Will Power-Part Deux

nerve cell

As promised, after last month’s blog post, I’ll be piggybacking on the concept of will power and what we can do to bolster this trait in ourselves to make us better athletes, better performers. Rather than summarize in this blog, check it out here to learn about how a change in mentality regarding will power can increase our performance. In this blog, you’ll learn about what is actually happening in the brain when we are willing ourselves to do something and how we can take hold of this knowledge and ramp up our ability to push through the pain when the going gets tough.

From a neurological/neuropsychological standpoint, the research is new but staggering. Specifically, because of MRI’s becoming more common place and readily available, researchers have been able to easily gain access to imaging data to answer questions like “Is there is capacity for will power” in a much more objective way. I won’t get into it too much (I’m tempted because I love this kind of stuff) but here’s the rundown: Brain imaging has led to the discovery that will power is primarily rooted in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex. More specifically, two substructures called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) and the Rostral Cingulate Zone. Due to these findings, researchers state that will power is not a “common resource” but “regulatory mechanism” when it comes to task-driven decision making (e.g., “I want to work harder so I will”). Researchers have also found a direct link between high amygdala activity and the high ACC firing when one is faced with a threat of some kind and the need to make a decision (e.g., lion attacks and we are forced to make a choice to run or fight). Now that we know that we can essentially grow our brains (the discovery of neuroplasticity), these findings suggest that we can increase the neuron connections between the amygdala and ACC and RCZ which, in turn, would increase our ability to intentionally regulate our behavior when faced with adversity.

Putting it all together…There is a capacity for will power based on number of neurons in the ACC and RCZ and the strength in neuron connections between these structures and the amygdala (this is why it’s not considered a “common resource” because everyone is different). That said, don’t lose hope if you think your will power is a weakness! Neuroplasticity is real and it’s here to stay! MRI findings prove that engaging in mindfulness practice increases the strength of the aforementioned connections (see Mindfulness blog here). Sleeping regularly for 7-9 hours per night also significantly improves overall brain functioning and allows us to subconsciously rehearse practiced tasks at a high rate of repetition during periods of deep sleep (and many more benefits I plan to post about at some point). Furthermore, through the intentional exposure to adversity (through performance testing and racing) and by actively choosing to engage in the goal-directed behavior, neuron volume and connection strength will increase.


So in a nutshell, get out there and expose yourself to adversity (do test sets and race), be aware that you are capable of more than you give yourself credit for in the midst of that adversity, do  mindfulness meditation practice, and sleep 7-9 hours per night. With this cocktail, your will power will improve and so will your performance.


Until next time…




Will Power: Part I of Deux


Is there a cap to the will power we possess? There is no question that we have all been at a crossroads at one point or another in our sport and have asked ourselves: “Can I take this anymore? Do I have anything left in the tank to get this done?”.

For decades, social psychologists assumed that we only have a certain capacity for volition/will power. However, up until recently there was very limited objective research done to determine whether or not this was a valid assumption because will power was deemed “too subjective”. As a result of this assumption, people tend to view this “will power ceiling” as truth and have placed undue conscious and/or subconscious limitations on their performance.

Continue reading “Will Power: Part I of Deux”

Bring It On! A Simple Change In Mindset Makes All The Difference


This is me flipping into Lake Tapps prepping for a 2.4 mile open water swim at race pace.
Photo Credit: Eivind Naess

It’s been forever since my last post and a whole lot has happened since I wrote about taking a Beginner’s Mind approach to my training. Without boring you too much with the details, here are some of the highlights: 1) I’ve peaked in my training volume and am now, at long last, in the taper phase; 2) we sold our house and bought a new one; 3) my better half graduated from nursing school (woohoo!), passed the license exam, interviewed, and got a job as an ER nurse; 4) well, there’s more but I’ll leave it there. You get the idea…it’s been a wee bit busy.

Just one year ago, I would have said “NO WAY! It’s impossible” to balance the training I’ve taken on in addition to everything else we’ve been tackling as a family. Continue reading “Bring It On! A Simple Change In Mindset Makes All The Difference”

How to Short-circuit the “Expert”

“In the mind of the expert, they say there are very few possibilities but in the beginner’s mind, there are infinite possibilities .”

–Jon Kabat-Zinn


My almost 2 year old daughter is fearless! No matter the danger, she is willing to try everything. “I DO IT MYSELF!” is frequently heard at a volume of 11 around our house, in the backyard, and in local parks as she tries to do things that seem way too difficult from my “expert” perspective as her father. My 4 year old son is a little different.

Continue reading “How to Short-circuit the “Expert””

Are You a Worrier? Me Too!: How Worrying Can Help Us and Hurt Us

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in early April in the Pacific Northwest and I’m well aware that we got lucky. I’m about to bike an organized 100km for the first time with a training partner of mine. I wake up at 5am, make coffee, and start to check things off of my list of “to dos”. Continue reading “Are You a Worrier? Me Too!: How Worrying Can Help Us and Hurt Us”

Keep It Simple…!

At 5:40am last Friday, I was attempting to explain the main set of a swim workout to the dedicated triathletes who join me every Monday and Friday morning. The operative word: attempting. I was explaining the set over and over in different ways trying to get my point across and to ensure that my fellow triathletes knew what to do but in doing so, I just made things more confusing. Some blank stares ensued, I’m pretty sure I was lost at that point, we were all getting cold, and I remember saying out loud “keep it simple, Continue reading “Keep It Simple…!”