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  • Mark Poiesz

How to Build Willpower (Yes, It's a Real Thing)

Brain scan

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of willpower - that character trait that allows us to push past the point where motivation met resistance. I learned something recently that has completely transformed my understanding of willpower and I’ve been sharing it with so many people that I wanted to share it here.

Scientists discovered the part of the brain that could be considered the hub of willpower. It’s called the anterior mid-cingulate cortex. I know that’s quite the word, but I believe there’s power in being able to name something so important. 

The anterior mid-cingulate cortex is activated by doing hard things, things you don’t want to do. It doesn’t just activate by doing hard things though - it actually grows in size over time, or shrinks if you don’t use it. So like a muscle, the more you do hard things, the better you get at doing hard things. Health in this part of the brain is directly correlated to cognitive health over time, and you could even make the argument that our human “will to live” is there.

How do you build willpower then? You do hard things, activating this part of your brain so that it grows in response. Building your anterior mid-cingulate cortex doesn’t mean that it gets easy to do those hard things - it means that you’re building the strength to push past that point of maximum resistance better. And what’s hard is always relative anyway. As soon as running five miles is easy, it’ll still be good for you but it won’t impact this brain area anymore. You’d either have to push faster or longer, or add something else.

No matter what your challenges are, this means that there’s inherent value in the struggle of hard things. We don’t have to love them - we don’t even need to learn to like them. They’re supposed to be hard. And if you can rise to that challenge in one place, it’ll support your ability to overcome again in another.

1 comentário

15 de mai.

Great post, Mark! This makes perfect sense also in the face of the persistent myth that "willpower gets used up" - rather, it's the opposite - the more you practice it the stronger that muscle gets. 💪

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