Willpower, It’s Fueled by Glucose

WillpowerWillpower, what is it?

It’s that thing that gives you the strength to persevere.

It helps you build a path to a better life.

But…when depleted, it’s the thing that leaves you overwhelmed, exhausted, and unable to carry on.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney explores willpower, what it is, how it works, and how you can put it to work for you.

The authors take an unexpected turn in their discussion of how to corral your willpower. Among the advice about getting organized, setting priorities, and working on one thing at a time there’s a discussion of blood sugar levels. Turns out that glucose to the brain literally fuels willpower. Too little glucose and willpower disappears.

What a revelation for a person living with diabetes!

A whole section of the book shows the effect of low blood sugar on a person’s ability to make decisions and follow through. We’re not talking about the “I’m a little peckish,” kind of low blood sugar, but the you get it together enough to test and you end up staring at a number below 70 on your glucose meter—sometimes a number way below 70, like 45.

Actor Jim Turner, who lives with type 1 diabetes, shares various experiences he’s had when dealing with low blood sugar. In one instance he’s at the beach with his young son and he can’t decide whether to  take his son to the bathroom or get some food to bring his blood sugar back up. There he stood paralyzed.

As a person living with diabetes these scenes are a bit frightening. The mere idea  a hypoglycemic episode can take away my ability to make the simplest decision left me feeling helpless. My head filled with what ifs. What if that happened to me? What if I was driving and totally lost track of things? What if I put my children in danger because I couldn’t make a simple decision?

Then I read the section on how to put glucose to work for me and I felt better. Understanding that I need to feed my body and my mind in a measured, consistent way helped. When you’re sick, the authors say to save your glucose for your immune system—in other words, rest and recover. And most importantly, when you’re tired, sleep.

In short, willpower isn’t about pushing yourself to extremes. It’s about making conscious choices and following through on those choices. Blood sugar levels can help or they can get in the way. Understand that and you’re in a better position to persevere and make your life better.