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/ When (lack of) willpower is a problem. Tips and exercises to get around whenever she fails us

When (lack of) willpower is a problem. Tips and exercises to get around whenever she fails us


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When we don't have it, or we lose it in periods of greater stress, it causes suffering and feelings of inadequacy, but that's not the end, experts say. Know what is within your reach to make this emotional competence more robust.


"Your problem is lack of will". How many times have we said this to someone, or have we received a comment from someone we care about and to whom we confess how difficult it is to break a harmful habit, face a problem or finish a project whose deadline is coming to an end? In most cases, it doesn't help.

Synonymous with determination, self-discipline and self-control, willpower is a psychological construct associated with motivation and contributes to a sense of personal and professional achievement. When we feel it is lacking, it doesn't mean that we have a weakness of character and it has more to do with a neurochemical dysregulation equivalent to the car or cell phone battery when they are coming to an end.

The reason why mental and emotional reserves are depleted more often in some people and not in others depends on many factors: limiting beliefs, facets of personality, the way you were raised, or the extent to which issues related to your life path shape your behavior. each other's perception.

For example, evaluating the situation as too demanding for the reserves you have – or believe you don’t have – generates anguish and worries that consume mental and emotional energy and, sooner or later, manifest themselves in physical signs of discomfort. such as disorientation, irritability or fatigue.

Many deal with discomfort by pushing their belly forward: they avoid it, leave it for tomorrow, procrastinate. Others relieve guilt and suffering with immediate pleasures, which is equally ineffective, as the problem does not resolve itself and even grows.

How do you strengthen willpower, especially at times when it is most needed and get back on track, with gains in productivity, achievement and well-being?


Knowing how to wait without losing focus

Effort is the first thing you think about when you want to achieve a goal. Next comes the ability to manage thoughts that get in the way of the process and remain calm. There is yet another aspect that, since the 1970s, has deserved the attention of the scientific community: the mechanisms involved in decision-making.

The American psychologist Walter Mischel, from Columbia University, in New York, studied how preschool children made choices and to what extent they could influence the course of their lives, having created a procedure that became known by “marshmallow test”.

Upon entering a room and being invited to play, the child was faced with a sweet on the table and the possibility of choosing between two suggestions: eating the candy at the moment or, if he waited for the adult present to arrive, who would leave if for a few moments, could eat two or three. The estimated waiting time was 15 minutes, but only a part of the sample (500 children) waited, on average, ten minutes, and the other participants stayed for two, that is, the majority were unable to postpone the reward. This was followed by a longitudinal study that confirmed the relationship between the ability to control emotions (without giving in to the temptation to make immediate gains) and success in adult life.

In the current scenario, where you want everything right now, if not yesterday – and the technology without which we can no longer do so favors this record – the brain tends to become ‘addicted’ to the instantaneous mode of operation.

Without exercising self-control and self-discipline, everything gets complicated when it comes to meeting medium and long-term goals. In addition, studies that evaluated brain functioning using magnetic resonance imaging showed that constant mental acceleration and dispersion had an impact on the mechanisms of the prefrontal cortex, where attention, cognition and memory are processed: executive functions such as the ability to of planning and taking decisions, which could be optimized, were compromised.

In short, taking the easy way out, giving in to impulses, impedes emotional gymnastics and the ability to stay focused on the light at the end of the tunnel in more challenging moments: holding on tight and resisting pressure, without throwing everything away, becomes if a Herculean mission, the worst is visualized and the best intentions end up in failure.

“If it happened once, it will most certainly happen again”, one thinks, opening the door to the phenomenon that goes by the name of self-fulfilling prophecy: one enters the cycle of demotivation and, not infrequently, despairs . Let athletes say it when they lose a competition, or students, after an evaluation that didn't go well, despite having prepared. Even the smoker who relapses begins to doubt himself and finds himself throwing in the towel, convinced that all his efforts have been in vain and, if so, why try again?


Positive Intelligence

There is a grain of truth in the saying “our worst enemy is ourselves”. That's what happens when you have a limited view of yourself and you resign from your responsibility for what doesn't go well, accepting the version of "I'm like that, there's nothing to do" or "the problem is being in this country , in this family,” and so on. What if the problem is negative thoughts, which consume energy and cause wear and tear, such as resistance to experiencing otherwise?

With decades of research in the field of Neuroscience and Psychology and an MBA from Stanford University, in the United States, Shirzad Chamine is responsible for training managers who work in companies that are ranked in the Fortune 500. In the bestseller Positive Intelligence, the new intelligence quotient, the current president of the Coaches Training Institute argues that the secret of willpower lies in the way we use intellectual and emotional skills, and presents suggestions and practical exercises to identify and strengthen the Positive Quotient, putting an end to sabotage mechanisms learned and fulfill our potential.

Certified in this method, in Portugal, consultant and executive coach Isabel Freire de Andrade recognizes that the current scenario is conducive to states of demotivation and alienation, due to the lack of direction, starting with politicians, who “are not creating a purpose and a more interesting vision for the country”, he adds that this challenge is also up to companies and citizens.

Bright Concept’s CEO adds: “Each one has to find what gives meaning to life, under penalty of not moving forward and giving up, lowering their arms, instead of moving forward and removing obstacles.” And how is this done?

Isabel Freire de Andrade, executive coach and CEO of Bright Concept


Know where you want to go

It all starts in the head: “Having an inner compass, that is, a direction, makes difficulties less painful to face.” And because no one tells individuals or organizations what their purpose is, Isabel challenges her clients, in the sessions, to discover that purpose, answering questions like these:


Stop sabotaging yourself

Here, the main work to do is to look head-on at mechanisms that are maladaptive. “If you spend time criticizing and you are in pain, or you contribute to creating it, you are going down the wrong path, as it consumes energy, both for us and for others”, he explains.

Counteracting this trend involves “having discernment and correcting what doesn’t work, in a constructive way, in order to promote changes in our favor”, something that can be done through simple exercises:

“This strengthens willpower, but it needs to be done consistently, that is, with training; otherwise, energy is wasted and learning is not consolidated, and you do not get to go further”. assures Isabel Freire de Andrade.


Start early

Tune in to values that make sense has the advantage of galvanizing resources, promoting psychological robustness and responding to a human need that stands above all others in the pyramid of the American psychologist Abraham Maslow: that of self-realization. For her, one is willing to move mountains.

There is a catch: knowing what you want or enjoy and reflecting on how to get there requires a good deal of commitment and self-control. Without them, the probability of going to the whim of the circumstances is great. There is a risk of jumping from gratification to gratification, from job to job or having a greater propensity for unwanted outcomes (in friendships, in intimate relationships), without forgetting the implications for health (loss of enthusiasm, fatigue, symptoms of malaise, compensate with fast food or substance abuse).

Returning to the marshmallow test, the predictors of success and the society we have, given to immediacy and distractions, from when you start to cultivate willpower, which implies knowing and managing emotions, learning to have limits and developing skills consistently?

Isabel Freire de Andrade admits that the subject has a lot to offer and refers to parenting styles, and not only, in terms of education, but one thing is certain, in the light of scientific evidence: “If up to the age of five there was no training in these areas, then it becomes more difficult and requires more effort.” Still, it's never too late to start.


Clara Soares

(Translated to English)