How important is willpower to your happiness? And does food have anything to do with it?
Most of us would agree that it requires willpower to graduate from school, learn a skill, or practice anything till you get really good at it. Self-fulfilment is unlikely to just happen spontaneously. It is more likely to arise as a side effect of pursuing a particular objective. And that pursuit usually requires willpower.
In The Art of Purring, an encounter with the Chief Disciplinarian of Namgyal Monastery gets HHC (His Holiness’s Cat) thinking about willpower in terms that are especially meaningful to her: food. Because, as she discovers, there is a direct relationship between willpower and food.
A fascinating book ‘Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength’ by psychologist Roy Baumeister and science writer John Tierney, explain the direct relationship between self control and glucose. No glucose equals no willpower. Willpower is full of fascinating studies, like the one concerning a prison parole board. If you were a prisoner seeking parole, the likelihood of being released correlated not with the crime you committed, your behaviour in jail, or any of the variables you might expect. Instead it was related, directly, to the time of day your case came up. Shortly after breakfast or lunch, when judges’ glucose levels were high, you were most likely to be granted parole. Late morning or afternoon, when decision fatigue kicked in, it was far more likely that the judges would make the easier decision – to leave you in prison.
The glucose relationship also accounts for the perfect storm of dieting, when what you need most to resist temptation, is the very thing you’re denying yourself.
Baumeister and Tierney liken willpower to a muscle which can be developed. But it has its limits. This is why lists of New Year resolutions never work. You only have so much willpower. Trying to fix everything in one hit just isn’t going to happen.
What can we can take away from Baumeister and Tierney’s book to help develop our own willpower? Possibly the most important lesson is to remember that we only have a finite amount of willpower on any given day. We should therefore decide what’s important and apply our willpower where it matters most.
Diet is also critical. In particular, we should choose food that delivers plenty of slow burn energy rather than high GI options, which provide instant gratification but leave us willpower-depleted a short time later.
As readers of The Dalai Lama’s Cat well know, HHC is a self-confessed glutton. In The Art of Purring, she comes to think of food in a whole new way. Not just the pleasure you get from eating it. But how it can support a happier, calmer state of mind in the hours that follow.
Does this see a revolution in her eating habits? Does Mrs Trinci, the VIP chef, cease to indulge her? That, dear reader, you will need to read The Art of Purring to discover! Suffice it to say that HHC is a pretty strong-willed cat … few things are likely to get between her and the delectations on offer down at the Himalaya Book Café!
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