Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Willpower Experiment: Week Four, Part Two

My friend Sonnet and I are on Week Four of our Willpower Experiment, based on the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. To read the previous posts from this series, including the first half of this week's review, click here.

Let's talk about progress. In the past, when I tackled a clutter spot, I felt really good about it. I was one step closer to having a tidy house--progress! But somehow by the time I got around to tackling clutter again, it had usually built up to more than the amount I'd originally tidied up. I really hadn't made any "progress" at all!

So when I read that "making progress on a goal motivates people to engage in goal-sabotaging behavior" (p. 89), I definitely related! Thankfully, this trap is pretty simple to avoid, just by shifting your mindset. "Progress can be motivating," McGonigal writes, "but only if you view your actions as evidence that you are committed to your goal. In other words, you need to look at what you have done and conclude that you must really care about your goal, so much that you want to do even more to reach it.... A simple shift in focus leads to a very different interpretation of [your] own actions--'I did that because I wanted to,' not 'I did that, great, now I can do what I really want" (p. 90).

Sonnet further explains this idea. Here’s another story from the book that most people can relate to: How many times have you made a To-Do list, and then proudly sat back, your work for the day done because you made the list? This is an example of “goal liberation,” the concept that thinking about the progress we have made actually silences our willpower temporarily. We get so pleased with ourselves, we give in. A better choice is to remind ourselves that we are committed to our goals. Remember the theme of this chapter: We are the kind of people who want to do the right thing! When we stop and remind ourselves WHY we are making progress, we go on to achieve more.

These days when I keep up with my decluttering, I congratulate myself for proving that I'm committed to my goal, and I look foward toward the next weekday, when I will again prove it (and again, and again!) Once again, I am learning to come back to what I really want, which is to live in a house that is a more peaceful place, with less clutter.

I'll let Sonnet introduce another concept that made it seem like the book's author was reading my mind--and apparently Sonnet's mind too!

Alright so a mind trick that I am definitely guilty of? Over-optimism about the future. As Dr. McGonigal puts it: “We wrongly but persistently expect to make different decisions tomorrow than we do today.” I seem to always believe that tomorrow I will have more time, more energy, more ability. Challenges will always be easier to face tomorrow. And yet somehow, that is never the case. I started working on challenging this belief this week, and I tell you, it is hard! I don’t always recognize when I am doing it, and even when I catch it in time, it is a huge effort to bring myself back around. Hopefully with more practice, this will become easier for me.

Studies show that most people, like Sonnet and I, "wrongly predict we will have much more free time in the future than we do today" (p. 94). What's helping me is to find a way to get ever-closer to my goal of a decluttered house, even though I'm busy. For me, this means one clutter spot (sometimes a very small one!) per weekday. Even on extra-busy days, I can usually do that. And if I do miss a day, I just make sure I'm extra-motivated to pick up where I left off the next day.

I am trying to incorporate all these new willpower techniques while also giving myself grace when things really are extra-crazy. Yes, it's true that in general, I'm not going to suddenly find a ton of extra free time in the future. However, it's also true that I do have some weeks that are genuinely much-busier than my normal. I've been working with real estate clients, including some work that has been extra-complex and time-consuming. I don't want to expect that sometime in the nebulous "future" I'm suddenly going to have tons of extra time, but I can very reasonably expect that this week will be much less busy than the last two weeks have been.

So I've needed to give myself some extra grace lately! As I'm writing this post Monday, I'm considering not tackling a clutter spot. It's not because "I've earned it"; it's because I genuinely need some recovery time (mind and body!) after the craziness of my last two weeks. So while I don't want to fall into the "moral justification" traps in this chapter, I also don't want to get so uptight about my goals that I can't give myself a break when I'm genuinely exhausted. Maybe the key is for those "breaks" to be the exception rather than the rule!

It really is exciting to see the practical effects--all around my house--of what I'm learning. My decluttering is a process, but I'm committed to it! And Sonnet is finding success too! In her own words...

On the plus side, practically speaking I have had a very successful week. I have been meditating most days, especially before bed; and I have much more than exceeded my writing goals every day! It has been a busy week with many social demands for my time, and I have even been sick for a few days, and I still was able to accomplish everything in my willpower challenge. That feels really – unusually - good! Per the chapter, I have to remember why I am doing this. Why? Because I want to continue to improve as a writer, I don’t want to see my skills or contacts atrophy. I like the way accomplishing something every day feels, and I love being able to point out things that I have published to family or friends and say, “I created that.” Writing every day is my goal-supportive action to meet this aspiration. And this book is going to help me get out of my own way to get there!

I was given a complimentary copy of this book and paid for my initial review; however, this in-depth series is uncompensated.

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