Heart Rate Variability: The key to having more determination.

Do you sometimes feel like you don’t have the willpower to do what needs to be done? Do you feel lazy? Would you like to be more determined and avoid the temptation to waste your time on things that won’t help you in the future?

If you want to improve your focus, your willpower and your determination, here’s a scientifically proven tip: Monitor and change the variability of your heart rate.

What is heart rate variability?

Calm down, don’t be alarmed by the seemingly complicated term. Heart rate variability is the difference in the time interval between two heart beats. This physiological explanation is important so that you understand the specific and practical tips that I will give you to change your behaviour and increase your willpower.

Think about the times when you’re calm, and you don’t even realise that your heart is beating. If you’re given a fright out of nowhere, your heart beats out of your chest. This is normal and healthy.

The heart rate of each person varies according to the moment and according to their actions and thoughts.

For example, when you go upstairs, you might realise that your heart starts to beat stronger and faster. If you hear some extremely disturbing news, your heart will also change the rhythm of its heartbeats.

I’m not talking about arrhythmia or heart disease. Small variations are absolutely normal. What I’m talking about is how events and even thoughts change the way our heart beats.

Why is this physiological concept so important to your personal development?

The reason is that your heart rate variability is the best indicator for you to understand how you can improve your decisions and have more willpower.

Heart rate variability (or HRV if you prefer to use the initial letters) is a very interesting way to measure if you’re a more stressed or calmer person.

Why should you observe your heart rate variability?

Now I’ll give you the scientific explanation of how actions and thoughts change your heartbeat. Put simply, your body sends different types of signals to your heart through two branches of your nervous system:

  • The sympathetic nervous system, which serves to get your body moving; and
  • The parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and recovery of the body.

These two branches fulfil complementary roles. When you’re stressed, your sympathetic nervous system will take control. Your heart beats faster. This is exactly what you need to be able to deal with that stressful situation where you may have to run or prepare to fight.

Even in times when you can maintain self-control, your parasympathetic nervous system will help you stay calm, reduce your stress, and control impulsive actions. You have more focus. Your heart rate slows, but variability increases.

That’s why doctors can detect a range of information about your health by observing heart rate variability. A high variability indicates good adaptation, characterising a healthier person. Low variability often indicates a malfunction in the body.

Now that you have understood the basics of the concepts of physiology that we need for our conversation today, we come to the practical point that’ll help you to increase your determination.

In addition to health issues, heart rate variability may also indicate a person’s willpower. The greater the variability, the better the general physical condition of the person and the better they can perform different types of activities, including those that require willpower. HRV also indicates the ability to adapt to stressful situations.

To confirm the relationship between willpower and heartbeat, researchers conducted an interesting experiment.

They invited students who were fasting and divided them into two groups, in rooms where there were freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, some sweets and carrots.

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These hungry students, upon smelling the chocolate chip cookies, were then given very simple instructions. Those in the first room could eat whatever they wanted. Those in the second room were warned that they could eat the carrots, but that they could not touch the cookies or sweets.

That’s when the researchers measured heart rate variability. The HRV went up in the students who had to eat carrots and resist the chocolate, but didn’t change in the control group that could eat anything. That is, those who used the willpower to resist the temptation had changes in the heart rate.

In the book The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal explains that heart rate variability is an excellent indicator of willpower. HRV works like a crystal ball to predict people’s behaviour at times when determination is needed and can even be used to anticipate who will be able to resist a temptation and who will not.

For example, a recovering alcoholic who has increased variability when seeing a drink is more likely to stay sober. Those with a decrease in variability have a higher risk of drinking.

Similarly, people with high heart rate variability are better at having more focus, postponing bonuses, and dealing with stressful situations. They are also less likely to give up difficult tasks, even when they fail early or receive negative feedback.

That is why HRV is an important indicator for you to note: it is a kind of reserve of willpower, a measure of your ability to self-control. If you have a high heart rate variability, you have more will power available to deal with temptations.

If you want to work better, you need to have more willpower to resist distractions and stay focused on your work. If you want to lose weight, you need more determination to avoid foods that are not helping optimal metabolism and you have to stay focused on your diet. If you want to have more money, you have to resist the urge to buy unnecessary things.

Now that you understand the importance of HRV, let’s see how you can, in practice, increase the variability of your heart rate.

How to check and increase heart rate variability?

So far, you’ve learned that those who have greater heart rate variability have more willpower and determination to stay focused on goals. Now let’s see how you can increase your heart rate variability to also reap those benefits.

To know whether your variability is increasing or not, you need to know how to measure it in the first place.

In the past, this was only possible with an electrocardiogram done by a doctor. Nowadays, there are those straps that athletes wear on their chest, smartwatches, smart rings, and even apps that use the camera on your smartphone and that can measure the variability of your heart rate.

According to Harvard University, the gold standard for measurement is still the electrocardiogram. But the technologies present in the straps, watches and even in the applications have evolved a lot in the last few years. Make sure you’re choosing one that doesn’t only measure your heart rate, but also your HRV, or heart rate variability.

Even if the precision isn’t the same as an electrocardiogram, it’s very practical. Now you can, for example, measure your frequency every day as you wake up, making you able to note down and observe the changes as you apply the techniques to increase your variability.

What are these techniques? These are any interventions you deliberately make to affect the factors that influence HRV.

There are many factors that can help or disrupt the healthy level of heart rate variability. The food you eat, the place you live in, the environment in which you work. Anything that stresses your mind or body will interfere with your ability to control yourself and end up sabotaging your willpower.

Anxiety, anger, sadness and loneliness are also feelings related to diminishing variability and therefore impair your own willpower.

