Monday, March 25, 2013

The Willpower Experiment: The Final Chapter (Week Ten!)

My friend Sonnet and I are on Week Ten--the last week--of our Willpower Experiment, based on the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. To read the previous posts from this series, click here. The last chapter of the book is just a short summary/conclusion, so Sonnet and I will use this post to sum up what we've learned through this Experiment.

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My big eye-opener? Willpower is about figuring out what I really want in the long term, and making more decisions to support what I want. It is NOT about having a miserable life that replaces joy and spontaneity with strict discipline and structure. It's about figuring out how to actually be happier. Willpower is, surprisingly, very, very freeing! I love that I'm making more choices based on what will make me happy in the long run, because I'm finding it makes me happier in the short run too.

My Willpower Experiment has centered around decluttering my house. I love the progress I'm making. I'm quite surprised about the extent of clutter I still have to tackle. It was worse than I'd realized, but I'm headed in the right direction. And I've learned that instead of patting myself on the back for my progress (and giving myself an excuse to let go of my goal), I need to keep reminding myself that every day I declutter a small area, I'm proving my commitment to this long-term life change. I want to stay committed, because my house is becoming a more and more pleasant place to live, and I want to continue that.

But remember way back when we talked about willpower being like a muscle? It gets stronger as you train it. I'm seeing that happen! I'm finding that it's easier for me to say no to sweets. (I tend to have quite a sweet tooth!) I'm procrastinating less on some things. Yes, I focused on decluttering as my willpower challenge, but I love that I'm seeing willpower increases in other areas of my life.

I have not become some sort of Willpower Superhero! I still have days when I sleep too late, or eat too much junk food, or create more clutter. But another thing I've learned is that I need to let go of the shame that comes with making mistakes. It's part of being human. I can learn from it instead of beating myself up. That's not always easy for me, but I'm trying!

This is one of those books that has truly been life-changing, and I recommend it to anyone who wants really practical advice about how to create more of the life you really want. Here it is on Amazon. It just may be the best $16.50 or so (a little more for Kindle, gah) that you can spend!

One more time...heeeeeeeeere's Sonnet!

Wow! Ten weeks and we have finished the entire book! This week falls right after I faced a particular challenge with my parents being in town and the difference in the way we approach food, so that was a great case study for me to try out so of the stuff I had learned.

So, what were some highlights for me from this book? I’d say that for me, the most mind-blowing and insightful concept was the understanding about how dopamine works, and how it is tied to high-sugar, high-fat foods. That dopamine triggers not only pleasure but an anxiety response, and that I was in essence self-medicating my anxiety by creating a dopamine rush by encountering high sugar foods, then “washing it away” with the pleasure and relief of eating them. Yes, I had heard people use the phrase ‘self-medicating’ when they talked about food before but never had I heard it elaborated on so well. It really made sense for me in this context, and I saw the emotional component of it so clearly. Ever since reading that one chapter, I have had so much more control over my tendency to binge eat when I am anxious.

I also love the new understanding I have about the way willpower works in our brain. That we have, in a sense, two brains that have evolved differently, and both are valuable. When we’re functioning optimally our self-control brain can make choices for the long term; but when we’re threatened or stressed emotionally or physically our impulse brain kicks in and makes survival choices for the short term. When we say willpower we usually are referring to making choices that have long-term benefits. In order to make those choices we need to support our bodies and brains so they know what to choose.

So how did this all play out in my ‘real-life’ willpower challenge? Well, let me set the stage for you. I have wonderful parents who are amazing grandparents. They are kind, generous, and fun and they love their grandkids fiercely. They live on the opposite coast, and I am blessed that they come and visit every 6 – 8 weeks. However, we disagree on what constitutes a healthy diet, both for us adults and for my kids. So my willpower challenge during this last visit of theirs was to resist the junk food temptations and maybe even hold my kids to a normal, healthier eating standard. Conveniently, March is “March Into Fitness” month at the kid’s school, and the girls are filling out charts where they try to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day - a great tool to help navigate the food dilemma. I spoke to my mom about it the first day, and she asked me to drive her to the grocery store so she could pick up some fresh produce for the kids to eat. I kept the receipt from her trip. Want to know what was purchased?
  • Bananas and grapes – great!
  • Fruit juice with HFC (“Does juice count for their 5 a day?” “No…”)
  • Ice cream
  • Cookies
  • Lunchables
  • Cupcakes
  • Sausages
  • Coke
  • Potato Chips
  • Beef Sticks
  • Green Food Coloring
  • Whipped Cream
  • Sugared Cereal / Mini-Boxes

So this is what I was up against. Mom also arrived with two batches of homemade cookies in her carry-on, and we ate out several times during their visit, almost always including dessert. It was a LOT of temptation!

