Research Paper By Achraf Rachad
(Team Coach, MOROCCO)
Myth or Reality
Self discipline, willpower, self-control, they all mean one thing and it is the ability to take actions independently of your emotions thoughts and impulses, but is it possible? Or is it just a myth? And how can we act against our emotions, aren’t they there to help us protect ourselves and replicate so our human species can last longer? There is no need to seek a scientific approval to state that will power exists, take a look around us to see it; there is millions of stories of people who has demonstrated a high level of willpower to help themselves achieve their goals or to overcome their obstacles.
Why do we have it?
The answer to another question would answer this question What if we don’t have it?!
Here is the story of Phineas Gage. In 1848, Phineas Gage was a twenty-five-year-old foreman for a gang of rail workers.
His employers called him their best foreman, and his team respected and liked him. His friends and family called him quiet and respectful. His physician, John Martyn Harlow, described him as exceptionally strong in both mind and body, possessing an iron will and an iron frame.
But all that changed on Wednesday, September 13, at four-thirty p.m. Gage and his men were using explosives to clear a path through Vermont for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad. Gage’s job was to set up each explosion. This procedure had gone right a thousand times, and yet this time, something went wrong. The explosion happened too soon, and the blast sent a three-foot, seven-inch tamping iron straight into Gage’s skull. It pierced his left cheek, blew through his prefrontal cortex, and landed thirty yards behind him, carrying some of Gage’s gray matter with it. He didn’t die.
By witness reports, he didn’t even pass out. Instead, his workers put him in an oxcart and pushed him almost a mile back to the tavern where he was staying. His physician patched him up as well as possible, replacing the largest fragments of skull recovered from the accident site, and stretching the scalp to cover the wounds. Gage’s full physical recovery took over two months (set back perhaps as much by Dr. Harlow’s enthusiasm for prescribing enemas as by the persistent fungus growing out of Gage’s exposed brain). But by November 17, he was sufficiently healed to return to his regular life. Gage himself reported feeling better in every respect, with no lingering pain.
Unfortunately for Gage, the story doesn’t end there. His outer wounds may have healed, but something strange was happening inside Gage’s brain. According to his friends and coworkers, his personality had changed. Dr. Harlow described the changes in a follow-up to his original medical report of the accident: The balance . . . between his intellectual faculties and his animal propensities seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires . . . devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned…. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was no longer Gage.
In other words, when Gage lost his prefrontal cortex, he lost his will power, his won’t power,. His iron will— something that had seemed like an unshakable part of his character— had been destroyed by the tamping iron that blew through his skull. Most of us don’t have to worry about ill-timed railroad explosions robbing us of our self-control, but we all have a little Phineas Gage in us. The prefrontal cortex is not always as reliable as we’d like. Many temporary states— like being drunk, sleep-deprived, or even just distracted— inhibit the prefrontal cortex, mimicking the brain damage that Gage sustained. This leaves us less able to control our impulses, even though our gray matter is still safe in our skulls. Even when our brains are well rested and sober, we aren’t fully out of danger. That’s because while we all have the capacity to do the harder thing, we also have the desire to do exactly the opposite. This impulse needs to be restrained, and as we’ll see, it often has a mind of its own.
I will & I won’t Power
Resisting temptations comes in two forms,” I will” power, it could be for instance getting up early despite the urge to stay in a warm bed, the second form is the ability to say no which is the “I won’t” power, they both constitute the willpower. We are challenged in a daily basis to demonstrate I will/won’t power, to move forward and accomplish what we have planned for, but the most common challenge is to make a major or even a slight change in our behavior, whether it’s a habit, a lifestyle.
Willpower and coaching
One of the common reasons people come to coaching is to acquire a new habit or/and get rid of another one, which requires a high level of willpower, understanding this force, how to use it and how to make it grow during this process would be a very important step toward this goal, the coach who has this asset and through a toolkit will know exactly what are the potential obstacles and how to face them during the process, as well as what kind of powerful questions that will lead the client and take him toward his goal. It is definitely one of the core skills that any successful person has,
No doubt, self awareness is one of the core components of self-control, the ability to recognize and identify the pattern you go through when you’re about to give in, or when about to make a choice, what makes self-awareness a difficult task is the fact that we usually go in an autopilot when we’re making decisions, especially habits, a smoker doesn’t necessary need to consciously make a decision about lighting up another cigarette, in fact he most of time does it in autopilot.
Since everyone is unique, we don’t respond to the same temptations and at the same degree, through self-awareness, we meet the tempted self, his thoughts, emotions and even motion and we take the time to acquire all of the data about him. Just by taking the role of an observer, watch and hear what do we say to ourselves, what do we feel when we’re about to make that decision to quit, we can identify our weaknesses and what process our tempted self go through.
Can we learn willpower?
Neuroscientists have discovered that, like an eager student, the brain is remarkably responsive to experience. Ask your brain to do math every day, and it gets better at math
Not only does your brain find these things easier, but it actually remodels itself based on what you ask it to do. For example, adults who play memory games for twenty-five minutes a day develop greater connectivity between brain regions important for attention and memory. There is growing scientific evidence that we can train our brain to get better at self-control, this could be done for instance through planting temptation traps in the house, and resisting them.
Succeeding at one self-control challenge, would make you high likely to grow self-control for other challenges, and like any other skill self-control can be learned and we can train our brain to get good at it, the main idea is to start with short training sessions and from there push a little further.