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Any technique that improves your mind and body will end up increasing your variability and improving your resolve. Let’s look at five of them.

1. Focused Meditation

Meditation has now been examined by hundreds of scientific studies demonstrating various benefits of practice, including decreased anxiety, increased concentration and improved quality of sleep. It’s a non-invasive, low-risk, low-cost practice.

That’s why meditation is one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase heart rate variability and improve the reserve of your willpower. Among the various existing meditation techniques, the ideal here is to practice focused meditation.

If you’re a student of our FOCUS course, log in to the students’ area and you will find a new bonus material that we have made available to you, teaching you step-by-step focused meditation.

2. Quality food

Anything that improves your mind and body affects the variability of your heart rate. Nothing can improve your health more than good nutrition.

This is a gigantic subject to address here, but I will summarise it this way: avoid processed foods and avoid eating all the time.

Avoiding processed foods means eating the kind of food that our ancestors could gather or hunt in the wild: meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, seeds. They are foods that are usually rich in nutrients, with higher protein and good fats and lower amounts of carbohydrates.

When I talk about avoiding eating all the time, I mean that you should give yourself enough time between meals to have a good hormonal balance.

There are also studies showing the relationship between alcohol consumption and HRV decrease. That is, if you want to increase your HRV, it’s better to avoid drinking alcohol and taking other drugs that might affect your health.

3. Consistent physical exercises

Exercise also increases heart rate variability. Exercise is considered an excellent strategy to increase your self-control.

Studies have shown that only 15 minutes of physical activity are already able to increase the willpower to resist temptations like cigarettes and chocolates. The long-term effects are even more impressive, increasing the resistance even in cases of people addicted to anti-depressants.

By analysing the brains of people who exercise, scientists have observed an increase in both the number of brain cells and the connection between them. In other words, doing exercise makes your brain better and faster.

About the type of exercise, you should choose the one that suits you the most. This increases your chances of practicing the activity for a long time. What’s more important is that the exercise is consistent. Avoid doing activities that wear you out, otherwise it’ll be difficult to keep them up. When we are talking about physical exercises, this includes even physical activities that are generally not seen as exercises, such as gardening or even heavy cleaning in your home.

4. Relaxed breathing

You should perform breathing exercises, controlling to breathe more slowly, quietly and in a way that symbolises that we are in charge of our life. It is suggested to breathe four to six times a minute, which would give one breath every 15 or 10 seconds.

[breathe in








breathe out
















Different philosophies and therapies use controlled breathing as part of their practices and rituals. In slow breathing, the prefrontal cortex appears to be activated. The prefrontal cortex is very important for our decision-making, mainly to control our negative urges of desires to perform activities that we actually don’t want for our lives. It’s the part of the brain that helps us control our desires.

Don’t get the wrong idea: this activity isn’t about how long you can hold your breath for. You just want to breathe slowly. If you’re holding your breath, you’ll become more anxious. Don’t force your breath. Don’t worry too much about the number of breaths you take in a minute. Instead, search within a comfortable pace for you to hold your breath more slowly.

This isn’t necessarily considered to be meditation. It’s just a quiet breathing exercise that will help you lessen stress, so that you can stop attacking or fleeing anything that makes you feel anxious, which is the physiological mode that takes more blood and resources to the body than to the brain.

5. Restful sleep

Sleeping well is the last of the five major factors that directly affect the variability of your heart rate. Lack of sleep causes dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex. That is, when you don’t sleep well, you’re essentially decreasing the capacity of your prefrontal cortex.

The self-control required for willpower uses a lot of resources. You will need to have the full capacity of your prefrontal cortex. That’s why it’s vital that you sleep well for recovering energy during the day, without having to resort to caffeine and sugar all the time.

Without a good night’s sleep, you will suffer much more than you need to with stress, desires, and temptations. In addition, it will be much more difficult to control your emotions, focus your attention or get the energy to stay focused on your most important tasks.

When you sleep badly it ends up in a state that can be compared to that of someone that’s drunk or under the influence of drugs.

If you’re one of those people who can’t sleep well, make an investment in this important area and you will reap great results. Modify your routines.

For example, you should avoid consuming caffeine from the early afternoon onwards. You should try to sleep in a pitch-black room with a good temperature. You should avoid looking at bright electronic gadgets such as phones and the TV for at least an hour before bedtime.

At the same time, you should try to include in your routine activities that will relax you at the end of the day. For example, listening to a relaxing song, reading a good book, having light conversations with your family members. Do whatever you can to prepare you for a good night’s sleep.

Some people think this is a waste of time, but the truth is that those minutes will be highly rewarded with the energy and determination you will have the next day. Try it and see for yourself!

How would your willpower be affected if you paid more attention to your heart?

Today, you learned that there’s a direct relationship between your heart rate variability – HRV and your willpower. The greater your variability, the greater your determination to stay focused and to resist temptations.

Paying attention to your heart isn’t just a cliché recommendation. This is a strategic attitude that brings practical and direct benefits to your life.

To make these scientific discoveries a reality in your day-to-day life, find a way to measure your HRV on a daily basis right after you wake up. Then try to make improvements to the five main factors that affect your heart: meditation, eating, exercise, breathing, and sleep. See how these changes will affect your HRV over time, noting the variances in your determination.

Have you ever imagined what your life would be like if you had more willpower? What kinds of results could you get in your career, your body, your finances, your relationships?

If you’re already a student of our FOCUS course, log in to access a bonus lesson that I have prepared especially for you to put the ideas that we’ve spoken about today into practice. If you’re not a student of the FOCUS course, please visit this link here to register.