Here comes the science…
The area of the brain responsible for willpower has been shown to be the prefrontal cortex. It is also responsible for short term memory and solving abstract problems. To succeed with your resolution you need to keep the prefrontal cortex “happy” and research has highlighted that willpower actually requires a stress-free environment with a lack of cognitive overload and stable energy levels. What this actually means is that you need to eat little and often and avoid stressful situations if you want to ensure that you have enough resolve and willpower to stick to your resolutions. It’s as simple as a jigsaw puzzle but you need to have all the right pieces.
- The prefrontal cortex needs glucose
Florida State University conducted an experiment that showed that willpower actually requires energy, and that glucose levels dropped in subjects that had to demonstrate willpower. They further tested their theories and went on to find that by presenting subjects with a regular intake of sugar during such tasks their discipline was greater than the control group that had no sugar. Knowing that discipline and energy levels are directly related, we can use that to our advantage. If you eat little and often ingesting small controlled amounts of energy (preferably low GI, containing protein and a little sugar) you can help keep your willpower at optimum. It also means resolutions that can be carried out in the morning are likely to be more successful than those that require determination and willpower when you are fatigued. To be clear this does not mean left over Xmas cookies, even if no one is watching – it still counts. But they look so good!
- The prefrontal cortex needs a stress free environment
A stress-freedy carried out in Michigan State University showed that when the brain is preoccupied with fight or flight responses from triggers such as crowded places or stressful situations, it struggles to find energy for willpower. It is as if it decides that determination is the least important function to power up and as such leaves us depleted of willpower and prone to make silly decisions. If your resolution includes weight loss, try shopping in supermarkets at quieter times of the day or take advantage of the 24 hours supermarkets or online delivery. Good nutrition will also help feed the energy cycle, and supplements for fatigue or mental fatigue are particularly useful to add into your routine if you are so inclined.
- The prefrontal cortex needs to be without cognitive overload
Stanford University has conducted research that shows that subjects that had to remember a 2 digit number made better decisions than subjects that had to remember a 7 digit number. The conclusion was that the brain can only hold so much information and as little as 5 bits of information can be the difference between a good decision and a bad decision in relation to sticking to your resolution. The less information you have to deal with the stronger your determination to keep to your resolution. It is useful to take up yoga or mindfulness to keep calm and your brain free of stressful information allowing you to make the best decisions for you.
Keeping the prefrontal cortex happy is key to keeping your resolutions. If you want to get even more of an edge, exercise your brain like a muscle; remind it of its obligations and rest it with a minimum of a good 6 hours’ sleep. Scientific research also confirms that with regular training, constant but fun reminders and even as little as 1 hour more sleep a night, subjects are twice as likely to stick to their resolutions.
So there you have it. Keep your prefrontal cortex happy and it will keep you successful in your new year resolutions.