What I've Learned (So Far) From My Willpower Challenge

Book Discussion

I was scared when I announced my willpower challenge last week. While I totally understood why Kelly McGonigal suggests that you do one while reading her book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It, I was wary. I was concerned not only about what I might learn about myself -- what if none of the strategies worked? -- but also about what others might think of my challenge.

It's easy to make jokes about procrastination. I believe most of us procrastinate from time to time. Yet, I worried. Would people think that I was lazy because I admitted to having a procrastination habit? Would they think that it was normal or horrible that I often found myself flipping over to Twitter or Facebook when I hit a point in my writing where I didn't know what to say next? Would they think I was goofing off when instead of doing the item on my to do list I ended up doing a different, usually easier, work task? Would they think it was horrible that I was completely capable of not putting away my clean, folded laundry for a week?

Thankfully, you all rock and you didn't think that at all. (Or if you did, you certainly didn't say it.) Even more, you shared some of your concerns that people might think your own willpower challenges were silly. What I found is that many of our challenges were the same. We wanted to be more productive. We wanted to be healthier. We wanted to be happier. There were plenty of people who spoke up and said to each other, "Hey, I'm struggling with that challenge as well." I'll repeat this again -- you all rock.

I've made progress with my challenge. Thanks to McGonigal, when I catch myself starting to procrastinate I stop and wonder why I'm doing it in that exact moment. I've learned that some strategies really don't work for me, at least not for this particular challenge. It turns out that trying to spend just ten more minutes on a task is a bad thing for me. I know it sounds a bit weird and I think that in other circumstances it would work. If I was tempted to buy something, I think the ten minute wait could be fabulous. The reason why I find myself procrastinating was surprising.

running stopwatch

Credit: Running stopwatch via Shutterstock

I procrastinate because I don't take enough breaks. I know it sounds completely wrong. Whenever I caught myself procrastinating I'd stop and examine how I felt. Most often it was because I was feeling restless. The more I thought about it, the more the restlessness made sense. I had often been sitting in my chair for several hours. I frequently try to squeeze in just ten more minutes or do just one more thing before I take a break. Then I start to feel guilty for not being able to get that work done quickly and I'd get more restless. Then I'd feel guilt and shame for not getting the task done as quickly or easily as I thought I should. Basically, what I was doing was procrastinating on taking breaks and then feeling guilty when I did take the break and that is a horrible spiral to get sucked into.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. Once I realized the reason I was struggling was because I was not taking good care of myself I started changing things up. I've been getting up a bit earlier. I've been taking breaks -- real breaks. I've been making lunch and eating it away from my desk (erm... mostly). Since I work from home I'll take a ten minute break and putter around the house. I'm slowly learning that in taking better care of myself, I'm doing better work. When I say it that way, it really doesn't sound quite as revolutionary as it is in my life but let me tell you, it's a whole new world here in my home office.

What have you learned since starting the willpower challenge?

BlogHer Book Club Host Karen Ballum also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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