Other than talking to myself a lot, I tend to read pretty much too. I used to read as many as 10 articles online a day, until my recent interest in paperback books. Why? Reason is simple. Because:
1) The capacity of my phone’s battery isn’t enough for me to last a day, and my kid loves to watch Pinggu on my phone.
2) My eyes get strained more easily from the readings from a screen than from a book.
4) They’re free – thanks to the National Library Board of Singapore.
5) Libraries are easily accessible in Singapore.
Whenever I read something interesting, I’ll love to share. But my wife, being the person who isn’t into theories and shit, will not be as excited as me when I share with her what I learned. I’ll have to find another person who’ll be as enthusiastic as I am. So, I found him: ME.
Did you read about how I love to talk to myself?
In this sense, it’s great, because both of me would be as excited about this new knowledge as I would be. But on the darker side of things, both MEs knew as much as I did. So…
I have no one else. Really. If I was to share with my buddies on what I’ve learnt from the last book I’d read, I’m pretty sure they’d go, “Yeah! That’s great! Now, where shall we go for lunch?” It’s kinda depressing to know how I am alone. But hey! I learnt how to manage my perspectives better (thanks to reading), and I know exactly just how to NOT feel depressed over my loneliness (technically, I’m not lonely. I have you guys here!).
Hence I started to write. Today, I want to share the reasons to eat that cake that you’ve always wanted to, but was too afraid to because of… I don’t know…your lack of motivation to exercise?
HOORAY! Ladies, let’s first celebrate with some cheers and claps, then some dance before you dash into the bakery across the street for your tiramisu or macaroon.
It’ll be a little dry from here, but read on. I’ll explain to you later – I promise – why putting a little willpower here has anything to do with the macaroon that you are chewing now, or the tiramisu that is staring at you from your desk.
-Extracted from the Book: Maximum Willpower (Chapter 3, Page 60)-
Matthew Gailliot, a young psychologist working with Roy Baumeister, wondered whether a tired brain was essentially a problem of energy. Self-control is an energy-expensive task for the brain, and our internal energy supply is limited – after all, it's not as though we have an intravenous sugar drip into our prefrontal cortex (Andy's input: The part of our brain responsible for our willpower). Gailliot asked himself: could willpower exhaustion simply be the result of the brain running out of energy?
To find out, he decided to test whether giving people energy – in form of sugar – could restore exhausted willpower. He brought people into the laboratory to perform a wide range of self-control tasks, from ignoring distractions to controlling their emotions. Before and after each task, he measured their blood sugar levels. The more a person's blood sugar dropped after a self-control task, the worse his performance on the next task. It appeared as if self-control was draining the body of energy, and this energy loss was weakening self-control.
Gailliot then gave the willpower-drained participants a glass of lemonade. Half of them received sugar sweetened lemonade to restore blood sugar; the other half received a placebo drink that was artificially sweetened and would not supply any usable energy. Amazingly, boosting blood sugar restored willpower. The participants who drank sugar-sweetened lemonade showed improved self-control, while the self-control of those who drank placebo lemonade continued to deteriorate. Low blood sugar levels turn out to predict a wide range of willpower failures, from giving up on a difficult test to lashing out at others when you're angry. Gailliot, now a professor at Zirve University in Turkey, has found that people with low-blood sugar are also more likely to rely on stereotypes and less likely to donate money to charity or help a stranger. It is as if running low on energy biases us to be the worst versions of ourselves. In contrast, giving participants a sugar boost turns them back into the best versions of themselves: more persistent and less impulsive; more thoughtful and less selfish (Andy's input: Now I see why a chocolate is all it takes for me to pacify the fierce-some wife at home.)
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Wow. You guys read that? It seems to me, on a scientific level, that people who are less motivated and temperamental are, in fact, behaving that way because their sugar levels are not enough? Hold on. Does that mean that having sufficient sugar in our blood means a higher level of willpower? And if that is so, doesn’t it contradict with people who doesn’t have willpower to watch their diets? I mean, if they need sugar to supplement their brains’ energy needs, and if they’re having problems with watching their diets (ICE-CREAM!), they’ll have to have ice-creams so that they’ll not give in to the temptation of eating….ice-cream?
My take is: why not exercise the willpower to exercise? Have sufficient sugar and have the willpower to work out…Perhaps this sounds better? But wait, read on; there’s more.
-Extracted from the Book: Maximum Willpower (Chapter 3, Page 61)-
How much energy, exactly, was getting used up during acts of mental self-control? And did restoring that energy really require consuming a substantial amount of sugar? University of Pennsylvania psychologist Robert Kurzban has argued that the actual amount of energy your brain needs to exert self-control is less than half a Tic Tac per minute (Andy's input: Does that mean that I can pop in 30 Tic-Tacs in an hour? Of course not!). This maybe more than the brain uses for other mental tasks, but it is far less than your body uses when it exercises (Andy's input: so, time to get your butt off that couch!) So assuming you have the resources to walk around the block without collapsing, the absolute demands of self-control couldn't possibly deplete your entire body's store of energy. And surely it wouldn't require refuelling with a sugar-laden 100-calorie drink. Why, then, does the brain's increased energy consumption during self-control seem to deplete willpower so quickly?
