How to improve willpower to get what you want

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According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 71% of us believe that willpower is a skill that can be developed. This is encouraging, and actually countless psychological studies have confirmed that this belief is accurate.

Even though we may be motivated and make a decision, keeping going when things get tough is often challenging. Activating our willpower is the key to resisting short term temptations and staying on track. For example, if you want to lose some weight and start dieting but someone brought some delicious cookies to work then it’s very hard to say no. Almost 93% of people reported making some negative decisions due to that lack of willpower. 

So what does it mean to control willpower, and why is it challenging to maintain? One of the most common questions I’m asked is about maintaining motivation. My response is to persist in your everyday activities, as repetition will enhance the likelihood of attaining your objectives. Exerting willpower activates the prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in decision-making and self-control, helping us to restrain ourself from actions that might be unsafe, unhealthy, or unproductive. The amygdala is critical for initiating automatic responses to emotional triggers, such as those associated with gains or losses. And the part of the brain called ventromedial prefrontal cortex plays a significant role in controlling these impulses.

Another part of the brain that has only recently been discovered is named the anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC). Scientists have identified this as a key region in the brain that significantly influences our motivation and goal attainment. Its activation is closely linked to our capacity for self-regulation and emotional control, abilities that are crucial for setting meaningful goals, monitoring progress, and adjusting actions to increase our likelihood of success. The aMCC is crucial in enabling us to power through obstacles and realize our desired goals, and by engaging it we can effectively tackle challenges and reach our potential, leading to greater fulfillment in all parts of our lives.

To activate the aMCC we can participate in activities requiring focused attention, complex decision-making, and conflict resolution. Examples include solving challenging puzzles, engaging in strategy games, undertaking complex problem-solving tasks, practicing mindfulness or meditation, and dealing with conflicting information or dilemmas, like debating or negotiating. 

Visualization is an effective method for activating the aMCC and boosting cognitive abilities, and integrating visualization techniques into endurance training can further enhance aMCC activation. Visualizing yourself successfully navigating challenges, enduring fatigue, and achieving goals during activities like running, cycling, or swimming not only builds mental resilience but also stimulates the aMCC, thereby improving executive functions and cognitive skills. Regularly including visualization exercises in your exercise routine, along with other cognitively demanding tasks — and consistently and continuously practicing them — can maximize the potential of the aMCC.

But even without the visualization, endurance activities are effective in themselves in stimulating the aMCC due to the mental resilience and prolonged physical exertion that they require. Even daily routines that include tasks that require focused attention, complex decision-making, and overcoming discomfort will contribute to stimulating the aMCC. Regular practice of these activities, especially those that seem less appealing like uncomfortable workouts, household chores or challenging work tasks, trains the brain to handle difficulties and strengthens the aMCC, thereby enhancing cognitive abilities and executive functioning.

A simple decision to regularly push ourselves to do something that we might not feel like doing, something that might be challenging or uncomfortable, can effectively activate the aMCC. The result of that little bit of discomfort can be truly life changing.

References:

American Psychological Association. “What Americans Think of Willpower”. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/willpower.pdf

WebMD. “4 Surprising Facts About Willpower”. https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/willpower-facts

Penn Medicine. “Willpower: How It Works and How to Train Your Brain”. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2020/january/how-willpower-works

Positive Psychlogy. “What Is Willpower? The Psychology Behind Self-Control”. https://positivepsychology.com/psychology-of-willpower/

PubMed. “The amygdala and decision-making”. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20920513/

National Library of Medicine. “Exercising Your Brain: A Review of Human Brain Plasticity and Training-Induced Learning”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896818/

National Library of Medicine. “Mnemonic Training Reshapes Brain Networks to Support Superior Memory”. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28279356/

National Library of Medicine. “Enhanced Learning through Multimodal Training: Evidence from a Comprehensive Cognitive, Physical Fitness, and Neuroscience Intervention”. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28724914/

Frontiers. “Cognitive control in the self-regulation of physical activity and sedentary behavior”. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00747/full

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competition history

Ayda competes regularly in fitness competitions and is currently preparing for the 2023 North American championships.

NPC North American Championships, 2022
NPC North American Championships, 2022
NPC North American Championships, 2022
CPA Toronto, 2021

You’ve probably heard so many people say “I love what I do”, BUT in my case I can truly say it from my heart. I’ve competed in sports all my life, but it wasn’t so long ago that I really understood that actually I can only ever compete with myself.

“You are perfect, until compare yourself with someone else”

I started contest prep in 2011, and since then I didn’t stop competing. In some competitions I got first place, in some it went not so well, but every competition that I prepared for taught me something more about myself and helped me take the correct direction, which I believe has shaped my work and my life in such a positive way.

When I competed in my first bikini competition I had just moved from my home country Turkey to Canada, and was getting used to the Canadian lifestyle — and, of course, the language too, which was the hardest part for me. I always wanted to do a fitness or bikini competition, but when I was still in Turkey the work and cultural differences made it so hard to do.

So I was in Vancouver BC, working at Steve Nash Fitness Club, and one of my co-workers, who was a competitor herself, asked me “why you are not competing?” I started asking myself and questioning if I could do it? I’d never done anything like it before… Maybe you’re asking yourself the same questions right now! Of course I told myself “absolutely, I can’’. And my competition journey began!

Each show that I competed in gave me more knowledge about my body, and how I can improve. Of course, it’s not easy to correctly identify what’s missing with training and nutrition, and this learning process and all of the experiences pushed me to learn more… I’ve been a personal trainer since 1993, but I wanted more and began my nutrition studies. I finished my Comprehensive Nutrition and Sports Nutrition degrees.

And yes, I am still competing! You can see a list of all of the competitions that I’ve competed in further down this page. And right now, AGAIN, I am getting ready for my next show…!

I’ll warn you right now, it wasn’t easy at all. The easiest part was the training, which was already part of my daily life. But posing, dieting, supplementation, getting a bikini, finding a trainer… This was much tougher, not the mention the cost for the registration, jewelry, tanning, hair and make-up, they cost a lot too. 

But I wouldn’t let anything stop me, and right after my first show — WBFF in May, 2011 — I immediately started looking for the next show to compete in. I was hooked!

I am so happy to be able to help other competitors who are willing to work and improve their mind and health at the same time. My goal is to create healthy and happy bikini competitors, who want to challenge themselves and put in the work that needs to be done to reach their goals. There is really no easy way to get there… But there is a smart way.

I look forward to working together and sharing my knowledge with YOU to get you in the best shape of your LIFE!!!!! 

AYDA HAS COMPETED IN

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