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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

The Basis of Willpower

April 8, 2011

Tags: order, food, movement, Anna Karenina, assignment, bedtime, bouncing, brain, breakfast - perfect, candy, cooking from scratch, craving, cycle – benign, cycle - vicious, dawdling, diet, diet coke, doughnut, drowsiness, emails, energy, exercise, fats - hydrogenated, flavors - artificial, focus, grumpiness, habit - good, health bar, highly effective person, joy, listlessness, lunch, midnight, multivitamin, online news - unimportant, positive thinking, produce isle, purpose, self-help books, sleep, sleep-deprived, sleeplessness, soy - unfermented, spunk, sugars, sun shine, supermarket, The Basis of Focus, tiredness, Tolstoy - Leo, TV, veggies, walking, well-fed, well-moved, well-rested, willpower, work

Have you ever worked so hard that you got to a point where nothing worked anymore?

You worked so very hard – with lots of joy and energy initially. Until the task that broke the camel’s neck – say, an assignment lasting late into the evening. Proudly, you finish that, too, way beyond your usual bedtime. But because you are so very tired, you watch bit of TV – because a person needs a reward for working so hard, doesn’t she? After midnight, you collapse into bed.

Now you can’t sleep because your mind is still racing and thinking and planning. And when you wake next morning, you feel like a truck has run you over – you are tired, unfocused, grumpy. You get up anyway, because that’s what a person does. But sitting down for work, you find yourself unable to focus on what you wanted to do. You read any unimportant news online. You get off from your chair to snip off a wilted leaf from a potted plant. You file your nails. You dawdle. You peek into emails from strangers you usually throw away unopened. You do everything you can to avoid working on the task at hand.

It is as if what excited you yesterday so much, can’t excite you anymore. You have lost all spunk and steam.

What happened? Have you suddenly turned from a highly effective person to a bum? Have you lost all your goals?

No. All what has happened is that you are sleep-deprived.

And this is the message for today: At least ninety percent of your willpower comes not from your brain and positive thinking (as much as self-help books want you make believe). It comes from a well-rested, well-fed, well-moved body.

For some weeks now, you had been on a great diet and avoided all the foods that made you listless and drowsy - and sure enough, that’s exactly the food you crave now that you are sleep-deprived. But what’s the purpose anyway, the day already is not worth any better effort, it seems. So, you take a candy when your neighbor offers one, and for lunch you have two donuts. And then, to “make up,” you pop a multivitamin and munch a health bar – even if you know quite well that it is listed with sugars, hydrogenated fats, artificial flavors and unfermented soy – things you normally avoid.

You skip you noonday walk around the block and spend the afternoon in a daze, until you drink two diet cokes in a row.

After work (or what you passed off as work) in the evening, you are not up to anything and switch on the TV as soon as you walk through the door.

Let’s interrupt the vicious cycle right here!

Because it is a vicious cycle: Sleep deprivation leads to bad food choices and overeating, bad food choices lead to poor motivation to exercise. Lack of movements leads to further lassitude, more cravings, and so on.

But the other way round, it also is a cycle – although a benign one where one good habit feeds on the next: After a good night’s sleep – long before midnight! - you wake up refreshed and full of energy. You eat your perfect breakfast (which might be a bit different for different people because not all our bodies are the same), and you are off to a great start, doing what you want to do, doing what needs to be done – and all with a happy heart. You do your little exercises, you give your neighbor a hug (but politely refuse her candy), you resume your short walks and let the sun shine on your face, and your afternoon is as productive as your morning. You bounce off after work to get some good stuff from the produce isle in the supermarket, and cook a tasty little meal in the evening – all from scratch. You do a few chores, and sit down to answer some emails. You go to bed with your favorite book – perhaps “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoy – and switch off the light long before midnight.

You think a bit of sleep and a walk and a few veggies can’t make such a dramatic difference in your life? – Give it a try!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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