How your breathing effects your willpower

Choosing the healthy meal, going to the gym, learning for school instead of surfing Social media. On a day to day basis we face challenges that test our willpower, our ability of self control, the will to go through, even when it doesn’t seem easy.

Every time of the day you have opportunities to choose. Do you do the hard thing or the easy thing.

Willpower is an essential cornerstone to success, to beat bad habits and to make a change in your life.

But what if i told you, that you could have more willpower, just by the little task of controlling your breath.

Willpower as a finite resource

In her book „The Willpower Instinct“ Kelly Mcgonigal describes how we overestimate the willpower we have. You may notice, that after a hard day of work and self controll, even the easiest things seem to hard to accomplish.

That’s because our willpower is like a resource and has the tendency to run out. If you exhaust it all in the morning, you will have nothing left for the day.

That’s where habits and routine come in hand. Every time you do something it gets easier and easier. Once you’ve build that habit there is no willpower needed, no inner struggle to keep you from doing it. Doing the thing is now your default mode.

But what if you are not there yet? What if you haven’t build the habits to get you where you want? To build the new habits, you’ll have to use a lot of willpower. You’ll have to say no on the right moments and do the right things, when you could do the wrong things.

When its time to make a decision and your instincts keep fooling you.

Then you need to calm your brain down.

You need to go into „Plause and Plan“ mode.

Pause and Plan response and hearth rate variability

We as humans, just like animals, have something called the „fight or flight“ responce.

You see a bear, you run.

You see an enemy you fight.

The fight or flight system is build to save us from death in dangerous situations. It pumps blood from the brain to the body and your hearth rate goes up, making you faster and relying on your instincts.

The fight or flight response is useful in stressful situations, that need immediate action.

But its not optimal for mentally challenging work.

The „pause and plan“ response is kind of the opposite.

Your brain slows down, your thoughts get more focused. You have full self control rises.

Blood gets pumped from the body to the brain.

The pause and plan response gives you full control over actions, lets you block out distraction and resist cravings.

Heart rate variability

In our brain there’s a constant battle, between two big forces:

The sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system.

The sympathetic nervous system, gets yo going and responsible for getting into the „fight or flight“ response.

The parasympathetic system is activated for relaxation and de-stressing, making you more calm.

A high hearth variability (Short HRV) means that your hearth beat sometimes is slower and sometimes faster, giving it more variety. This is a good thing.

Having high HRV means you are getting signals from both systems, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. It puts you in a calm but alert state and is important for putting you into the „flow“.

Studies have shown, that people with higher hearth rate variability are better at ignoring distraction, dealing with stress and less likely to give up on difficult tasks.

Hearth rate variability can be kind of seen like the bodies „reserve of willpower“.

If you want to do something that feels uncomfortable, but you do it anyway HRV is at work.

Some good ways to get HRV up overtime are:

Breathing slow, Exercising and Cold showers

How slow breathing effects your Willpower.

There is this simple breathing technique i want you to try out right now:

Breath 10 seconds in.
Breath 10 seconds out.

Try to focus on whats happening, while doing this exercise. You will feel your mind slowing down and your thoughts become more focused. It may feel easier to read this words, instead of rushing through the page, you start reading the sentences as a whole.
When you breath in, you may feel your heartbeat getting a little faster. But, while breathing out your hearth rate slows down.
This is an indicator of your hearth rate variability going up.

Studies have show that slow breathing slowly had an immediate effect on hearth variability, therefore increasing focus and self control.


In today’s world our willpower is tested on a day to day basis. Every time you feel stressed or have urges to just slack off, try out this breathing Technique. Slow down your breathing focus on the task and get into the state of flow.

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