Friday, August 5, 2016

The Willpower Instinct - book blog

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a book on managing self-control.  Dr. McGonigal presents the book by challenging the reader to implement chapter tests and experiments into one’s life habits for a week.  The book was 9 chapters, so I took about 2-3 days on each chapter, applying the suggested tactics to my daily life the best I could.  Some worked, and others did not.   I have attached a log of my results below for anyone who is interested. 

The main idea of all the strategies was to increase self-awareness on things done daily, or even hourly, that inhibit willpower.  Each experiment required me to focus on what the problem was, think about it constantly, and record each time it was happening.  For my own personal experiments, I chose to realize and change the amount of times I look at my cell phone.  I have always known that I use it a lot, and the time I spend on the phone, I spend less time working at work or spending time with my family at home.  Through self-awareness, I found that my phone time exceeded 50 times a day on average for two days.  To be honest, the self-awareness probably effected the outcome, in that when I knew I would have to document the time, I was less likely to act upon it.

The next step was to realize the cause of my actions.  My favorite part of the book, and the one that makes the most sense to me was explaining how stress is the enemy of willpower.  The book explains how the brain works in response to stress and how humans react to certain situations.  Chapter experiments taught me how to breathe slower, meditate without distraction, and get to sleep faster.  Getting to sleep faster was never a concern for me, as I am always out fast, but the breathing techniques and meditation (which I have never done prior to this class) was interesting.  At first I felt silly, but then I realized how often my mind would wander off.  Dr. McGonigal explains how the wondering mind is a good thing since the meditation exercise is supposed to train your brain to focus away from wondering off.  I never saw myself a stressful person, at home or at work.  I realize after the self-awareness, that it was stress causing me to retreat to my phone.  Turns out, when I was at work I would look at my phone whenever I was frustrated, got stuck on a problem or when I was trying to avoid moving onto a different task.  Then on my lunch break, I would reward myself by looking at my phone again to “relax” or “wind down”!  I wasn’t facing high levels of stress, but rather situations I was trying to delay.   I found it pretty amazing how differently I was looking at the problem when I forced myself to be aware of what I was doing.       

The last step in the book is where you learn to control urges, and control your willpower.  From the techniques of realization, relaxing, pausing, making a decision and breathing through it, I have come to spend a significantly less amount of time on my phone.  Work was the hardest place to control my phone urge.  I now place my phone in a desk drawer, instead of having it right under my computer screen like before (check out the link below).  The second hardest time was at the end of the day.  I noticed, however, that if I wasn’t on my phone, my husband wouldn’t go on his either.  We converse more at night when the kids are in bed, and the phone was taking time away from that.

Self-awareness is something we all lack these days.  It’s so easy to get caught up in habits created by technology (such as looking at your phone), personal relationships, social interactions, work habits, and so many more.  My example and experiments related to looking at my phone is a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.  Imagine if, for example, police training involved self-awareness courses.  Or teacher training.  Or rehab.  Or this was a required course in high school.  If we only took the time to be aware of what we are doing, we can realize we are far from perfect in so many ways.   

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