Fuel is important. Your mindset is importanter. If you tell yourself that you “can’t”, you won’t — no matter how much fuel you have. If you tell yourself you can, you might, no matter what the obstacle.1 There are many potential lessons here.
Paper — Job, et al. 2013. Beliefs About Willpower Determine the Impact of Glucose on Self-Control.
Past research found that the ingestion of glucose can enhance self-control. It has been widely assumed that basic physiological processes underlie this effect. We hypothesized that the effect of glucose also depends on people’s theories about willpower. Three experiments, both measuring (experiment 1) and manipulating (experiments 2 and 3) theories about willpower, showed that, following a demanding task, only people who view willpower as limited and easily depleted (a limited resource theory) exhibited improved self-control after sugar consumption. In contrast, people who view willpower as plentiful (a nonlimited resource theory) showed no benefits from glucose—they exhibited high levels of self-control performance with or without sugar boosts. Additionally, creating beliefs about glucose ingestion (experiment 3) did not have the same effect as ingesting glucose for those with a limited resource theory. We suggest that the belief that willpower is limited sensitizes people to cues about their available resources including physiological cues, making them dependent on glucose boosts for high self-control performance.
Assume you just finished running a marathon. You are very low on glucose. You then see an angry bear intent on eating you. Are you able to start running again? Yes.
In contrast to the “brain-fueling” hypothesis, we hypothesized that a culturally shaped belief common in modern society creates conditions in which glucose facilitates cognitive performance and self-regulation. If this is the case, it would mean that many of the limits in self-control attributed to a lack of glucose are imposed largely by our society and ourselves. Our reasoning is consistent with the classic theorizing of William James, who wrote, “We live subject to inhibition by degrees of fatigue which we have come only from habit to obey”
Willpower has been assumed to require glucose. If you were low on glucose, it was assumed that would cause you to do poorly on Willpower tests. This older hypothesis may have been a conflation of correlation with causation. To say that a muscle uses glucose is not the same as saying that you must ingest glucose to use your muscles. Eskimos do lots of work on a zero carb diet. The brain may be able to take advantage of this, as well.
This conclusion should not be taken to imply that glucose is irrelevant to human functioning. We do not doubt that glucose is the major fuel of cerebral processes. Indeed, because the brain cannot afford to run out of glucose, the body contains redundant mechanisms to ensure its supply.
Athletes won’t find this hard to understand, because we’ve all experienced it! It is a common situation for an athlete to be in a situation where they are low on fuel, but have to muster up the WILL to do something anyway.
Now go (choose to) lift something heavy,
PS. The girl on the left is Emma, one of our athletes. The one in the center is Tamara, my lady, and co-coach. This was taken at the contest we did last weekend.
- I said “might”. Just because you have the will doesn’t mean there is a way. But if you don’t have the will — because you told yourself that you don’t — then you’ve guaranteed failure. It’s better to have a chance than no chance. ↩