A week or so ago, I finished reading: The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal. It is a good book that makes you think about when you use self-control and willpower and when you choose otherwise. I have been fascinated with the concept of willpower lately, and why some of us have a ton of self-control and others do not. Kelly explains why this happens in her book.
One of the stories she shares about willpower talks about Valerie and her mother. Valerie’s mom has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s and could no longer live by herself. Valerie and her family made the decision to have her mother moved to a long-term care facility. Valerie felt responsible for visiting her mother everyday and since her other siblings did not live nearby, Valerie was left in charge. The situation made her very angry. To deal with her frustrations, on the way home from the care facility each night, she would stop by the nearby grocery and eat cupcakes and other sweets to feel better about herself. Valerie learns about a breathing technique in one of Kelly McGonigal’s Harvard classes, that teaches an individual to release their feelings while doing this breathing technique. Here is what shifted for Valerie after trying this specific technique:
“In time, the grocery store ritual lost its appeal and was replaced with a moment-by-moment willingness to feel whatever came up throughout the day. Valerie was even able to bring that same willingness to her visits with her mother, letting herself feel her frustration instead of telling herself she wasn’t angry at her mother. It didn’t change the situation, but it took away some of the stress.” p. 221
What I love about this experience is that while Valerie used the breathing techniques to release feelings and frustrations about the situation she is in with her mother, we can all shift our thoughts (whether through breathing exercises or shifting how we think about situations) so that we make sure to feel and process our feelings as we go through our days. For the example with Valerie, she cannot really change her situation, but she can change how she approaches her situation, and the choices she makes when she leaves the care facility each day. Guess what?! Valerie also stopped going to the grocery store and eating sweets. Releasing her feelings allowed her to be with her situation and she did not have to eat sweets to cope.
Are there things in your day that you could approach differently and feel as you go through your day, so you are completely present with how things truly are?