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Willpower: A muscle that needs exercised

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Self-control, cravings and resisting the urge to have one more donut from the table in your office -- it all comes down to willpower and understanding why we do the things we do.

"Willpower" is a new educational -- and entertaining -- class offered by the 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron to help Airmen and civilians understand the science, causes and tips to keeping a healthy mental wellbeing.

"I studied human factors in graduate school -- ego depletion -- what the heck does that mean," said Maj. Nathan Maertens, 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron aerospace and operational physiology flight commander.

"With a name like that, I just had to look into it more. It has to do with the depleting of your ability to control yourself. This is really interesting stuff I thought to myself," added Maertens.

The ability to control yourself, to control urges, impulses and emotions, is no easy task when coupled with the stresses of daily life in the military, but the benefits are overwhelming and lasting. Maertens talked about a study he read, about self-control and willpower in adolescence and how it affected them later in life.

"Kids were told they could have one marshmallow now or if they waited 15 minutes, they could have two. What kid doesn't want two marshmallows," said Maertens. "The kids were then left alone in the room. After years of follow-up studies, researchers found that the kids who did not eat the one marshmallow grew up to have more successful lives (including) college, a career, better paying jobs, getting along more with their peers and had better overall health."

Having the willpower not to eat the marshmallow, but instead waiting for the "greater reward" demonstrated self-control and was key to an overall healthier life, both physically and mentally.

"You know what," Maertens thought to himself. "I really think this would help the folks in my flight, and since our job is to help improve human performance -- as nebulous as that is -- having this knowledge can be helpful to everyone."

Maertens was so intrigued by the benefits of having positive and strong willpower that he continued his research, reading more books and journal articles on the subject.

"I finished up all of my research just in time for New Years, what better time to offer this class than when people are thinking about New Year's resolutions and making changes in their lives," he said.

"But this is something that can help us all out, not just during this one time of year when we are making those stereotypical New Year's resolutions associated with self-control, like dieting and going to the gym more."

Having the willpower to make healthy decisions all year long is something that can benefit everyone and is the sole purpose behind this new 21st AMDS class.

"This is why we created this class, it is geared toward everybody. It can be for anyone from a stay-at-home mom to a squadron commander. There is always room to grow," said Maertens.

The next scheduled willpower class is 8:30-10:30 a.m. Jan. 17 at the Peterson Health and Wellness Center, located in building 560.

For more information about the willpower class, contact the HAWC at 556-4292.

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