But bear with me, because the payoff is there at the end.
First, the bad news — which we all knew, really — is that willpower is a limited resource. Using willpower to refrain from one bad habit, or to force ourselves to do an unpleasant task, depletes the willpower left over for other unpleasant tasks. For instance:
[R]estraining our consumer spending, in the short term, may cause us to actually loosen the belts around our waists. What’s the connection? The brain has a limited capacity for self-regulation, so exerting willpower in one area often leads to backsliding in others.
But the good news is you can avoid backsliding by using your limited willpower strategically:
For example, if you do not want to drink too much at a party, then on the way to the festivities, you should not deplete your willpower by window shopping for items you cannot afford. Taking an alternative route to avoid passing the store would be a better strategy.
And there's more good news: Willpower is like a muscle — the more you exert it, the stronger it gets:
In psychological studies, even something as simple as using your nondominant hand to brush your teeth for two weeks can increase willpower capacity.
Anyway, this is all according to the authors of Welcome to Your Brain, which does seem like an interesting read.
But there's another way of looking at it: How much willpower you have depends on how much stress you have.
Stress is a killer. It wears us down. In fact, that's what stress is — the use of too much of our limited mental energy on some chronic problem or obstacle in our lives, leaving us too little energy left to devote to the important things.
It's like a little kid nagging, nagging, nagging for ice cream, until Mom is so worn down she gives in.
Then again, maybe Mom would have had the strength to keep saying "No" if other things in her life hadn't already worn down her willpower.
Some stress is unavoidable. Life ain't easy, after all. But you can zap a big chunk of your stress just by learning the art of relaxation. Things like deep breathing, meditating, yoga, exercise.
And, of course, green tea.
You may laugh. But do not underestimate the power of green tea, Grasshopper. The power to relax you. The power to mellow you out.
And green tea isn't just a beverage. It's a philosophy. A way of life.
Reduce your stress and you increase your resolve to resist the many temptations out there (and there are a lot of them).