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Building Success: Unveiling the Myths of Willpower

Updated: Jan 21

Are you among those who made resolutions this year, aiming for transformations in weight loss, career, or relationships? The common tool we often rely on—willpower—might not be the key to success. Grappling with temptations and feeling inferior to seemingly successful individuals can be discouraging, but what if there's a different approach?

Embark on a journey of self-reflection and question the myths surrounding willpower. Discover how a German research team debunked the myth that "self-disciplined people have stronger willpower."

In an intriguing experiment, participants were tasked with eating only vegetables and fruits while surrounded by tempting cookies and candies. Contrary to expectations, those labeled as self-disciplined indulged more. Post-questionnaires revealed that self-disciplined individuals didn't rely on sheer willpower but employed a different strategy—avoiding temptations from the beginning. The researchers likened willpower to a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. However, self-disciplined individuals excel not in flexing this muscle but in strategically evading temptations.

As you navigate the challenges, consider asking yourself powerful questions. The narrative you create for yourself is crucial, shaping your mindset and actions. For example, which is more empowering to you, “I’m not doing enough” or “I’m capable of more”? Challenge the notion that success might solely hinge on discipline.

When your automatic self-narrative is “I’m not good enough,” one question you can ask yourself is, "Is it really true!?” Even if it’s hard to think in any other way, you could ask, “What if that's not true?" The second question you can ask yourself is "What was I trying to avoid when I was resisting?" Often, the answer is "depletion." Your brain interprets the depletion as a threat, happening on the subconscious level. But if you are aware of this mechanism, you could intervene by asking yourself the next question: "Is this depleted feeling truly threatening my life?" Even if no, it's still likely you'll feel depleted—it's as if your tank of "desire" is leaking fast. The final question to ask yourself is, "What can I use to fill my desire tank, without compromising my goal?" The above might seem like a lengthy process, but a set of these questions may be a more reasonable, sustainable approach—certainly easier to practice, making it worth trying.

Another common feeling we automatically avoid is humiliation or frustration. Our brain again interprets these as life-threatening experiences. Our nervous system is like a smoke detector—it detects a threat and warns you. However, the difference from a smoke detector is that the nervous system cannot tell if the threat is in real time or a potential one in the future—even if the possibility may be slim. So, first, assure yourself that you are safe. You might also notice your body is tense due to the automatic signals from the nervous system. You could move your body to loosen up. You could smile by lifting both corners of your mouth. Along with a set of questions you can ask yourself, these are also easy techniques to intentionally bring yourself back to a "safe home." As you practice this skill, notice you become more willing to expose yourself to negative feelings, such as fear, frustration, even humiliation.

The ability to feel any feelings combined with the skill to process the feelings will take you a transformation that you’d never imagined.

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