To help fortify my willpower, I used the techniques I learned in Chapter 8 that related to “immunization:” spending time each morning thinking about my goals (eating a nutritious diet) and considering what kinds of enticements might come up during the day. I made plans for how I would handle them, and thought about how proud I would feel for making good choices. I brought to mind a quote from my ‘role model,’ Michael Pollan. I also used a technique from early on in the book where I reminded myself that I was committed to my goals.

The results: Well, I was not able to stop my kids from eating junk all weekend. The food was in front of them and they ate it. I also found I was not able to say ‘NO’ firmly enough sometimes. I would say, “I don’t want my kids to eat that,” and I would be ignored or discounted. My mom eventually resorted to guilt trips, telling the kids, “Your mother wants me to feed you nothing but celery!” Argh. That was really frustrating.

On the other hand, when it came to my own choices about myself, I did fantastic! I was not even tempted to eat the cookies that were set out the first day. I made a conscious choice to eat pancakes and sausages one morning with everyone for breakfast, and didn’t feel bad about it. One night we all went out to eat. While everyone else ate large bowls of pasta or enormous plates, I ordered a small salad off the diet menu (which was still enormous, not to mention very good!) In the past, I know if I had done this I would have felt deprived and would have possibly eaten something later to ‘make up for it.’ But this time I felt full and happy with my choice. Willpower success!

Food became my willpower challenge by Week Ten, but I started off with a willpower challenge of writing just 15 minutes a day. I’m proud to report I have more than exceeded that (some days by several hours!) every day since about Chapter 2. Meditation helped, and finding the right triggers and motivators to get me to stop procrastinating. This really works!

My conclusion: It comes down to understanding, “What is willpower?” I had a skewed view of willpower before reading this book. Willpower is NOT, as I previously understood it to be, a kind of steely resolve, denying yourself happiness, making hard choices and suffering. Who would choose it then? And to what end? Willpower IS reframing the way you think. It’s not letting myself be fooled by my surroundings, and remaining true to my inner voice. Then I am able to care for myself and make good decisions.

I’m so grateful that Beth talked me into going through this book with her. It’s been one of the most educational experiences I have had in a long time! I’d recommend the journey to anyone looking to gain a better understanding of their decision-making process.

This is so, so cool to read, Sonnet. I'm thrilled that the book ended up affecting your life in profound, positive ways, just as it did mine. Thank you so much for joining me--it was way more fun and motivational to do this with someone else!

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

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Willpower Experiment: Week Nine!

My friend Sonnet and I are on Week Nine of our Willpower Experiment, based on the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. To read the previous posts from this series, click here. This week we're covering Chapter Nine, "Don't Read This Chapter." This chapter (which I did read!) has proven to be one of the most-helpful chapters in the book for me, and reading it again, I think I'll be able to use the techniques even more effectively.

To start this week's post, I want to show you my New and Improved Linen Closet! (A decluttering project that took 5 days deserves some upper-case letters, don't you think?)
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I'm not sure what I'll do with that nearly-empty shelf, but it sure looks better empty than it did crammed with stuff. Again, I have no Before pic--and I might have been too embarrassed to share it if I had taken one!

And, this is what I've been dealing with today:
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That's my poor Zoodle, who fell asleep watching TV today (multiple times.) He is really sick. Vomiting, fever, lethargy, the whole works. This picture proves that there are valid reasons for not doing decluttering (which I probably won't get done today.) I sure hope my little guy feels better soon. And I'm committed to continuing my decluttering, even when I do take a day off (very) occasionally.

I'd like Sonnet to give her input on this chapter first, and then I'll explain why it's been so helpful to me.

