we’ve done an extra hard work-out and we deserve that latte and muffin; we’ve had a stressful day and we need a chocolate fix; it’s little Bobby’s birthday and just one piece of cake won’t hurt. And what’s more, we believe these tall tales we tell ourselves. In that moment, we’ve fallen prey to the Willpower Gap.



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