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Book Review: Maximum willpower  Join our daily free Newsletter

MENAFN - Arab News - 05/02/2014
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(MENAFN -Arab News) We all realize the importance of willpower, the ability to control our emotions and desires. And yet, most of us blame the very lack of willpower for our shortcomings and failures. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and educator at the Stanford School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program, reached the conclusion that people’s failures and difficulties were due to the use of “worn-out strategies for self-control”. This led her to create “The Science of Willpower”, one of the most popular classes offered to professionals as well as to the general public, at the Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. “This book combines the best scientific insights and practical exercises from the course, using the latest research and the acquired wisdom of the hundreds of students who have taken the class,” said McGonigal.“The success of this course lies in its realistic approach visible in the very first chapter. We learn that willpower is not as simple as it seems. It is about harnessing the three powers of I will, I won’t and I want,” she added.Similarly, neuroscientists go so far as to say that we have one brain but two minds. A part of us acts on impulse seeking instant gratification and another controls our impulses to maintain our long-term goals. In the last ten years or so, scientists have also discovered that our brain responds remarkably to experience in other words: we can train our brain. For example, if we ask our brain to learn chemistry, we will get better at chemistry. But brain training can be used for something much simpler like meditating. Neuroscientists believe that people who meditate regularly will get better at a wide range of self-control skills including attention, stress management, impulse control and self-awareness. Incidentally, a brain-training exercise is not as complicated as you might think. It consists of three steps. First, you must sit comfortably in a chair with your feet placed on the ground and it is imperative that you sit still. Second, you close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing. Whenever you find your mind wandering, concentrate solely on the act of exhaling and inhaling. Third, you can shift your attention on how the act of breathing affects your body with the air flowing through the nose and mouth and how the chest expands and deflates as you exhale and inhale. But whenever you find your mind wandering, you need to focus again on the pure act of breathing that is inhaling and exhaling. You can start doing this meditation exercise for five minutes and increase it up to 15 minutes, always keeping in mind that a short practice done regularly is better than a longer session accomplished irregularly. The act of meditation is not all about erasing all your thoughts; on the contrary meditating will help you not to forget what your goal is. A lack of focus and wandering thoughts are not a problem as long as you immediately refocus on the act of breathing.The author has designed the book to give readers a sense of her ten-week course. Each chapter focuses on a major idea and presents a new strategy to strengthen our willpower. I followed the author’s advice to read the whole book without paying attention to the reflections and exercises but making a note of the ones that seem the most interesting.In the chapter entitled “Feeling Bad Leads to Giving In”, McGonigal coaches readers to forgive their failures and not to use them as an excuse to give in or give up, emphasizing self-compassion. Similarly, trying not to think about something guarantees that it is never far from your mind or in other words when we try to push a thought away, it keeps coming back. And paradoxically, being permitted to think a thought reduces the likelihood of thinking about it. Studies have shown that the more we try to suppress negative thoughts, the more likely we are to become depressed. “The more depressed people try to block out distressing thoughts, the more depressed they get,” said McGonigal. Likewise, a list of restricted foods end up increasing the desire for these foods because the more you try to avoid thinking about a particular food, the more your mind will be preoccupied by it. A new approach consists in replacing a list of forbidden foods with the idea that eating the right food is healthier and provides pleasure. “We try even harder to push away thoughts and feeling we don’t want to have in a vain attempt to keep our minds safe from danger. If we truly want peace of mind and better self-control, we need to accept that it is impossible to control what comes to our mind. All we can do is choose what we believe and what we act on,” wrote McGonigal.In her final thoughts, the author concludes that we are not one self, but multiple selves. Self-control is a matter of understanding these different parts of ourselves, not fundamentally changing who we are. In the quest for self-control, the usual weapons we wield against ourselves, which are guilt, stress and shame, don’t work. People who have the greatest self-control aren’t waging self-war. They have learned to accept and integrate these competing selves.The secret for greater self-control lies in the power of paying attention. This means: being aware that what is in our world, from sales gimmicks to social proof, shape our behavior. It’s also about remembering what we really want, and knowing what really makes us feel better.“Self-awareness is the one ‘self’ you can always count on to help you do what is difficult, and what matters most. And that is the best definition of willpower I can think of,” the author concluded. This book helps us realize that everyone struggles at one point with temptation, addiction and procrastination. It also acts like a guide, helping us understand our willpower failures and then channel this self-knowledge into strategies for success- strategies that will empower us to make real and lasting changes in our lives.• [email protected
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