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Medical science discovers remarkable yet simple way to instantly increase your willpower

Thursday, October 28, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: willpower, mind-body medicine, health news

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(NaturalNews) Here's good news that's just in time to help you avoid the temptation of sugary goodies served up at holiday parties. If you feel your willpower weakening as you pass the desserts piled high, just tighten up your muscles -- flex any of them, including your finger or calf muscles. Sound crazy? Not according to new research. Scientists have found that firming muscles literally shores up self-control.

Researchers Iris W. Hung of the National University of Singapore and Aparna A. Labroo of the University of Chicago collaborated on a study that put volunteers through a range of self-control dilemmas revolving around accepting immediate pain for long-term gain. For example, in one study participants held their hands in an ice bucket to demonstrate pain resistance and, in another, the research subjects had to drink a healthy but awful-tasting vinegar drink.

In yet another experiment, study participants decided whether they could look at disturbing information about injured children devastated by the earthquake in Haiti and donate money to help. And in a final study, the volunteers were observed while making food choices for lunch at a local cafeteria to see if tightening muscles helped them overcome picking tempting but not-good-for-them foods.

"Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened -- hand, finger, calf, or biceps -- while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand the pain, consume the unpleasant medicine, attend to the immediately disturbing but essential information, or overcome tempting foods," the authors concluded in their paper, which was just published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The researchers found that the muscle tightening specifically helped when the choice aligned with the participants' goals. For example, if a person didn't want to eat healthy foods, tightening their muscles wouldn't keep them from chowing down on sugary junk. Hung and Labroo also found that the tightening of muscles only helped at the moment people faced the self-control dilemma. In other words, tightening your muscles before faced with a plate of sugar cookies doesn't work but tightening your muscles when the cookies are in front of you seems to.

Bottom line: the research is a new example of the connection between the body and the mind. "We draw on theories of embodied cognition to explain our results, and we add to that literature by showing for the first time that one's body can help firm willpower and facilitate the self-regulation essential for the attainment of long-term goals...The mind and the body are so closely tied together, merely clenching muscles can also activate willpower," the authors stated in their paper. "Thus simply engaging in these bodily actions, which often result from an exertion of willpower, can serve as a non-conscious source to recruit willpower, facilitate self-control, and improve consumer will."

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