Willpower: how is it arranged and how to manage it?

We would be too lazy to make this release, if not such a painful topic. Imagine how much can be achieved if you make at least half of what we are postponing because of laziness. But is it true that it is enough just to overcome yourself? But what if willpower does not work in the way we used to think? Do not be lazy, look at this our issue of willpower with Irina Yakutenko and you will receive answers. If you are too lazy to watch the video, then read under the cut the decoding of this video, the most adapted for reading.

We all know people who achieve their goals - “He said and did”. Others over the years can not lose weight / quit smoking / sign up for English / run a marathon ... Often there is no difference between these two people: some are not smarter and more beautiful than others. Nevertheless, there is one quality that distinguishes the former from the latter; this quality is willpower. And very often people think that willpower can be developed if you want to train and how you want. I will tell you that this is not entirely true, and willpower is unevenly distributed among people, and that it was originally given to some people more than to others.

Fast forward to Stanford University, which has its own small kindergarten for the children of employees. There the young psychologist Walter Michel has a lot of fun. He is conducting a very unusual experiment - imagine an empty room in which there is a table, a plate on the table, a small marshmallow on a plate, one of those that is fried on a fire (it is called marshmallow). Michel brings a four-five-year-old child into the room, plants it in front of marshmallows and says: “You can eat a marshmallow right now, but if you wait (I need to go out on business), I will come back and give you two marshmallows,” the experimenter says and leaves. What happens next? “What the children did not do: they looked at this marshmallow, licked, sniffed, touched, in general, this is a must see. Approximately one third of the children waited for the experimenter and received the coveted two marshmallows, the remaining 60% could not stand it and sooner or later ate the unfortunate marshmallow.

The most interesting part of this experiment occurred 20 years later, when Walter Michel found children who participated in it. Those children who could wait until the experimenter returned (and there was not an impressive 20 minutes) generally achieved much greater success in life: they less often took off from work, they had higher wages, they were less likely to get divorced, they were less likely to go to prison , less often became alcoholics and drug addicts. It was a completely different story with those who did not wait for the experimenter and ate the marshmallow: prisons, alcohol, drugs, divorces - this is all about them. No, this does not mean that 60% of people become addicts, just the chance to do so is much higher. Studies have shown that this is true - people who have higher willpower, generally achieve more in life. Neither beauty, nor intelligence, nothing else correlates so well with success in life as willpower. Accordingly, the next question asked by scientists: “And what to do? How to develop willpower? Why is it given to some people, but not to others? ”

Numerous books on popular psychology and all sorts of coaches will tell you: “Yes, of course, you can train your willpower!”, But is it really so? To understand, let's first understand:

Cake, cigarettes, alcohol, the attractive wife of a friend, and other pleasures of life tempt us, because they promise us pleasure. What is pleasure in terms of neuroscience? Pleasure is an extremely strong emotion , and we experience emotions thanks to a special structure in our brain called the limbic system . The limbic system is an evolutionarily very ancient thing; it was needed not only to force our ancestors to do anything, but also to respond to sudden environmental stimuli.

Michel and other scientists call the limbic system a “hot system” - if we didn’t have something in our head that restrains its impulses, we would always just do what we ate, sat on Facebook or play computer games (wait but some of us do that!). The main limiting factor that we have in our head and which does not allow our “hot” limbic system to seize our desires is the prefrontal cortex . This is part of the new bark , the one that makes people people. It focuses on the main functions that make a person what he is - the ability to plan, keep a goal in mind and pursue it - all these complex things occur right here, in the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex communicates very closely with the limbic system: they are physically connected by a huge number of connections, and it is this bundle of “prefrontal cortex – limbic system” that is key to our willpower. If the limbic system is too strong, or the prefrontal cortex is too weak, or the connections between them do not work very well, the person will resist the temptation.

So, we have found the first key element of willpower: the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system.

But that is not all.

In order for the prefrontal cortex to understand that the limbic system is doing something wrong, for example, it wants to take the 16th candy in a row, someone must tell her about it. This “someone” is the anterior cingulate cortex , the special structure of which performs many functions, and one of them is to register conflicts between immediate desires and our global goals. And if this department of the brain does not work in the best way - write it is gone, the prefrontal cortex just does not have time to figure out what the limbic system has already messed up.

But that's not all.

There is another zone in our head, which also takes part in how well we will hold back our temptations (we can say that our head is full of different participants who argue among themselves and try to determine which of them is the main one), this zone called islet crust . It performs a huge variety of functions, among them, for example, the recognition of disgusting smells is a very important function, if it had not been, our ancestors would have poisoned themselves with rotten food. Experiments show that when we stretch for a glass of something forbidden, but at the same time we understand that we should not have done this, and now we want to withdraw our hand - the insular bark is turned on just as if we were sniffing a garbage can.

Our brain absolutely does not like to cancel what we have already planned. The sensation we experience at the physical level is identical to how we felt nasty unpleasant odors. And if the islet crust works too actively, it is unbearable for a person to abandon a previously made decision (let's say, go to a bar with friends and not go to the gym) - this reduces the chances that such a person can achieve his goals.
All this cacophony in the head is arranged by the prefrontal cortex. That she must hear all these voices that convey to her from all sides, and make the right decision.

But this is not all!

The prefrontal cortex is divided into different parts, each of which performs its function. Main in our strength of will and motivation is the dorsolateral part of the prefrontal cortex. Scientists believe that it is in it that the motivation sits, that is what makes us long strive for some goals, rather than succumb to momentary pleasures. And if this part slows down, then people do not see much sense: "Well, why not eat more of this french fries?" / "Why not have a drink?" / "Why not have a smoke?" - it's hard for them to keep in mind global goals, so they just do not see the point of strain.

