Sunday, 11 November 2012

How to increase your will-power!

In this fantastic presentation on will-power, Kelly MacGonigal gives some great insights into how we can manage change and manage will-power.  I feel that four of the five recommendations can help people immediately, and the first one she recommends will be the result of taking more control over your drinking.

Brief introduction

The Devil and the Angel.

Classic description of temptation, with the devil telling you to ‘go on, order that next drink’ and the angel replying ‘hang on, it’s already nine o’clock, you’ve got work tomorrow etc’.  And in a way this is a useful metaphor for how the brain works. 

The Devil Brain (Seth Goth calls it the lizard brain - related to why we don't do great work)

The old part of the brain wants immediate gratification.  It lives in the moment and its primal instinct is survival. When we lived on the grasslands of Africa, we took whatever food came our way and enjoyed sex when it was available.  This kind of thinking increased the chances of the survival of your genes then.  Traditionally, people thought of this brain process as hedonistic but Kelly puts a new spin on this.  She puts it this way, people are not getting pleasure from doing drugs, drinking too much, eating non-stop, they’re getting relief from ‘want’. 
It was an asset in the grasslands of Africa but now-a-days with cheap food, cheap booze, TV, internet etc, immediate gratification has become a liability.

The Angel Brain

This is a newer part of the brain.  It’s more long term thinking and can control impulses to do things, for the long term good.  It allows us to drink socialably but helps us stop before we will ruin tomorrow.  It helps us say no.  It helps us do the right thing.  It’s the brain we need for the modern world but often it loses out to the devil brain.

The Five Willpower enhancers;

1.      Sleep, exercise, eat well and meditate.

2.      Forgive yourself

3.      Make friends with your future self

4.      Write about how you will fail

5.      Surf the urge (it’s not pleasure, it’s want)

Sleep, exercise, eat good food and meditate
For me, this one is difficult to do when you’re drinking too much.  Yes, drinkers exercise, they can eat well and some meditate but in general, drinking goes against these things.  It disrupts your sleep, makes you feel tired and sometimes even rotten.  Certainly for me, drinking was a drain on ‘doing the right thing’, especially the day after.

I feel that the other four practices will have more of a positive benefit to cutting down and this one, is what you get for reducing your drinking.

Forgive yourself. 
If you’re quitting or cutting back, you’re are likely to suffer from a relapse.  Studies, find people who are easy on themselves after a relapse did much better at their habit change then people who turned in on themselves.
I found this to be true.  When I went to Taiwan in January (2012) I got drunk like the old days.  There was a slight difference, I was more aware of what I was doing but I didn’t do much to reduce my drinking.  I realise that this wasn’t what I wanted but I didn’t seem able to do anything in Taiwan, so I decided to write it off.  I allowed myself to drink in Taiwan but afterwards I would address what went wrong and take action.  It worked.  It turned out to be just a two week blip.

Make friends with your future self. 
Studies have found that people who connect most closely with their future self(s) were much more likely to succeed in changing a bad habit than people who felt their future self(s) were different people.

Exercises used to help people connect more closely with their future self, included;

·        Writing a letter from your future self, thanking you for the action you had taken to develop a better habit.  You can write how your life is so much better for the action you took.

·        Imagine your future self doing some routine tasks.

Write about how you’re going to fail at your habit change.  
In studies they found that very positive images of you succeeding worked a little bit better than doing nothing.  But writing about how you’re going to fail made a bigger difference.

Why does this help?  I believe that this helps you understand how your bad habit works.  What triggers it?  When your failure is like to happen? Who are you with? Etc.  You predict what’s going to go wrong and then you notice how accurate your prediction is.  You refine it and get to know the ins and outs of your habit.  It helps your self-awareness and ultimately, it’s this self-awareness that helps you change.

Surfing the urge.
Take a smoker for example;  he’s dying for a fag but instead of giving into the urge, he;

  • Focuses his attention on the carving.  What does it feel like?  Where is the feeling?
  • He knows that the carving is like a wave and will go away.  He knows he can surf this urge.  He can take deep breathes.  The urge will eventually go.
I loved the presentation Kelly gave in this Authors@Google series.  I hope you find it helpful too, especially with the Xmas party session coming up.

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