Feel Like Something Is Missing In Life? Scientists Point to a Little-Known Brain Area

Have you ever felt like something was missing in your life, despite having all the makings of success and happiness? This sense of an elusive missing piece puzzles many, from the richest to the most accomplished.

Recent scientific insights into a part of our brain called the anterior midcingulate cortex suggest that what we’re all seeking might be closer than we think.

This discovery isn’t just a piece of intriguing neuroscience; it could be the key to unlocking a deeper sense of fulfillment and the willpower we all crave.

Anterior Midcingulate Cortex: A Brain’s Gym for Willpower

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The anterior midcingulate cortex might not be a household name like the amygdala or the prefrontal cortex, but it’s quickly gaining attention in the neuroscience community (ref).

This part of the brain grows in response to activities that we don’t necessarily want to do – think adding extra hours to your workout routine or resisting the temptation of a delicious treat while on a diet. It’s not about adding more work; it’s about pushing through tasks that are mentally and emotionally challenging.

A Larger Anterior Midcingulate Cortex In Athletes & Long-Livers

Interestingly, the size of the anterior midcingulate cortex varies among individuals. It’s smaller in obese people, but it enlarges during dieting (ref).

Athletes, known for their rigorous training and mental toughness, have a larger anterior midcingulate cortex (ref). This area also remains large in individuals who live longer and in those who perceive themselves as overcoming challenges.

The Seat of the Will to Live

This brain region is being considered not just as a seat of willpower but potentially as the core of the will to live. This aligns with the experiences of people like David Goggins, a renowned athlete and motivational speaker, who embodies the essence of pushing through discomfort and overcoming life’s hurdles.

David and Dr. Andrew Huberman recently recorded a podcast on this topic that asserts that willpower is not a gift but a skill honed through years of deliberate practice and facing adversity head-on.

Daily Renewal of Willpower

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On the podcast Dr. Huberman shared that the anterior midcingulate cortex requires constant nurturing.

Just as muscles atrophy without exercise, this part of the brain shrinks if we stop engaging in challenging activities. This concept parallels the struggles and triumphs of those overcoming addiction, where every day is a renewed commitment to overcoming challenges.

Willpower Is Not a ‘Hack’ – It’s a Journey

In a world obsessed with shortcuts and hacks (ref), the development of the anterior midcingulate cortex stands as a testament to the power of perseverance and hard work.

It’s a daily, ongoing process, devoid of any shortcuts. As Goggins puts it, the real growth happens in the ‘suck’ – the moments of discomfort and challenge that shape our character and mental resilience (his first book covered this topic in detail).

One of the most empowering aspects of this discovery is that everyone has an anterior midcingulate cortex. This means that willpower isn’t an exclusive trait of a select few; it’s a potential in all of us, waiting to be tapped into and developed.

Takeaway: Embracing the Suck for a Fuller Life

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This revelation about the anterior midcingulate cortex ignites a crucial conversation about human potential. It’s not about what we already know or can do; it’s about the untapped possibilities lying dormant within us.

It’s about pushing our limits, facing our fears, and continually challenging ourselves to grow, both mentally and physically.

This teaches us a valuable life lesson: true growth, happiness, and fulfillment come from embracing life’s challenges, not avoiding them.

It’s in the moments of struggle and discomfort that we find out who we truly are and what we’re capable of achieving.

As we start the new year, let’s challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zones, to embrace the ‘suck’, and to cultivate our willpower, one day at a time.

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.