My oldest daughter is nine years old, and has ADD (and is normally extremely well behaved.) As I mentioned last week, my parents have been here and have been spoiling the girls rotten in wonderful grandparent fashion. So on Sunday evening, we headed home from their place and my daughter had to sit at the kitchen table and put in some time with her homework before bed. She was overstimulated, exhausted, and homework was the last thing she wanted to be doing right at that moment.

“I’m too tired to be doing this,” she whined. Then a few minutes later she got up and went looking for a snack. Maybe two minutes later, after eating it, she started crying that her tummy hurt too much to face homework. Then her head was hurting. She kicked her feet, slumped over in her chair, flicked pencils across the table, and chewed on her hair. She started yelling that she hated school and was never going to go to school again and definitely not on Mondays. After a while she bolted from the table, ran downstairs “just to change into pj’s so she could work better,” and we heard the TV turn on.

If you’re a parent, have you ever faced this battle? Kids can just pull every excuse in the book out of thin air in order to avoid doing something they don’t want to be doing; ranging from the likely (I’m too tired) to the impossible (I’m never going to school again.) Well guess what? We adults do it too, and we add our own layer of self-destructive impulse behaviors onto our avoidance. That’s what Chapter Nine deals with: How we use and abuse impulse behaviors to avoid feelings, cravings and compulsions we’d rather not be dealing with… and how that doesn’t work.

My daughter tried pretty hard to get out of doing her homework this weekend, but in the end she still had to do it. In just the same way, no matter what method we try and use to dodge our uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, they’re going to come back and force the issue. They’re going to insist that we deal with them one way or the other. I’m pretty sure everyone has heard of the famous psychological experiment where subjects are asked not to think of white bears (or white elephants, or a pink rhinoceros?) Well once you try to control your thoughts, once you try to shove something away from you and suppress it, it comes back ten times stronger, doesn’t it. If you’re dieting and try tell yourself you don’t want chocolate cake, guess what you will dream of all day long. A recovering alcoholic will fantasize about the forbidden martinis. Tell yourself you can’t check email until your work is done for the day and you’ll spend a good portion of the day wondering what’s in your inbox.

We can’t just pretend like impulses, cravings and strong feelings aren’t there. If we avoid them, they demand our attention by becoming stronger. The trick is to recognize them and the place they have in our lives without giving them too much power, and without becoming afraid of them. If you can face a negative feeling head-on, and just be with it, you learn that you don’t have to give in to impulse behavior to handle it. It’s just a feeling, it doesn’t have any special meaning, it is just a part of life and it happens. You learn that you are a strong enough person to handle hard feelings. Cravings and compulsions lose their power.

This all sounds very zen, but I also think it’s extremely powerful. What are so many of our unwanted behaviors if not our unconscious ways of trying to handle uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that frighten or upset us? Learning that we can let our emotions flow through us instead of master us is remarkable stuff and opens up so many possibilities.

I do have to say that this chapter really only applies to I WON’T challenges. Try as I might, I could not find a way to make these theories work for I WILL challenges like the one I am working on. Still useful stuff, but unlike so much of the rest of the book, this info can’t be simply flip-flopped backwards and forwards to work either way. You can’t ‘ride your physical craving sensations’ and come out the other side motivated to do something.

We convinced my daughter to get moving Sunday night by acknowledging her discomfort, (“I’m sorry you’re tired and headachy. It’s been a busy weekend.”) providing her some means of physical support (snacks, hugs) and working together with her so she had the emotional support she needed to face her I WON’T fear and get her job done. I think the same techniques can work for all of us when we’re struggling. Listening to those feelings and recognizing them, along with paying attention to our bodily needs and a healthy dose of love and support from others, can get you pretty far in life.

All right, it's time for me to open up a bit.

My biggest and most-destructive willpower challenge is not the clutter in my house, though that's the main thing I've focused on through this Willpower Experiment. The bigger challenge I'm talking about it something I'd started working through a few months before I read this book. And I don't even think I realized it was a willpower challenge until I came to Chapter Nine.

My Big Huge Challenge? WORRY. Since I was very young (early grade school) I've struggled with worry. We all worry about different things. My major source of worry tends to be tied to my desire to please people (and God). When I'm afraid I've disappointed someone, made them angry, or had some sort of relational break, I can get positively torn up inside about it. Little tiny things--interpreting (possibly misinterpreting) someone's text, or lack of response to a text, or tone of voice--can put a big cloud over my day, and that's just not cool. And when it's bigger stuff, when someone is actually upset with me, I can have trouble focusing on anything else.

