Have you every tried to break a bad habit – or embrace a new healthy habit – and found yourself in a battle with your own willpower?
With every positive but difficult step we take, it can be easy to rationalize taking an easier route instead.
And if you’ve ever tried to conquer a new but tough initiative – like losing weight, tackling a career goal or saving money - then you know just how easy it can be to justify veering off course.
We’ve all made excuses like “I’ll start tomorrow,” or “I’ll indulge just this once,” and found our larger ambitions can topple when these phrases are repeated too often.
But when it comes to winning the battle of the willpower, there’s a practice that can give you a continual edge, mindfulness meditation.
Multiple studies have been done on mindfulness meditation’s link to increased willpower and self-discipline, and as it turns out, the reason why meditation helps us achieve those difficult goals boils down to its long-term effect on our brains.
A 2009 study by Duke University examined the link between meditation and willpower by looking at a group of dieters. During the study, the researchers showed photos of food to the dieters.
They discovered the subjects with a high willpower had an active “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex” – a section of the brain that is also highly active during meditation.
In addition to activating the willpower section of our brains, meditation also helps sooth the “instant gratification” needs that we inherently have – a common factor when it comes to veering off track of our goals.
Instant gratification is what often hinders us from moving forward, as we are unable to concentrate on anything but that quick “fix,” regardless of potential consequences.
Essentially, when we give in to the fix of instant gratification, we are rewarded with an uptick of certain chemicals like dopamine and endorphins.
These chemicals in the brain get momentarily released with this brief moment of pleasure, but this rise in good feelings never lasts, which is why we seek out that fix again and inevitably cave into potentially unhealthy cravings time after time.
But mindfulness meditation has been shown to produce these chemicals in a healthy and natural way, which in turn breaks our cravings and allows us to maintain our willpower and self-control.
Also, by reducing stress chemicals that often trigger the need for a feel-good fix, our bodies are naturally regulated to depend less on instant gratification, and focus more on long-term paths to happiness instead.
Willpower is a tricky beast to master, and everyone has varying levels of self-discipline and self-control, regardless of their ultimate goals.
But when it comes to staying on the right path for your ultimate long-term plan – regardless of the exact ambition – mindfulness meditation can be a wonderful help in remaining motivated.
From alleviating those cravings and need for instant gratification to boosting the regions of the brain that are linked to willpower, to begin with, meditation can simply make you stronger from the inside out.