How to boost your willpower and tenacity (aMCC Training)


“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” – Jerzy Gregorek

As it turns out, you can train your brain to get better at making hard choices.

What to do

Boost willpower and tenacity by growing your anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC) daily.

Why it works

David Goggins (pictured above) is a retired Navy SEAL, ultramarathoner and best-selling author. He’s often referred to as the toughest man on Earth, who once did 4,030 (!) pull-ups in 17 hours – a world record. He recently talked about willpower and tenacity on the Huberman Lab Podcast (I highly recommend giving it a listen here).

In the podcast, Prof. Huberman pointed to a brain area that blew my mind: the anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC). Increased aMCC sizes are linked with willpower and tenacity; decreased sizes are associated with obesity and depression. Now, I’ve got good news and bad news for you.

The bad news: like a muscle, your aMCC atrophies when you don’t use it. And to grow it, you need to do hard things. The good news: Growing your aMCC by doing hard things will boost willpower and tenacity in all areas of your life. It’s that choice between what is easy and what is right (h/t to Albus Dumbledore). Here are 5 habits to pull this off.

How to do it

1) Focus right. Focus intensely on a challenging task at least once for 60-90 minutes a day. That amount of “deep work” doubles your productivity, McKinsey found. For 75% of us, this is (a little) less hard in the morning. Eat that frog. If you want to go pro on focusing deeply, here’s how to cultivate “Ultrafocus” in three simple steps.

2) Exercise right. When you feel like quitting during a workout, use Ed Mylett’s One more rule: Go for One more mile. Get in One more rep. It won’t be easy. But that’s the point. I do a 6-mile run a couple of times each week. That run is three 2-mile laps in the park near my home. I always want to quit after the second lap. But I always go One more and put in the third.

3) Eat right. This is the hardest one for me. And so it’s great for training my aMCC! Prof. Michael Pollan has brilliant advice for this – in 7 short words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” There are tons of diets out there. Yet, if you eat real, non-processed foods, not too much of it, and mostly plants, you’re good.

4) Unplug right. Do Intermittent Digital Fasting (IDF) for 10 hrs each day. How? Put your phone out of sight 1 hour before bed. Let it “sleep in” 1 hour after you wake. Apart from training your aMCC, you’ll decrease stress and improve sleep. If you want to delve deeper into IDF, check out my recent how-to article.

5) Listen right. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”, Stephen Covey said. Don’t be most people. Listen actively and reflect on what they said for a moment. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

These habits aren’t easy, but if you want to boost willpower and tenacity in all areas of your life, that is the point.

Get in those reps for your aMCC every single day. Your future self to thank you.