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Mindful : June 2017
“ ” Habit-making is what our brains do. Recognizing the patterns of our habits—the trigger, the impulse, the brain’s learned way to satisfy that need—is just part of the process of unwinding them. There also needs to be an intention to do things differently, tied to some- thing that deeply matters to you. Or as Stanford University health psy- chologist and author of The Willpower Instinct Kelly McGonigal says, it means identifying the “I want” power that will reinforce your “I won’t ” power. Will, want, won’t “ Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is think- ing about long-term goals— that is, thinking about big values rather than short- term needs or desires,” she told TED blog. “So, I can feel the emotion, I can feel the craving, and at the very same time, I just make my awareness big enough to hold my commitment to make a different choice. Your ability to hold those opposites is what gives [you] willpower over time.” When you get clear on your want—the deeply personal reason for want- ing to make a habit change (hint: “I should” isn’t one of them)—then begins the work of strengthening your ability to choose dif- ferently (aka, willpower). But as anyone who has tried to diet or commit to exercise knows, sabo- teurs to our will abound. This is when psychologist Christopher Willard rec- ommends employing the acronym HALT. HALT When you feel willpower slipping, Willard suggests, ask yourself if you’re feeling any of the following: Hungry: Impulse control involves a complex dance between the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, with a little help from other parts of the brain also involved in foresight and decision- making. Any shortage of calories will short-circuit this hub of activity, making it difficult to activate your willpower. Angry/Anxious: When we feel angry or anxious our bodies can slip into fight-or- Remember HALT flight mode, where we start operating from the most primitive parts of the brain and nervous system. In this mode, some of the rational parts of our brain shut down, decreasing our ability to think and reason through things, or even consider the long-term consequences of our actions. When your emotions are running high, take a few slow, mindful breaths to quiet the nerves and activate your more rational brain. Lonely: When we tell other people about a commitment to change a habit, we’re far more likely to follow through. Introvert or extrovert, we all need to strike a balance between solitude and socializing. Consider what is the best balance for you, and share your goals only as widely as you feel comfortable. Tired: When we’re tired, our self-control and willpower slip away, an effect known as “ego-depletion.” (A poor night’s sleep can even knock you down a few IQ points.) Establishing healthy sleep habits is not only integral to your self-care, it’s also essential for your deeper goals. how to live a mindful life