Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal Review Weeks 2 and 3

Willpower vs Cake 

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It? As you know I have been doing the recommended self experiments from Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal to see whether I could take control of my will power and exhibit some self determination to work towards my goals.

After the first week’s success, I couldn’t help talking to my friends about it. This book was really turning things around for me. Exercising daily, eating right, feeling calm and stress-free. Had I somehow found the magic formulae? Two of my best friends teamed up with me and read the book too. We were on fire, walking daily, meditating for five minutes, and then? It dwindled. Schedules got in the way, late nights meant late mornings and suddenly we were sleeping in, and rushing to work without doing either.

Perhaps we were doing too much. Starting diets, exercising, befriending strangers and trying to implement new habits – did we deplete our Willpower Stores?

Then we read Chapter 3: Too Tired to Resist–Why Self-Control Is Like a Muscle

Yup and that’s what we realized. There is a limited supply of Willpower, but like a muscle the more you work it the stronger it gets. I scaled back my ambitious list of goals and settled on…
  • Meditating 5 minutes a day
  • Walking or running outside 3x a week
  • Cleaning my home 10 minutes a day
I removed Yoga, Gym, Saving Money, Dating etc. And do you know what happened? While concentrating on my small list, I accomplished everything that wasn’t on my list too. Tracking small goals, can give you the stimulus to achieve bigger goals. The brain begins to feel that it is really good at willpower. I no longer view small goals the same way; they are the key to disentangling the mind from fear of failure.

Chapter 4: License to Sin–Why Being Good Gives Us Permission to Be Bad

This was another part of the problem, we did so many things during the week that it almost felt like we could take the weekend off. As a result we lost the consistency of daily practice. We hadn’t been doing our goals long enough to build a habit, our new goals were fledgling birdies that we left unattended. The next Monday morning, was just tough trying to restart the willpower engine.

Then came Chapter 5:The Brain’s Big Lie–Why We Mistake Wanting for Happiness.

Magical Donuts

We are wired to want, desire and crave. Awareness is a great tool to recognize when our ‘bad’ habits – like binge eating, couch surfing or drinking doesn’t actually deliver the seeming ‘rewards’ we desire. The actual feeling we get when we do what we desire, doesn’t always necessarily match up to the imagined gain. Take for instance – Krispy Kreme Donuts which I love. The smell, the sweet delicious deep fried dough. I drive past that hot sign and I pull up, order 3 and a pint of fatfree milk. Not even the first bite is anything like what I thought it would taste like – it’s too doughy, sickeningly sweet and a little uncooked. Yet, I continue through to the second donut and I feel sick. I save the last one for breakie. See – the reward didn’t come. That doesn’t stop me eating or getting it again. I must stay present – practice mindfulness during my ‘binge’ in order to break the cycle. Right from the drive there. Give myself permission to go. Feel what I am feeling while ordering. Parking and eating. At no point must I distract myself with self criticism. Self criticism is a trick too, it makes me feel like I can do better next time, like there is a cycle to break. That’s not the case. This is just one episode and I am ‘here’. The next time I see that ‘Hot Krispy Kreme’sign, I will begin to associate my actual experience to the sign. I’ll know that there is no reward, and the habit-loop will be broken.
That’s what I learned this week, how does it translate to my life?
Smaller goals, and staying present are what I am adding into my routine.

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