The power of will (or won’t)

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How’s that New Year’s Resolution/s treating you now that we are in week two of January?

Why is that your resolve to go the gym every day, eat healthy foods, quit coffee and chocolate and only drink on the weekends is starting to seem hard…very hard indeed.

Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford University psychologist, wants you to know that you are not a terrible person for struggling. It’s just that maybe you’ve formulated the wrong resolution. PHEW!

Why willpower is a struggle

We can define willpower as the ability to ‘do the stuff’ that matters most, even when it’s difficult or we don’t really want to. This kind of explains why it’s so flippin’ hard – the battle that rages between the two conflicting selves – long-term goals vs current pleasure and minimal stress and pain.

McGonigal thinks of this as immediate self vs future self and we need both systems for survival. It’s quite challenging in today’s society, given that we a set-up to expect instant gratification or escape immediate discomfort.

How effective are New Year Resolutions?

It turns out we may not be asking the right questions. We tend to ask “What should I do?” More often than not it’s that little thing we criticise ourselves most about about. “I don’t really like exercise, but I guess I should.”. Willpower does not love this approach! It doesn’t really reflect what matters most to you. If there is no driving ‘want,’ the brain system of self-control is cast adrift. Result…back on the couch.

Resolutions  work, according to McGonigal, when we start slowing down and asking ourselves what we want for the next year. For example:

  • What is it that you want to offer the world?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • What do you want more of in your life?
  • And then ask: “How might I get there? What would create that as a consequence?”

Tips for narrowing ‘it’ down.

Ask yourself

  1. Looking backwards, what am I going to be seriously grateful for what I did?
  2. Is there a change that I’m going to be glad I made?
  3. What would that feel like?
  • Spend some time looking around. What conversations are you having regularly? Do they give you any direction or pointers to move toward a particular goal.
  • Don’t go it alone. Try outsourcing some of your willpower. Is there someone at work who also wants to go to the gym? Another body can be a great motivator.
  • Bribe yourself. If you really don’t exercise but want the results of exercise, include some reward (no, not chocolate cake). Try downloading all of Game of Thrones series 900 and put it on whilst you’re on the treadmill. Indulge in that trashy mag.
  • Start small and work up. Try 5-15 minutes of exercise per day instead of starting out with a whole hour. Work up from there.

Where you really have the freedom is in your choices. Huzzah!