So I tend to reach out to people and try to smooth things over, even apologizing for things that really weren't my fault. I feel I have to do something, but doing something isn't always the best plan. Because by the fact is, I worry about relationships waaaaaaay too much. That means I apologize and try to make things right waaaaaaay too much. While jumping straight into action gives me a temporary reprieve from my anxiety, it doesn't ever teach me to actually deal with other people's negative feelings towards me (or my perception of their possible negative feelings). So that anxiety ("Did I make that person upset???") returns, over and over.

Chapter Nine teaches some very powerful things to help worrywarts.
  • Don't try to shove that worry away, or think about something else. You may be able to temporarily, but it will come back. (White bear/purple elephant, anybody?)
  • When a worry comes up, acknowledge it. Describe it to yourself. ("I am worried that this person might be upset at me because she (fill in the blank).")
  • Think about how that worry feels, physically. Does it put a sinking feeling in my stomach? Am I breathing faster? (I've been forgetting this aspect of acknowledging worry and am so glad I reread this chapter.)
  • Breathe deeply. Man, deep breathing comes up over and over, doesn't it? Focus on what that breathing feels like. Think about the worry dissolving as you exhale.
  • Know that you don't have to act on the worry. It's okay to feel worried, and if I acknowledge the feeling and DON'T act on it, it will run its cycle. I am finally learning this, and it is so freeing to realize I don't have to do what my worry tells me to do! Eventually my mind comes to a point of greater peace, without me taking that action that I always thought was necessary but was actually perpetuating the cycle!
There is so much more amazing stuff in this chapter. For someone who tends to fixate on a problem or potential problem, and worry about it, this chapter could be worth the price of the whole book.

But of course there are other books that deal specifically with anxiety and with other negative thoughts, and I'd like to recommend a couple that have been helping me.

The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques by Margaret Wehrenberg (Written from a secular perspective but easy to adapt to a faith-based framework)

Living Beyond Your Feelings by Joyce Meyer (Deals with negative feelings in general, not just anxiety. Christian book.)

This book in willpower is helping me in a way I never expected. I'm so excited to be seeing changes (sometimes itty bitty baby steps, sometimes two steps forward, one step back) in something that has held me back for so long--unnecessary worries!

Next week is Chapter Ten, the final chapter! It's really short. I think Sonnet and I will just recap how we're doing and sum up what we've learned. See you then!

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Willpower Experiment: Week Eight

My friend Sonnet and I are on Week Eight of our Willpower Experiment, based on the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. To read the previous posts from this series, click here. This week we're covering Chapter Eight, "Infected! Why Willpower is Contagious."

First I want to make something very clear to you.

Daylight Savings Time is stupid.

Now, my future self may disagree, when I gain an hour of (potential) sleep in the fall. But today, one day after losing an hour, I stand on my premise that Daylight Savings Time is stupid.

Clearly I'm tired today. And I think it's a good time to talk about what I'm learning about succeeding in my willpower challenges when life is extra, well, challenging...when I'm tired, blue, stressed, etc. Then we'll jump into the new content from this week's chapter.

Last week I wrote about a mini-challenge I've taken on: getting up with my alarm each morning. I did great last week with my double motivators (moving my alarm further from my bed, and telling myself that if I slept in, I'd have to take a day off Facebook.) But then we had the time change, and last night I went to bed about an hour "later" than usual. So this morning when that alarm went off at 6:30, my body told me it was 5:30, and I really wanted to stay in bed!

I spent almost 15 minutes arguing with myself, but I did eventually get up, which I counted as a willpower win! How did I convince myself? I asked myself what would make me feel better later today--getting up and walking (which I normally do on Mondays), or sleeping an extra hour. I knew I was more likely to benefit from getting up and exercising, and, sure enough, I was very glad I'd walked today. Yes, I'm extra-tired now...but that should help me go to bed at an earlier time tonight, which will help me adjust more quickly to this time change.

Thinking about what's good for my future self...that's a skill that I am building, thanks to this book! It was really cool to see it "work" in a practical way.

