I heard Kelly McGonigal on Wisconsin Public Radio where she was interviewed about her book and her teaching at Stanford University. She works with people who want to increase their willpower. (I had also heard of her twin sister, Jane McGonigal, who is an expert on the subject of electronic games, which, along with apps, are getting into more and more areas, such as health and brain or reflex training, not just pastimes and amusement.)
Kelly's book, "The Science of Willpower" sounded useful so I downloaded it and started reading. The book is a good partner to Duhigg's "The Power of Habit". Smoking, drinking too much, drugs, procrastination can all be activities people want to stop but have trouble doing so. The general subject of personal change relates to something called "motivational interviewing", which is a sort of counseling approach that emphasizes finding, highlighting and resolving ambiguity (I want to and I don't want to so which is it, really?)
Whenever a well-educated and motivated person starts to study something these days, what with the sort of tools and communication available to us all, important ideas and themes are likely to emerge. McGonigal sees three important aspects to willpower: I will-power, I won't-power and I want-power. There was a short video describing the three and the need to be accepting of them all but it seems to be removed now.
After some thought, I began to suspect that anyone with strong willpower who thought he could redesign himself for a better fit with his world might be mistaken. Sure, there is the problem we all know about, where I suspect chocolate chip cookies are not that good for me and that I might be a better person if I didn't eat so many. However, there may be other important factors behind the scenes. I may not really be smart enough to plan myself. Besides, even if I come up with the perfect model, by the time I have made myself over, that model might be outdated. I have to have flexibility in my thinking to be able to deal with situations and demands and challenges I haven't met before, that are currently beyond my thinking.
Research seems to point to a limited supply of self-control and willpower in us. If I have exercised control over myself several times in the last hour, not having a cigarette, not having a drink, not losing my temper, I may let myself have a chocolate chip cookie that I would otherwise resist. I do find that if I think carefully about cookies or other things I don't want or goals I do want to reach, the thinking carefully, concentrating on my feelings about what I want to be and do, it helps a lot. Once I have resisted enough, it becomes a habit and it isn't so difficult.
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