Sunday, March 08, 2015

The Wisdom and Willpower of Candy

As with many ideas and suggestions that were set out in the early literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, later scientific, medical and psychological research proved that our founders were onto very sound concepts.

We know that the guidance about prayer and resentment later turned out to be psychologically sound, and that the early AA structure also turned out to be the perfect sociologically to support changing habits.

But one piece of early advice that always seemed to get a good laugh was the suggestion that having a piece of candy could be helpful when trying to avoid a drink. I’m sure you have heard the laughter, or maybe you made a joke—I did for years. I even said pompous things like “Oh great, candy—isn’t it crazy to substitute one unhealthy substance for another?”  Maybe, also like me, you imagined that they were doing their best with what they knew, but really, “Who would give candy to someone trying to get healthy?”

Well, live and learn and get humble.

Today I’m reading the best-selling book, “Willpower” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. Published last year, this book integrates the latest and most comprehensive research on self-control, self-regulation and willpower. (You will want to read this book first if you have plans to change anything in your life—like your diet, exercise, work habits etc.)

Baumeister, a pioneering research scientist, through years and years of study discovered that willpower has a physical basis and that it operates like a muscle—it can be strengthened with practice and yes, weakened by overuse. And his surprising discovery is that willpower is fueled by glucose. His book covers how we get willpower, how we can increase it and the careful ways we have to manage our lives to have the stores of willpower we need to make any life changes—even changes in our thinking.

So the knockout discovery in my reading today is that a small piece of hard candy does in fact, give your nervous system enough glucose to fuel an immediate boost of willpower. That means that a piece of hard candy can help you to not take a drink. 

Here is what is interesting, and certainly misunderstood: It is not that the candy is a substitute for the drink, but that one hard candy is the right amount of glucose to fuel the willpower to choose to not take the drink.

No, Bill and Bob did not know that bit of physiology. Baumeister's research has been done in the past 20 years—but the instinctive wisdom and solid advice to our early AA’s turns out to be medically and neurologically sound. 

Don’t you just love that? I do.

So maybe—especially folks in later recovery—you will want to study Baumeister's book along with the Big Book and use both of them when you want to tackle a new way of eating, a new fitness regimen, or even to begin a new meditation habit. 

Like it says in our favorite book, “More will be revealed.”

Lots more on longterm recovery and making life changes in my book, "Out of the Woods" from Central Recovery Press.

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