But that leaves me with this extra-tired feeling, which means that my motivation to do anything productive today tends to be lessened. So when it came to my main willpower challenge, decluttering, I gave myself permission to do only a very small spot. Specifically, I reorganized one very small plastic bin in my linen closet (a multi-day project I'm currently working on.) It took about 5-7 minutes. I proved to myself that I was still committed to my goal, and 5-7 minutes worth of work is better than none. I like this strategy of doing a little of an "I will" challenge, instead of doing none, when my resources are in some way depleted.

On to Chapter Eight. I'm going to let Sonnet take the lead, and I'll chime in occasionally with my thoughts. As always, Sonnet's words are in bold.

When it comes down to it, we all just want to be liked and accepted as a part of our social group. That’s it – this truth is the message behind Chapter Eight in our Willpower series. Humans are social animals, and being accepted and valued by our society is probably one of the biggest motivators we have.

What does this mean for willpower? Well first, we tend to do what everyone else is doing. Group think at its finest! It’s not always a bad thing, and even if it was, it is our instinct – we can’t always escape it. Don’t believe me? Then why do political poll numbers sway the undecided? Why do we click on the “most read stories” link on news websites? Why do we read bestsellers and see box office hits instead of bombs? Because everyone else is doing it. Second, we can use this instinct to motivate ourselves. If we think we will lose social standing by making poor choices, we’ll be less likely to make those choices. Or alternately, if we can attach a feeling of pride or being upwardly social mobile to making positive willpower choices, we’ll almost certainly stick with the good choices. Put another way, in a modern world where everything is open for social media scrutiny, we’re all hoping for ‘likes’ on our actions.

One thing that interests me is that sincerely-held religious belief can help us in our willpower challenges. When Christians are asked to think about Bible passages that encourage health "such as 'do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat' (Proverbs 23:30, NIV)" (p. 198) and then to consider whether or not their lives line up to the Bible they believe in, it helps motivate them to make better choices. I like this type of motivation, if it stays positive. In other words, I want to think, "Wow, it feels great to live my life in a way that is pleasing to God and that matches my beliefs!" rather than, "Ooh, I don't want to displease God by making hypocritical choices."

I have a pet peeve about this chapter. When a negative behavior is reinforced by a social group, the term ‘epidemic’ gets used because of the way actions can spread like a virus. I confess, I hate this term, especially because it so often gets applied to obesity. I’m pretty darn fat thanks to a variety of endocrine disorders, and I have spent a lifetime trying to reassure people that hugging me will not give them ‘the fat.’ That I am not contagious. I’m not saying this tongue in cheek – there are people, many people, who will outright refuse to touch me because of my size. I’ve been refused services from professionals such as massage therapists and doctors before because of it. Look, touching my body isn’t going to spread obesity germs onto you, I promise. And talking about it this way doesn’t help. In this chapter Dr. McGonigal even refers to other contagious willpower challenges…. like depression. Since when is depression a willpower challenge? It was a disease last I checked, and treating it like something you can will yourself out of is aggravating.

I agree with this, Sonnet, now that you point it out! I think it would have been more effective to talk about how specific behaviors (such as overeating or having a negative attitude) are contagious, rather than conditions (obesity, depression) being contagious. On the flip side, eating healthy food and having a positive attitude can be contagious too.

My issues with wording aside, I decided to take a look at the experiments for this week. My challenge is to stop procrastinating and write just 15 minutes a day, every day. Now, this week’s challenges focus on your social group, and with writing I don’t have a very social group. It’s kind of just me and my laptop. So I am changing things up a bit for this week, changing my challenge and my time frame. This weekend my parents are coming to visit, which is wonderful – they are incredible grandparents and it will be fun to have them here! When they are here visiting, however, I know I always adopt their laid-back attitude about junk food, and I usually gain several pounds every long weekend they visit. The candy flows free, and I notice even my young daughters gain weight. We have a great time together, but this is a good example of social behavior impacting a willpower challenge.

So, my plan is to use some of the ideas presented in this chapter to mitigate the issue, and I’ll check back in next week on how it went.

First off Chapter Eight suggests creating an ‘immune response’ to social contagion by spending some time at the start of every day to simply think about your goal and how temptation might happen during the day. Make a plan. I can do that. Goal: stick to healthier, whole foods and minimal processed foods and sugar over the weekend.

