September 13, 2014

How Changing Your Concept of Time Can Improve Your Willpower. ~ Sharon Gregory


When the “what the hell” effect gets in the way of healthy lifestyle choices.

If you find yourself filled with self loathing straight after you’ve eaten, purchased or done the very thing you promised yourself this morning that you wouldn’t do, it’s easy to see that such a negative emotion could lead to yet further self sabotage as you reach yet again for another cookie, glass of wine, cigarette.

This is what psychologists call the “what the hell” effect.

In other words, the “Well, I’ve blown my plan for today, I won’t meet my goals this week, so I might as well forget my goals and carry on doing the very thing I planned not to do when I got up this morning” mindset.

Many articles have been written on this very subject and many psychologists have written about the impact of negative states of emotion on our ability to hold in our thoughts our longer term goals and aspirations.

Much has also been written about the proven benefits of meditation in helping us to strengthen the “pause and prepare” part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) in order for us to continue to remember our longer-term goals and dreams.

But lately, when working both on myself and with clients, I’ve been thinking about our western concept of time as a linear process and how that impacts our ability to keep in mind our longer-term goals and dreams in a negative way.

I’m beginning to think that those people who have what appears to be more will power or self-control are actually those who are not only experienced meditators, but also those who are particularly skilled in not thinking about time as a linear process with fixed targets along the way.

They see each action they take as only having an immediate impact and add no attachment or meaning to their actions that shouldn’t be added (and of course there is no rational reason why one cookie means you have blown your entire diet and yet somehow you seem to believe it!). This sounds counter intuitive, I know, as we often tell dieters or those trying to give something up or change their life style to set small, achievable targets along the way toward their goals.

What if, instead, we could teach ourselves (and our clients, in my case) to view each action they take as having the same impact as a stone falling into a pool of water? The ripples spread out far and wide momentarily and then subside, leaving the pool as still as before and unchanged by the experience of sudden change.

I wonder if this mindful observation of a single choice or decision might help avert the “what the hell” effect.



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Sharon Gregory