What happens to our willpower?

September 26, 2018


Everyone struggles with apathy and a will to choose rationally.Often times we are so drained from our daily tasks like school and work that when it comes time to exercise or choose a healthy meal over an unhealthy one, we have no strength to resist plopping on the couch and digging in on a bag of chips and soda. 


Our willpower has been exhausted on the daily tasks that have left little to no will to resist our slothful ways. 

This dilemma has the ability to take our emotional state and spiral out of control.


Before we know it, our health has deteriorated, we become introverted, and we have run out of Lays chip flavors to be happy about. 


What happens to our willpower? With a name like “power”, it should work a lot better.Not to mention willpower is popular amongst life coaches and “Public Figures”. 


Yet the U.S. has a diabetes problem, opioid crisis, and suicide rates that have increased over the past five years over a range of age groups. 


Americans of all races, ages, and cultures engage in self-destructive behavior, whether willfully or unwilfully. Psychological stress is not beyond us whether we are rich or poor. 


Without a universal fact to inform us of our purpose in life, we are all subjected to self-destructive behavior.  


Aristotle wrote about the weak willpower of humans and how we succumb to our irrational decisions. 


However, recent studies in neuropsychology are bringing willpower beyond just a popular concept in self-development jargon. 


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures and maps brain activity. 


Atoms in our brain can be manipulated into sending off signals which are then mapped into an image. 


This map shows what parts of our brain are active depending on what we are doing; eating, blinking, learning, etc. 


This technology has led to evidence that our prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in our decision-making processes. Which the PFC also interacts with the amygdala; the amygdala is active when we are having an emotional event. 


For further understanding, the amygdala is a part of the limbic system which is also responsible for survival instincts, libido, and memory.


In other words: the same part of your brain that helps you make decisions is also tied to the part of your brain that deals with emotions, sex drive, and memory. 


At this point we can imagine trying to make a decision while emotions and survival instincts are active—we can see the outcome of that decision not turning out well with so many influences on our objective thinking. 


This is where our willpower should pop in with a red flapping cape. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 


Some of us may experience a blip or willpower and some of us won’t experience the presence of any willpower. 


A fMRI has revealed a part of our PFC that does come in for the rescue. It is called the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (dlPFC). 


The dlPFC has been found to be associated with highly sophisticated cognition in the human brain, and brain activity when someone is confronted with a dilemma such as eating sweets versus not eating sweets. 


The people who showed resistance to the sweets also showed activity in the dlPFC. While those who did not resist show no activity in this part of the brain. 


This study infers that the dlPFC possibly serves as willpower. This guest column can be read in its entirety at tejanotribune.com


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