But the question arises: why do some people have all these parts of the brain that we talked about, developed like this, and other people differently? This is a very interesting question and the correct answer to it is this: partly it is determined by our genes, partly - by the influence of the environment. What kind of relationship between genes and environmental influences is not yet known, but experiments show that the structure of the brain is very dependent on genes. Roughly speaking, what we got from mom and dad, then we will be in my head. The environment can correct this, but not very much and, unfortunately, most likely, only at an early age.

What genes influence how our brain will be formed, scientists do not yet know. But then they know something different and very important - they know which genes indirectly influence this process through certain substances, which, strictly speaking, determine the whole machinery of our brain. Such substances are called neurotransmitters - it is through them that the brain realizes its orders (well, let's say, activate some part or muffle it). The two main neurotransmitters that are responsible for our willpower are dopamine and serotonin . Surely you have heard these names many times - in advertising and all popular books they are often called “pleasure hormones”.

For a long time, scientists believed that pleasure gives us dopamine, that it is he who is responsible for making us happy. Now the point of view has changed: it seems that dopamine does not directly give us pleasure, but it gives us an anticipation of pleasure and this is even more important. When we see a beautiful woman (well, or a man), tasty but harmful food, alcohol, drugs, drinks (and other things that prevent us from achieving our goals), we do not experience pleasure directly, but we understand that we will experience pleasure. We feel anticipation. And this is such a “hook” that holds us much stronger than the pleasure itself.

Scientists once conducted such an experiment: with the help of a special toxin, neurons that produce dopamine were destroyed in rats in the head. What happened? - These rats still loved sweet water (all rats love sweet water), but these rats were not going to go after her somewhere, even in the next corner of the cage. Yes, they liked the taste of sweet water, but they did not want to strive for it - they had no anticipation of pleasure. And the breakdowns in the dopamine system, in the pleasure anticipation system, are the key thing that determines our willpower. If a person lacks pleasure or anticipation all the time, he will look for him everywhere: in likes, in social networks, in alcohol, in junk food, etc. On the other hand, there are breakdowns that make people feel pleasure too acutely, and this is also a problem. If for one person sweetie is just delicious, for another it is hyper tasty! Can you imagine what the second is to refuse candy?

Damage to the dopamine system can be many. The genes that encode the neurotransmitter itself, most often do not break - such damage is simply incompatible with life, it is too important for us. Most often, service genes, say, those that encode receptors that capture this neurotransmitter, or transporters, which drag it from cell to cell, fail. Here is an incomplete list of what may break:

Breakdown does not mean that this gene is completely out of order - it just works a little differently. But this leads to catastrophic results: people with poorly functioning dopamine receptors are more likely to become alcoholics, drug addicts or become addicted to games, they are on average more impulsive, it is harder for them to demonstrate self-control than people who are fine with these receptors.

The second system, the breakdown of which critically affects our strength to the will, is the serotonin neurotransmitter system. It gives us not a feeling of pleasure, but a general feeling of goodness: for example, people with depression most often have problems with serotonin. Mutations in the serotonin system service genes have the same effect as mutations in the dopamine system.

What can we say when those and other mutations are combined together (for example, with me). When I genotyped myself, I found damage in both serotonin and dopamine. As you can see, this does not interfere with the correct approach.

There are other systems in which breakdowns have a very bad effect on our self-control. For example, breakdowns in the neurotransmitter braking system called GABA . He pacifies and blunts all impulses in our brain. But if GABA is too much in the prefrontal cortex, then it cannot adequately control the limbic system, and if GABA is too small in the limbic system, then it plays at full capacity and even the powerful prefrontal cortex cannot slow it down.

There can be a lot of breakdowns in various genes and each of them slightly worsens our situation with self-control. Sometimes, in order for a person to become weak-willed, there is enough breakdown in any one gene, but most often one mutation does not critically affect self-control, but a few of them already do. If you think that a combination of several breakdowns in one genome is a rarity, then you are mistaken. I have at least 4 of them. As you can see, I was even able to write a book . So it affects self-control, but not critical.

But what to do if any mutations are found in me or in you that make will-power extremely difficult? Can we never succeed in life? To some extent, yes. But there are no scientific papers that would show that training can make yourself less like sweets or experience less pleasure from alcohol. But this does not mean that everything is lost. Whatever the underlying failures that lead to problems with self-control, most often the result is the same - too strong impulses of the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex are not able to restrain them. Knowing this, you can develop a strategy that will help to refrain from temptations and more or less adhere to global goals:

Based on the study of self-control genes, self-control neurobiology, and so on, scientists have derived quite a lot of recommendations on how to deal with temptations, if initially you are not very good with willpower. Many of these recommendations are in my book. The main idea of ​​my speech is the following: all people are different due to genetic characteristics, characteristics of the environment in which we grew up and so on. Different mechanisms work in our head. And one really is easier to keep your word, go to your goals, refrain from temptations than other people. Do not blame the lack of will of those who can not keep in check their impulses: perhaps they really are much more difficult to do than you. And that is why, because we are all different, there are no universal recommendations on how to overcome our lack of will and achieve our goals. But scientists have already found a lot of reasons why our willpower breaks down, and for these reasons, you can find recommendations that are suitable for you.

So study yourself, try to find where the breakdown occurred just from you and look for recommendations that are right for you. And then, perhaps, you will be able to achieve excellent results in this life, even if it was once a long time ago in your childhood, you would not have passed the marshmallow test.

We remind you that this was the decoding of our video “THE POWER OF WILL: HOW IS IT ESTABLISHED AND HOW TO MANAGE IT? | IQ ”(video, just in case, is attached again):

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/406983/

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