To answer this question, it may be helpful to recall the banking crisis of 2009. After the 2008 financial meltdown, banks received an influx of money from the government. These funds were supposed to help the banks cover their own financial obligations so they could start lending again. But the banks refused to lend money to small businesses and individual borrowers. They weren't confident in the money supply, so they hoarded the resources they had. Stingy bastards!
It turns out that your brain can be a bit of a stingy bastard, too. The human brain has, at any given time, a very small amount of energy. It can store some energy in its cells, but it is mostly dependent on a steady stream of glucose circulating in the body's bloodstream. Special glucose-detecting brain cells are constantly monitoring the availability of energy. When the brain detects a drop in available energy, it gets a little nervous. What if it runs out of energy? Like the banks, it may decide to stop sending and save what resources it has. It will keep itself on a tighter energy budget, unwilling to spend its full supply of energy. The first expense to be cut? Self-control, one of the most energy-expensive tasks the brain performs. To conserve energy, the brain may become reluctant to give you the full mental resources you need to resist temptation, focus your attention, or control your emotions.
University of South Dakota researchers X.T.Wang, a behavioural economist, and Robert Dvorak, a psychologist, have proposed an “energy budget” model of self-control. They argue that the brain treats energy like money. It will spend energy when resources are high, but save energy when resources are dropping. To test this idea, they invited 65 adults – ranging in age from 19 to 51 – into the laboratory for a test of their willpower. Participants were given a series of choices between 2 rewards, such as $120 tomorrow or $450 in a month. One reward was always smaller, but the participants would get it faster than the larger reward. Psychologists consider this a classic test of self-control, as it pits immediate gratification against more-favourable long-term consequences. At the end of the study, the participants had the opportunity to win one of their chosen rewards (Andy's input: Why aren't such studies taking place in Singapore?). This ensured that they were motivated to make real decisions based on what they wanted to win.
Before the choosing began, the researchers measured the participants' blood sugar levels to determine the baseline status of available “funds” for self-control. After the first round of decisions, participants were given either a regular, sugary drink (to boost blood sugar levels) or a zero-calorie diet drink. The researchers then measured blood sugar levels again, and asked the participants to make another series of choices. The participants who drank the regular drink showed a sharp increase in blood sugar. They also became more likely to delay gratification for the bigger reward. In contrast, blood sugar dropped among the participants who drank the diet drink*. These participants were now more likely to choose the immediate gratification of the quicker, smaller reward. Importantly, it wasn't the absolute level of blood sugar that predicted a participant's choices – it was the direction of change. The brain asked, “Is available energy increasing or decreasing?” It then made a strategic choice about whether to spend or save that energy.
*This is little-known effect of diet drinks that contribute to hunger, overeating and weight gain. The sweet taste tricks the body into taking up glucose from the bloodstream in anticipation of a blood sugar spike. You're left with less energy and less self-control, while your body and brain wonder what happened to the sugar rush they were promised. This may be why recent studies show that diet drink consumption is associated with weight gain, not weight loss.
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So people, before you start going on a “no sugar” diet, understand that without glucose, your diet might not work at all. The reason might very well be your willpower being drained. Balance is the key. You need to have sufficient sugar in your blood in order to stay motivated in your regime, and yet not too much to burden yourself with the burning and exhaustion you have to make at a later stage. Remember, you’ll just need to burn more than what you’ve taken, in order to keep your weight in check. So, enjoy your tiramisu and the macaroon that you’ve just bought, and know that sugar is an essential energy for your brain. Pop that sweet if you want; drink that lemonade if you must. Self-control is more than just drinking plain water and not eating rice.
*PS: You may now start to feast on that sugary devil that you have with you, to reward your brain for the concentration that you’ve put in to read what I’ve written.
If you are interested in reading the book that I mentioned in my post, which I recommend you to, the details of the book are right below:
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: MacMillan (January 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0230761550
- ISBN-13: 978-0230761551
Andy Lawson is the average man on the street that you’ll not even trouble yourself looking at him if he passes by you. He’s sensitive to bullshit, and he hates mediocrity in most people. He is the author of his self-published book: Facts and Fiction of Fengshui: Facts that Masters are NOT Telling You. He doesn’t have Facebook or Twitter, because he hates to be associated with people who tend to be passive-aggressive online, but he does have a very limited set of vocabularies, terrible grammar, a twisted mind that makes himself God in his own twisted world and an ability to communicate with people who wish to be his friend.