This is the 3rd part of a 4 part series on Willpower, Do we need it? If so, How do we strengthen it?
We’ve been looking at the ingredients of behaviour change: Standards, Monitoring, Self-regulatory Strength (Willpower) and Motivation and how we can take our understanding of these concepts and develop solid strategies to implement a bullet proof plan for change. Whether it’s rehabilitation from an injury, changes to your health, or even weight loss, acknowledging, understanding and applying techniques based on the principles of personal change management will significantly increase our chances of success!
In my last two articles I asked the question:
Just how important is willpower? How is it different from Motivation?
READ MORE: Willpower versus motivation
And… What can I do to strengthen it? We looked at willpower from the perspective of the 12 step addiction and recovery program Alcoholics Anonymous and the acronym H.A.L.T. Hunger. Anger. Loneliness. Tired. These are the emotional and physiological states we really want to avoid if we want to stay motivated and maintain our willpower for those times when we actually need it!
READ MORE: Willpower versus motivation, part 2
In this article I’m going to tackle those challenging emotional states, anger and loneliness and I’m going to introduce some strategy for avoiding, or changing those feelings before they can take root and ruin our plans for change. This approach is somewhat based on the work of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barret, a cognitive psychologist and a leading researcher in the field of emotion. In her book, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, Dr. Feldman theorizes that emotion is not an inherent human trait shared by all mankind, but that emotions are constructed in the moment, based on physical sensation, learning, and the predictive capabilities of the human brain.
This is only one theory on emotion, but who hasn’t been “set off” by a misspoken word, or a misunderstanding? Had the tone for the entire day changed by a interpersonal interaction where we simply didn’t understand what the other person meant? Dr. Feldman talks about the construction of our emotions and how language and culture play a role in both our situational emotional responses as well as our general daily disposition.
Now, I love language – vocabulary – and I believe that the subtleties and the nuances of a word can impact our immediate feelings and our everyday emotional state. Whether emotions are inherent or constructed, words have power! It’s why I don’t talk hacks, I interpret that word as a simple shortcut, a quick fix, and that diminishes the critical concepts of time and patience. Instead, I talk strategy and strategize, because (to me at least) these words suggests seriousness and the language I use strengthens my commitment to the plan for change.
labelling our emotional state is the first step in changing it, but it’s important to note that putting a label on a feeling is not the same as putting a label on me! If I say “right now, I feel sad”, it’s not the same as saying “I am sad”. That distinction might seem minor, but I don’t think it’s minor at all. In my experience working with people to change (especially myself 😉 ) I’ve heard / said some really distressing self-talk, negative global labels like, “I can’t do anything right”, statements that can’t possibly be true, but that serve to reinforce negative belief systems.
So it starts with language that labels the feeling in that specific moment and then moves toward changing that label, but how do we do that? The power of language, of a single word that can illustrate a concept is a part of the work Dr.Feldman discusses in her book. For example, shadenfreude is a word that is becoming more common in North American English, a German word for the guilty pleasure we take in the misfortune of others.
I’m not suggesting that we learn German or Japanese, but I do believe that we should invest just a little time in learning some additional emotional English vocabulary and then using that new knowledge to more fully understand and then change our emotional state. English teacher Kaitlin Robbs Wheel of Emotion is a brilliant tool to help label a feeling and to then move towards a different mental space using language that resonates, supports, and empowers.
Speaking to yourself with kindness can be challenging (I speak from personal experience… it even can bring on some strange stares in public… but I’ve learned to just pretend I’m on speakerphone ;-), but why not try it? Not just internal or verbal dialogue, but try writing it down as well. In all my training and courses I recommend journaling, a practice whose benefits have been well documented and one that I believe is critical to change. On the surface, enhancing our emotional fluency, speaking kindly to ourselves and showing some self-compassion, might not seem connected to weight-loss or changes to our health and fitness, but avoiding those negative willpower crushing emotions certainly is.
ABOUT SEAN HAWHORNE:
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Rehabilitation is icky. (That’s not a technical term 😉) It’s hard on your psyche, I went from casually curling 70 pound dumbbells to failing with 5 lbs. It hurts, holding that little green band in a supinated position is extremely uncomfortable. And it’s slow (might be my maturity level), it’s taken several months to be able to externally rotate that little green band as poorly as it looks. . . But, what else am I going to do? Quit lifting weights? Never throw a football to my son again? Switch to button up shirts? No. As an existentialist I’m all about quality and not quantity. It’s worth the effort. Netflix and chill is not a sport. If you’re injured or have chronic pain, don’t settle, find some professional advice and get to work. . . If you read this far and you’re curious, I crashed on my dirt bike and tore my shoulder to shit. External rotation and humeral stability are severely compromised. I started with strength and stability (static) and have progressed to eccentric with very limited ranges of motion through the concentric contraction, it’s been 13 months since the accident. . . #kelowna #onelife #change #weightloss #fitness #change #exercise #practice #rehabilitation #coach #coaching #diet #nutrition #motivation #influence #performance #success #awesome #captainawesome #mentalfitness #deliberatepractice #kaizen #happy
Sean Hawthorne is the owner and operator of OneLife Health and Wellness, Kelowna’s first and longest running private, personal training facility. While working in Dubai, UAE as a Contracts and Project Manager, Sean decided to leave his successful career in Civil Engineering Technology and pursue his passion for health, fitness and helping others achieve their goals. He returned to Canada in 2001, taking formal education in Exercise Science and starting his career in the field of health and fitness. Working in collaboration with their clients, Sean and his team of health and fitness professionals strive to continually improve their skills and to help everyone reach their goals.