Part two of having a plan is to help my kids with the goal. Conveniently, March is “March Into Fitness” month at their school and they are filling out daily charts where they are trying to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day and to get one hour of physical activity a day. I can use the charts to remind my kids of their goals, and if they are eating their 5-A-Day they won’t be as tempted to overdo it on sugar.

Finally another technique from the book is to bring to mind a role model when you are in need of a willpower boost. It’s funny, but as I was thinking through my friends I was surprised to consider how few of my friends I eat regularly enough with to really know their food habits – closely enough to consider them role models anyway. Obviously my girlfriends and I need to go out more! In the meantime, I’m choosing author Michael Pollan as my role model, of the famous dieting quote, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I think that’s so reasonable, it inspires me.

Alright, that’s my plan. Everyone will be here through next Tuesday so on week 10, I’ll let you know how it worked out!

I think it's really cool that you found a specific way to put this chapter into practice, Sonnet, and I'm really looking forward to hearing how this week goes for you!

I had some trouble relating my specific willpower challenge (decluttering my house) to many of the principles in this chapter. I don't know anyone else who is currently tackling this willpower challenge, and I'm not even sure I want a role model. I tend to look at people who are naturally clean and organized, and I feel ashamed and guilty, so I don't want to focus on them! It's been so helpful to me to focus on myself, and how much this new way of living affects me positively.

However, I appreciate McGonigal's point that we can be positively affected by others who are tackling different willpower challenges than we are. She also points out the benefit of making our goals public. Sonnet and I have both been staying consistent with reading and reviewing this book--and maybe more consistent with our challenges too--because we know the other person is counting on us, and because we've made our commitments public!

A couple of other things that caught my attention in this chapter...
  • When McGonigal is discussing how likely we are to "follow the herd," she points out, "In the classroom, I find that just about every student believes that he or she is the exception" (p. 197). Guilty!! In fact, when I read that, I'd just been thinking, "Maybe this chapter isn't really 'hitting' me because I'm really not that affected by what others do!" But McGonigal points out that "we cannot separate ourselves from our social instincts" (p. 197). In other words, I'm not the exception, and neither are you! So I'm going to try to be more aware of how I'm being positively and negatively affected by the actions and attitudes of those around me.
  • After reading Sonnet's comments (above), this quote rang so true to me: "Willpower 'failures' like addiction, obesity, and bankruptcy often come with a stigma in our society. We may wrongly assume that a person is weak, lazy, stupid, or selfish, and convince ourselves that they deserve to be shamed or excluded from the tribe. But we should be especially aware of shunning people who do not control their behavior in the way we would like. Besides being a pretty cruel way to treat people, it is a lousy strategy for change" (p. 205). What a great reminder!! Not only do I not know the whole story behind what appears to me to be someone else's willpower failure; I also have plenty of true willpower failures of my own! While I might occasionally need to separate myself from someone who is influencing me badly, I want so much to interact with others in a nonjudgmental way and to support those around me.
Next week's chapter is one that was immensely helpful to me the first time I read it! It's called "Don't Read This Chapter: The Limits of  'I Won't' Power." It's a great one. See you next week!

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

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Willpower Experiment: Week Seven

My friend Sonnet and I are on Week Seven of our Willpower Experiment, based on the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. To read the previous posts from this series, click here. This week we're covering Chapter Seven, "Putting the Future on Sale: The Economics of Instant Gratification."

Decluttering has lost some of its lustre, but I'm continuing to do it, because I'm committed and I know its worth it. Here's a cabinet I tackled over a period of three days last week:

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There's extra space in there now--what a concept!!

McGonigal opens Chapter 7 with an interesting story (pp. 156-157). In 2007 a study was published that compared how much self control humans and chimps have. The human or chimp subject was presented with two treats (grapes for the chimps, and various bite-sized snack foods for humans.) They were allowed to eat those two treats right away, or they could have six treats if they waited just two minutes.

Chimps are self-controlled creatures! Seventy-two percent of them waited for the larger reward (six treats.) But guess how many humans waited? Only 19 percent! And they were students from Harvard, people we'd expect to have a lot of self-control! I'm going to let Sonnet explain this phenomenon as she introduces the chapter to us.

