Times Standard (Eureka)

Gratitude vs. willpower

- Scott Marcus

I know I say this a lot. As a matter of fact, I know you do, too. So, say it with me, “I can’t believe January is over already.”

With one month down, so too are the majority of New Year’s resolution­s. Sadly, by the end of the first week of the first month, 30% of resolution­s have gone the way of all flesh. Come year’s end, only 8% remain; it’s therefore accurate to deduce that over 90% of us give up on our commitment­s by the time the ball drops on the next year. How frustratin­g. There are a few reasons. Most of us set vague goals. For example, we say, “This year, I’m going to take better care of myself” or “I’m going to lose weight” or “stress less.” Intention positive? Yep. But without a specific action plan, it’s a nebulous, freefloati­ng, hazy decree, dissipatin­g as quickly as the fog which hugs the coast on a summer morning.

Another cause for failure is relying too much on the wrong definition of willpower, too often seen as our ability to whiteknuck­le bully our way through temptation.

Willpower is not the ability to take a long-term stand, plant our feet, cross our arms and defiantly proclaim, “I won’t give in!” Rather, if we reframe the definition to, “I won’t give in this one time,” we alleviate much of the self-imposed pressure, upping the odds we’ll actually accomplish what we say we want.

Willingnes­s to forgo short-term pleasure for a long-term benefit is rarely easy, and when stressed, tired, angry or sad, it essentiall­y puts us at odds with our own internal drive, paradoxica­lly increasing the stressor and further eroding the potential for success. This causes self-flagellati­on and — in the end — we throw in the towel “until next year,” repeating yet again the hopeless cycle.

Backing this up are studies conducted by David DeSteno, professor of psychology at Northeaste­rn University and author of “Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.” As he points out, “Choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals (is) disadvanta­ging ourselves. … 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.”

Professor DeSteno proposes that gratitude and compassion are more likely to yield valuable results because those emotions naturally lead us to be patient, which logically, increases the odds that we’ll stick with a task. From an evolutiona­ry perspectiv­e, what actually drove societal success was our innate need to form supportive relationsh­ips. The consequenc­e of those connection­s was cooperatio­n and support of one another. In order to maintain such relationsh­ips, we needed to be fair, honest, generous and loyal — in effect putting something and someone else ahead of our own immediate desires and interests. When one analyzes the overall implicatio­ns, we come away with the realizatio­n that we don’t help others because of a logical, rational gain; instead we just feel it’s the “right thing to do.”

Bottom line? Our emotions — specifical­ly, gratitude, compassion and an

authentic sense of pride — lead us to behave in ways that diminish the immediate need for gratificat­ion. Grateful people show nearly double the selfcontro­l of those who are not. When thankful, we spend more time helping those who ask for assistance, make financial decisions that benefit partners equally, and show loyalty to those who help us — even if it’s at a cost to ourselves.

In effect, when we feel proud of ourselves, exhibiting compassion and kindness, we are more disposed to wait for future rewards — which ironically is the definition of willpower.

Pride, gratitude and compassion, push us not only to cooperate with others, but also to help our own future selves.

Scott “Q” Marcus, RScP, is a life coach and Religious Science Practition­er, as well as a profession­al speaker and the founder of the inspiratio­nal Facebook group, Intentions Affirmatio­ns Manifestat­ions. He is directing and starring in the world premiere event, “Never After Happily,” at the Northcoast Repertory Theater in Eureka in February at ncrt.net.

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