Some say your willpower is limited and others believe it is as strong as you think it is. Regardless of how much you have, it turns out that you may be able to boost it with a simple brain training exercise.
It all comes down to the strength of your working memory, which sits in your prefrontal cortex and is tied to executive control. What's that? A cluster of abilities that include paying attention, planning, remembering things, and your ability to perform and inhibit actions. Dr Sian Beilock, writing for Psychology Today, points to a recent study in the journal Psychological Science that discovered how working memory plays a large role in the strength of your executive control. This study took two group of heavier drinkers (30-ish drinks per week) and performed a few tests. The first group — the treatment group — performed working memory exercises. For example, they saw letters on the screen in a given order and were told to remember them. When the sequence of letters completed, they were tasked to remember those letters in reverse order. These tests became increasingly more challenging. The placebo group had similar tests, but they were consistent and easier. Unsurprisingly, the treatment group is the one that improved:
[T] hese folks also improved on other executive control tasks that they had not practiced. Even more impressive, people in the treatment group reduced their alcohol intake by about 10 glasses a week compared to what they drank before the study (with the biggest reductions for those with the strongest impulses to drink alcohol). People in the placebo group did not show a change in their drinking behaviour.
What this means in the long-term is still unknown, but in the meantime can borrow the simple working memory exercise from this study and do it on your own. Doing it with some regularity, and with increasing difficulty, you may be able to improve your working memory and, therefore, executive control.
For more tips and trick for boosting your willpower, check out our guide to better self-control.
Training the Brain to Avoid Temptation [Psychology Today]