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In the story of your life, are you the triumphant hero or the embattled victim?

Posted by: Emma Sanders-Edwards | Posted on: November 6th, 2014 | 0 Comments

How do you narrate your life? The stories we tell ourselves about our lives not only change our attitudes, but also the way we act.

Why does this happen? Stories drive our behaviours, and we can change these stories to improve our behaviours and the outcomes. For example, attributing failure on a test to not studying enough means that you try harder next time. Attributing it to not being smart enough means you are more likely to give up on future tests.

You can improve your stories either by:

  • doing things that drive better stories. For example, people that engage in volunteer work see themselves as kind people, who contribute to the community, and are generally happier.
  • editing to improve a story about a previous event. For example, re-thinking your failure on a test. Instead of saying ‘I’m dumb’, tell yourself that failing helped make sure next time you sit a test you will put in the effort to get the results that reflect your true ability.

So, how can we use this? The narratives that make you happy are those that provide both hope (for the future) and meaning (understanding why something happened). Use this to:

  1. Deal with change – viewing change as something that can give hope and meaning means you are better able to accept it.
  2. Edit your stories and help others edit their stories – so the narrative gives meaning to a situation and/or provides hope for the future.
  3. Do good, be good – say kind things, volunteer for things, accept other’s foibles with kindness. If you see yourself behaving well, you’re more likely to believe you are a good worthy person.

Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, by Timothy D. Wilson (2011)

Did you know that your willpower can ‘run out’?

Posted by: Emma Sanders-Edwards | Posted on: October 14th, 2014 | 0 Comments

It can. Psychologists call it ‘ego depletion’. Or we might also recognise it as that scratchy, tired, overwhelmed person who is eyeing up the snack machine.

Why does this happen?

Studies show that we have a finite amount of willpower. When we use our willpower up by;

  • controlling our thoughts (“Don’t think about eating that extra piece of pizza”),
  • controlling our emotions (“I am going to try not to feel so disappointed”),
  • or making decisions (“Do you want the red or blue?” “The 18cm or 30cm?’ “Can Bob take leave over Easter?”),

we show signs of ego depletion. This is when we will find ourselves reacting more strongly, feeling more tired, and having more negative emotions.

The good news is that studies have shown that you can not only reverse the effects of ego depletion with glucose, you can also build your willpower muscle.

So, how can we use this?

  • Build your willpower muscle for all situations by doing something you only need to use a little bit of willpower for. For example, if you find it relatively easy to motivate yourself to go the the gym, keep this up and you’ll find increased willpower flows into other areas of your life.
  • Studies show that if your goals are inconsistent with each other, you will worry a lot more, get less done and your health will suffer. So aim to keep all your goals aligned. For example, if you want to get fit, be more sociable and spend more time with family, think about joining a family-orientated sports team. Thinking you will be able to spend more time at work, more time with your family AND more time getting fit is just asking for failure!
  • If you’ve used a lot of willpower on a task, try eating some slow-burning fuel to keep yourself in control, for example whole grains or fruit and vegetables.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

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