Pauliann Long, LCSW-C




Willpower & Compassion

Good morning,

Continuing our theme about new years resolutions, today we dig a bit deeper into why resolutions tend to fail and how self control and willpower for resolution keeping are actually models of everyday life. In a recent article entitled ‘The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions‘ by Gray Matter published from The New York Times, digs a little deeper into why it is so hard to keep resolutions and how it actually has to do with the way we our made.  “Unfortunately, the problem of New Year’s resolutions is, in a way, the problem of life itself. Our tendency to be shortsighted — to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future — comes at a considerable cost.”

The article goes further into reasons to why enforcing “willpower” is such a struggle and can be potentially harmful for our human nature, not natural to us as a species.

In choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals, we’re disadvantaging ourselves. We’re using tools that aren’t only weak; they’re also potentially harmful. If using willpower to keep your nose to the grindstone feels like a struggle, that’s because it is. Your mind is fighting against itself. It’s trying to convince, cajole and, if that fails, suppress a desire for immediate pleasure. Given self-control’s importance for success, it seems as if evolution should have provided us with a tool for it that was less excruciating to use.’

Andrew Chuani Ho

What then can we do to help? Gray goes into further detail… ‘I believe it did; we’re just ignoring it. That tool is our social emotions. These are the emotions — things like gratitude and compassion — that support the positive aspects of social life. For years I’ve been studying the effects of these emotions on decision-making and behavior, and I’ve found that unlike reason and willpower, they naturally incline us to be patient and persevere. When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.”

“What underlies these moral traits is the ability to put something else ahead of your own immediate desires and interests — to exercise self-control. Working hard to keep up your end of a deal or helping another person by giving time, money, food or a shoulder to cry on all require a willingness to sacrifice some resources in the moment. In exchange, you reap the benefits of those strong relationships down the line.

When it comes to making such short-term sacrifices, most of us don’t rely on a cold, rational analysis of costs and benefits. We don’t normally calculate what’s to be gained by helping someone else. We just feel like we should. It’s our emotions — specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) — that push us to behave in ways that show self-control.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’ve moved more couches and spent more time making gifts for friends than I thought possible when I felt gratitude toward them and wanted to show appreciation. Or that I’ve worked longer and harder on difficult tasks when I wanted to feel proud about my abilities and contributions to a team. Or that I’ve given more support to people when moved by compassion to do so.” (To view the entire article, click here.

To get started on a new you for the year and learn how to embrace your inner emotions, contact us today at for your free, 30-minute phone consultation.

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