It’s time for Chapter Seven, and we’re going Back to the Future! (That was a great movie, by the way.) The theme of this chapter is all about how we view our future: incorrectly. So, how is that screwing up our willpower?

The basic problem is this: we have this huge disconnect between our experience of now and our ideas about what the future might be. The future just doesn’t seem real to us, it is hard to imagine. When we think about our future, even our future 20 minutes from now, we like to predict that we’re going to have more free time, and more money, and more ability to resist cheesecake. We like to think the world will be a better and easier place free of temptation or fears or obnoxious bosses or jeans that are too tight. And in this magical world, our future self (who is amazingly NOT us) will conquer all this stuff that’s been piling up. So let’s let her deal with it. Sound good?

This was one of the most interesting concepts to me in Chapter Seven. We think of our future selves as different people entirely! McGonigal calls your future self You 2.0. "You 2.0 is future you," she writes. "Future you is the person you imagine when you wonder whether you should clean the closet today or leave it to your future self. Future you is the person who will be much more enthusiastic about exercising than you are right now.... We think about our fututre selves like different people. We often idealize them, expecting our future selves to do what our present selves cannot manage" (pp. 171-172).

This was so eye-opening to me. (I keep saying that, don't I?!) I know I have fallen into this trap more times than I can count. I see a cluttered spot and know that someday, future me will take care of it. I won't be so busy in the future, or I'll be more motivated. In reading this book for the first time a couple of months ago, I faced the truth: My house was becoming more and more cluttered, because present me never turned into the idealized version of future me. And if I want a house that is more pleasant to live in, present me has to step in and take responsibility.

McGonigal does a great job giving options for how to motivate our present selves to do what we've always expected our future selves to do. Sonnet does a great job explaining these techniques.

One of the suggestions in this chapter is called precommitting, and is basically comes down to creating situations ahead of time that build in carrots and sticks for your willpower goal. Such as, for example, taking bets on whether or not you will lose weight. Or, say, setting up a plan to donate money to a charity you find repellant every time you don’t meet your goals. You plan ahead to make life easier for your future self to do the right thing when temptation hits. I’m sure this is really motivating for some people. You know what it makes me feel? Stress. Big time stress, almost panic-level stress. I could feel my heart racing and my breath coming faster just reading about it. And stress makes me want to run for comfort, which makes me want to act impulsively, which makes me want to do things like curl up on the couch with a pint of ice cream and do nothing until it goes away. There is no way this is going to work for me. Even the thought makes me want to avoid any activity associated with this ‘motivator.’ So… next.

Clearly precommitment isn't a strategy that works for everyone! But one of McGonigal's precommitment suggestions hit home with me. "Put your alarm clock across the room so you'll have to get out of bed to turn it off" (p. 169). While decluttering is still my primary willpower challenge, I have had a strong desire lately to get back on track with getting up early so I can spend quiet time alone with God. This is a mini-challenge I want to take on! So last night I put my alarm on the far side of my bedside table, with books and a lamp in between me and it. I had to get out of bed to reach it.

But I needed more motivation than that. It's far too easy to get back in bed! So I also followed McGonigal's advice to "make immediate gratification more painful if you give in" (p. 169). I decided that if I don't get up on time, I'll have to take a day off Facebook. I really don't want to do that! Maybe that's a problem in and of itself, but for now, it's a motivator for me. I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning, and I'm excited to see if these techniques continue to work. But let's get back to Sonnet, who needed to find a technique that works for her!

An interesting one suggested was the “wait ten minutes” strategy. The idea is, if you are faced with an ‘I Won’t’ willpower challenge (such as having a cigarette or eating a doughnut) tell yourself you can have it… after you wait 10 minutes. If you place the temptation into the future, alongside the concept of the future rewards, you take away the short-term impulse appeal and are able to manage it much better. For I Won’t challenges, I think this has enormous potential. I can see myself using this one quite often when I have the impulse to binge eat when I am angry or upset.

