Psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, recently shed some welcome light on faulty myths regarding willpower, and she dug even deeper at a day-long intensive, which I attended at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco. During the course of the day, Kelly offered study after study explaining that beyond being aware of your choices, turning your attention in a new (far more positive) direction has been scientifically proven to support healthy self-control. Here are two strategies she shared for developing willpower in a positive way.
Focus on your strengths: Feeling bad about giving into the impulsive part of your personality or beating yourself up after making a mistake is not going to help you stick with your goals. Instead, focusing on your greatest strengths, like all that you're capable of handling, will help get you there. Kelly explained in great detail why self-criticism is not helpful: "If you focus on self-criticism, you'll be like a laser on it. Think about what your want to turn towards instead . . . The ability to say no to something is the hardest form of self-control. Turning towards 'I will' gives us the power to stay in the race even when you're exhausted."
Self-compassion works: For anyone who thinks that feeling bad or shameful about your choices will support your healthy choices, guess again. In 2007, psychologists Claire Adams and Mark Leary set out to look at the implications of self-compassion on eating habits. In their well-known doughnut study, the researchers found that women who received a self-compassion message after eating a doughnut ate less candy than those weren't reassured with a compassionate message that everyone indulges sometimes. Finally! Scientific proof that being gentle with yourself is a better option for continued success.