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Hi everyone, it's Karen here. I am so excited to discuss the concept of willpower with you this week! I am personally fascinated by the neuroanatomy that impacts willpower. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of our brains, right behind our forehead and eyes, that’s responsible for abstract thinking, analyzing thoughts and regulating behavior. The “I will, I won’t and I want powers” that comprise willpower all stem from within the PFC.

Historically, we used to think that the brain was "fixed," meaning you were born a certain way and, over time, your brain deteriorates. Today, we know that the brain is responsive to experience, and that it actually changes based on what you do. When you practice a certain behavior, you’re strengthening the neural connections for that behavior, making it more accessible and more likely to occur.

So this means you can actually train your brain for better self-control! And meditation is one of the best ways to do it. Regular meditators have more grey matter in the PFC and other areas of the brain responsible for self-awareness. And it doesn’t take years of practice to observe changes in the brain. One study showed that only three hours of meditation resulted in improved attention and self-control, and eleven hours led to visible changes in the brain.

If you want to improve your willpower, try this 5-minute meditation.

  1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight, and for the first few moments allow yourself to settle in so you can stay still.

  2. Notice any urges to move, scratch an itch, adjust, or fidget. See if you can feel the sensations and not follow them.

  3. Bring your attention to your breath. As you breathe in, say to yourself “inhale,” and as you breathe out say "exhale."

  4. When your mind wanders off, and it will, gently bring it back to the breath, again and again. Don’t be hard on yourself if your mind wanders, just gently bring attention back to your breath.

This may feel difficult and awkward at first, but with practice, it will get easier! There are also many other ways to meditate that you can explore on your own.