On the other hand. The book also claims you can use this for I Will challenges by turning it around, saying “do X for 10 minutes, then you can quit.” So let me be honest. I procrastinated on writing this summary like a crazy woman. I read the chapter on Monday and I am writing this almost a full week later, late Sunday night. I messed around doing anything but writing all day today. I finally tried the “do it for 10 minutes” trick to see if I could get it done, and you know what happened? Nothing. Not a thing. I didn’t write a single word. I wasn’t motivated at all by it. I suppose because I like writing, it’s not that I didn’t want to do it. I was fine with doing it. I just felt like taking the short term reward more. So for I Will challenges, at least for me? No dice.

What finally did motivate me, for the record, was using the dopamine reward trick. I made a large mug of my favorite tea, got a small bowl of chocolate eggs, and set both on my work desk by my laptop. There. I can have them if I am writing, I told myself. Sold! It wasn’t even a difficult decision, I was happy to get cozy in my office and get to work. So, now I know what motivates me!

I love that this book gives so many suggestions--so when one doesn't make sense, we can find another that does! And it's interesting to me is that Sonnet and I have both managed to find the motivation, every single week, to read this book and write the blog posts--even if we had to fight for that motivation. This is the type of thing I tend to have good intentions for, but I often don't follow through.

So why have Sonnet and I kept up with this? Because for the last seven weeks, we've both followed another of McGonigal's suggestions from this chapter: Find someone who will support you and hold you accountable to your goals. Honestly, I've procrastinated on these blog posts every single week. The earliest I've written any of my Monday posts has been Sunday--and a couple of my "Monday" posts have been written later in the week! Sonnet admits she procrastinated this week too.

But we've both kept up with it, because we are depending on each other. I think this is a huge key! Ann and I usually have our kids learn about one particular topic each week (in addition to our regular schoolwork), and we do lapbook projects on those topics most weeks. Why do I make sure my kids keep up with it? Because I know that we'll be getting together with Ann so all the kids can present their projects. Knowing someone else is counting on me is huge motivation!

Back to Sonnet...

Alright, other good ideas for connecting with the nebulous, intangible future do come up in this chapter. If we can really grasp that the ‘future self’ is going to be our self, the same person instead of a stranger, then we are more likely to make wise long term decisions. The chapter has some great suggestions for reconciling the two that are simple, effective, and even fun. Think about what you’re going to be doing next week. Just next week. Grocery shopping? Going to the board meeting? Really picture yourself in those situations. That’s it – those few moments of imagery will cause you to think twice about putting off cleaning the carpets until next week. You can write a letter to your future self. There are even services who will mail or email them to you.

Note from Beth: McGonigal suggests the site for sending an email to yourself in the future. Here is the one I am sending to myself in one year:

 photo Lettertofutureself_zpscd5c7f2d.png

Talking about your hopes and dreams, deciding what you think your future self would thank your present self for – those concepts make the future real. Finally, taking the time to daydream about possibilities, imagining future outcomes from your choices, also solidifies the future. Who is next year’s best possible you? Who is next year’s you who is struggling because of bad decisions? Thinking through the ins and outs of what your actions mean leads to taking care of yourself long term, and being more mindful of your choices over time instead of in the right now.

To me, I think this is really a key part of willpower. This is what it is all about: making the future as valuable as the present. We’re not wired to think that way, but if we can, planning ahead pays off in big ways.

Thinking in specific ways about future me has been an important part of my decluttering willpower challenge. I'm a real estate agent. When I am helping a client prepare their home for sale, I hire a home stager to come and give them specific suggestions to get the house ready. So many times, I've thought to myself, "Whew, whenever we decide to sell this house, I'm going to have a lot of work to do, getting this place decluttered." Not wanting to deal with that stressful concept, I've shoved the thought aside, figuring that future me would find a way to handle it!

Now, I think about how good it will feel if and when we want to get our house ready for sale. Because I'm committed to continuing to declutter, my closets and drawers will already look good! I'll need to do some prep work, of course, but it won't be so overwhelming. My home stager will come in and compliment me on my bathroom countertop already looking nice (instead of being crammed full of bottles and things as it was a few weeks ago.) And I know that on all the days in between today and that day, I will enjoy my home more because I'm making it a more peaceful and pleasant place to live! I'm thinking about what future me wants, and it's making present me happier too!

If you're trying to find motivation to tackle a willpower challenge, use some of the techniques from this chapter to connect with your future self. Our future selves ARE US! When we make that connection, we can start making more decisions that will benefit us in the long run!

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