The Book Willpower has quickly become one of my favorite reads, and I have literally slowed down reading it to one section a week to make it last longer and to give me time to think about what I read.
It is worth owning.
A WRITER CHALLENGES THE VOICE OF SELF-CRITICISM
Excerpt form The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It
Ben, a twenty-four-year-old middle-school social studies teacher with literary aspirations, had set the goal to finish writing his novel by the end of summer vacation. This deadline required him to write ten pages a day, every day. In reality, he would write two to three pages one day, then feel so overwhelmed by how far behind he was that he skipped the next day completely. Realizing that he wasn’t going to finish the book by the start of the school year, he felt like a fraud. If he couldn’t make the effort now, when he had so much free time, how was he going to make any progress when he had homework to grade and lessons to plan? Ben started to doubt whether he should even bother with the goal, since he wasn’t making the progress he thought he should be. “A real writer would be able to churn those pages out,” he told himself. “A real writer would never play computer games instead of writing.” In this state of mind, he turned a critical eye to his writing and convinced himself it was garbage.
Ben had actually abandoned his goal when he found himself in my class that fall. He had enrolled in the class to learn how to motivate his students, but he recognized himself in the discussion about self-criticism. When he did the self-forgiveness exercise for his abandoned novel, the first thing he noticed was the fear and self-doubt behind his giving up. Not meeting his small goal to write ten pages a day made him afraid that he did not have the talent or dedication to realize his big goal of becoming a novelist. He took comfort in the idea that his setbacks were just part of being human, and not proof that he would never succeed. He remembered stories he had read about other writers who had struggled early in their careers. To find a more compassionate response to himself, he imagined how he would mentor a student who wanted to give up on a goal. Ben realized he would encourage the student to keep going if the goal was important. He would say that any effort made now would take the student closer to the goal. He certainly would not say to the student, “Who are you kidding? Your work is garbage.” From this exercise, Ben found renewed energy for writing and returned to his work-in-progress. He made a commitment to write once a week, a more reasonable goal for the school year, and one he felt comfortable holding himself accountable to.
Below is an exercise that psychologists use to help people find a more self-compassionate response to failure. Research shows that taking this point of view reduces guilt but increases personal accountability—the perfect combination to get you back on track with your willpower challenge.
1. What are you feeling? As you think about this failure, take a moment to notice and describe how you are feeling. What emotions are present? What are you are feeling in your body? Can you remember how you felt immediately after the failure? How would you describe that?
2. You’re only human. Everyone struggles with willpower challenges and everyone sometimes loses control. This is just a part of the human condition, and your setback does not mean there is something wrong with you. Consider the truth of these statements.
3. What would you say to a friend? Consider how you would comfort a close friend who experienced the same setback. What words of support would you offer?
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It by Ph.D., Kelly McGonigal