Success with a new commitment takes much more than will power.

Well, first congratulations with your well placed intentions, that New Year’s Resolution or a new health commitment. You have opened that door. How to help you make it stick?  Previously the foundation to the “sticking with it” has always been all about “will power.” But there is a problem here, the data is clear that only 8% of resolutions relying on will power alone will be successful. That means a huge 92% of resolutions fail, and by week three, fully 1/4 to 1/3 will have failed.

Only 8% of resolutions relying on will power alone will be successful.

Only using will power requires a lot of concentrated mental energy. Since will power is a finite mental resource, it has its limitations, especially on those days you arrive home exhausted.

There is a solution. Use three powerful emotions that are more likely to you’re your commitment to the side of success.

The “Social Emotions” – Pride, Gratitude, and Compassion - are the Three Musketeers that simply make will power and intent successful.  David DeSteno of Northwestern University College of Sciences coined the term Social Emotions in his book Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion and Pride. (By the way, a great read). 

We know from the research that 1 out of every 6 times we attempt to resist a temptation we fail. When we use will power we are fighting the desire to do some thing more pleasurable in that moment (sitting on the couch after a tiring day) in contrast to something that is better for us in the future. You can guess what eventually wins if you are tempted enough times… What really moves and motivates people is not will power but rather it is what we feel.

3 Social Emotions that compliment will power in pursuing goals:

1.     The Power of Pride: This is the well-placed pride which is authentic to your own abilities – not to be confused with what DeSteno calls “arrogant hubris pride.” The obnoxious bragging kind. According to DeSteno, there is increased personal investment that is directly related to the pride from the social acclaim of friends and respected professionals, that is,  “positive” peer support. This authentic pride is at the foundation of personal pressure to stick with it, that is, independent of will power, yet assists it. In the lab, participants taking pride in a task became increasingly diligent in the pursuit of that challenging task, even when that task is of little personal value. Professor DeSteno demonstrates that adopting pride in conjunction with will power, can magnify the results over and above using will power alone.

2.     The Power of Gratitude: This one is simple. It is based on ones attitude. Experiencing gratitude and satisfaction minimizes the lure of instant gratification (that inner voice saying sleep in or I am too tired today) at the expense of the long term goal. To demonstrate this DeSteno describes an experiment: “Take $17 now or delay taking it and in a year get $100.” Impatience and immediate gratification wins out and participants chose taking the $17 dollars now.  However, if participants performed the exercise of taking only 5 minutes and recalling something they were grateful for, making themselves feel grateful, the self-control more than doubled. In addition to this, others have shown People who feel grateful, value their future goals more dearly. Similarly in a smoking study feeling and recalling an emotion made their goal of not smoking easier to accomplish than just enlisting will power to fight the urge.  The take-home message: Contemplate and express gratitude for parts of your life, even gratitude that you can exercise. Gratitude for your opportunities.

People who feel grateful, value their future goals more dearly

3.     The Power of Compassion: Go easy on yourself! By exercising compassion, we become more tolerant when an “oops” occurs. With this new-found tolerance, we can direct our energy into improving next time, rather than beat ourselves down. Let’s face it, life happens and as long as we are committed, we will persist toward the positive outcomes that we desire.

To summarize:  The employment of the above Three Musketeers of social emotions in supporting your goals cannot be overstated. At the start explore these three emotions while starting to pursue your goal:

·      Pride: Make it personal. Internalize it.

·      Gratitude: Just taking time to be grateful results in placing increased value on future goals.

·      Compassion: Helps you get right back to it after hitting a bump in the road. Forgiveness!


Acknowledgments:  a 2018 CBC interview with Dr. DeSteno, and his book, Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion and Pride, edits by Steve Payne.

Dr. PJ Rawlek

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