Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Perhaps you can relate:
- You plan to exercise before work, but it’s cold outside and you hit the snooze button instead.
- You hope to lose a few of your winter pounds, but in the grocery store, you grab that bag of chips (or cookies).
- You get into the office early to get a head start on your day and you get sucked into Facebook.
All of the above examples have two things in common. First, we are trading immediate gratification for longer-term happiness or benefits. And second, our short-sited choices in the moment, at some level, disappoint and frustrate us. Perhaps not immediately, but shortly thereafter.
Willpower is an interesting thing. We all possess it, but sometimes we don’t seem to be fortified with enough of it to get out of our own way. In her research on the topic, Kelly McGonigal and her colleagues made an interesting discovery. We often create and continue the vicious cycle that we want to escape from.
Here’s what McGonigal’s findings tell us: If we do something that is clearly against our best interests, our most beneficial response is to “forgive and move forward.” Yes, that’s right; the opposite is what most of us do. What most of us do is to feel guilt and shame, sometimes even unleashing a wrath of negative comments through our internal self-talk. This self-loathing actually perpetuates the cycle.
We fall short or fail, we feel badly (guilt, shame, frustration, etc.), we promise to do better, we repeat the process. With each shortfall, we condition ourselves to accept that this vicious cycle is our fate and that we will never be good at bolstering and managing our fragile willpower.
Do you have instances where you feel guilty for falling short of what you want to do? What’s your internal dialogue like? Are you hard on yourself? (Note to self: the harder you are on yourself, the more likely you will repeat your destructive habit.) Do you feel like a loser? If so, banish those negative feelings and give yourself a freakin’ break. By recognizing that you’re not perfect and it’s ok, you set the stage for changing the cycle of self-sabotage that keeps you trapped.
In other words, be kind and gentle on yourself. In the long run, it will make you stronger.