Almost all of us wish for more willpower. We want to resist a piece of cake, stop smoking or to say no in some situations instead of saying yes and we are not able to do that so we criticize ourselves by saying that we do not have willpower.
Willpower is like a muscle; you can exhaust it through overuse. Simple things like trying to plan an important discussion with your boss at work, control your temper, avoid conflict or even avoid distraction can exhaust your willpower easily. So, the question now is, what can we do to improve our willpower and the answer is ‘’heart rate variability’’.
Heart rate variability is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats specifically when you breathe in and breathe out.
Research evidence increasingly links high Heart rate variability to good health and a high level of fitness, while decreased heart rate variability is linked to stress, fatigue, and even burnout.
So why is this important for you?
Dr. Kelly McGonigal- who is a lecturer in psychology at Stanford university- mentioned in her book ‘’the willpower instinct’’- that there is a direct relation between the heart rate variability and the body’s willpower reserve. If Heart rate variability is high, then willpower reserve is high and the vice-versa.
She wrote that you could tell if someone is struggling with his willpower by listening to the consistency of his heartbeats. When we face internal threats or cravings towards something that we cannot resist, the heart rate increases, but variability decreases. When people feel in control of the situation, their heart rate decreases, but variability increases.
So, what reduces heart rate variability- and respectively your willpower reserve?
Chronic pain. Bad air quality. Life stress. Lack of sleep. Junk food. Anxiety, anger, loneliness, depression. Anything that puts stress on your body or mind reduces your heart rate variability and respectively your willpower.
On the other hand, things like Meditation, eating plant-based foods, exercising even one time per week, having plenty of sleep, spending quality time with friends and family, and Religious or spiritual practice can increase your heart rate variability, and therefore builds your willpower reserve.
Maybe you will say ‘’ok, this is all good. But is there anything faster, that I can do to restore my willpower reserve instantaneously?’’ And the answer is yes by only slowing your breath you can restore your willpower.
Slowing your breathing to 4-6 breaths per minute activates the prefrontal cortex- which is the command center of the brain- and increases heart rate variability right away. Each breath should take 10 to 15 seconds. Focus on exhaling more slowly. Don’t hold your breath (that builds stress). One study found that daily 20-minute practice of slow breathing increased heart rate variability and reduced cravings and depression among adults recovering from substance abuse. Heart-rate variability programs have also been used to decrease the stress of cops, stockbrokers, & customer service representatives.
So, the next time you are faced with a challenging situation and want to maintain your control or resist something, try one minute of slowing your breathing and let me know your opinion.
Finally, if you found this Episode useful, then share it with your family and friends.
And before leaving just wanted to remind you as always to: Imagine what you can achieve, believe that you can achieve it. And act to make it happen.