Transcript: The Willpower Problem (and Solution) with Dina Cataldo
Before we get started, I want to invite you to watch my latest training Calendar Management 101 for Lawyers. I walk you through the 5 most common thought errors when it comes to managing a calendar and my 7 step process for getting more done with less stress.
You can access it instantly at www.dinacataldo.com/calendar That's www.dinacataldo.com/calendar
I got some great feedback from lawyers who've struggled with time management and feeling like they don't have enough time in the day, so I highly suggest you check it out.
Alright, so what is willpower?
I'm about to get a little word nerd on you. It comes from majoring in English Lit and history — words have meanings that we internalize and apply to the world around us.
There are a couple definitions I want to talk about because the way we think about willpower is key to understanding willpower and the solution I'm talking about today.
Merriam Webster defines willpower as “the ability to control one's own actions, emotions, or urges.”
Even thinking about having willpower in this context is enough to bring up anxiety.
Willpower in this context implies that we're supposed to have control of what we feel and when we feel it.
It implies that if we don't have willpower we're not good enough.
It has a lot of not-enoughness — lack — scarcity — built into it.
As if there are emotions or urges that are bad. Of course, whenever we feel like we are bad, that is shame.
The synonym for this definition of will power might be something like resistance. Our failure to resist an urge or emotion we have can bring up shame because we believe that we are bad for not having the willpower to overcome it.
I believe that most people work from this definition and have these feelings associated with the word willpower.
Then I came across another definition that I actually liked. It came from etymologygeek.com.
They define it as “The unwavering strength of will to carry out one's wishes.”
To me, that definition is in alignment with the conversations we've had on the podcast about vision, goal setting, time management, and focus.
We're focusing our mental energy in a way that will carry out our wishes.
When hearing this definition, willpower is a synonym for committed.
How we define willpower is important because our feelings will fuel the actions we take or fuel the inaction that we take.
Each of us experience words differently. So if willpower feels like committed to you, it feels powerful to you, that may be good for you. But if willpower brings up stress and anxiety like it does for a lot of people, this conversation about willpower is important.
If we're stuck in a cycle of resistance and shame, we can't get to a place of feeling committed to carrying out our wishes.
I'm working from the former definition of willpower in this podcast because I think that's the one most of us are familiar with and are working from in our lives.
How does this show up practically in your life and practice?
Let's talk about an easy example like one with your partner.
Your partner leaves laundry on the floor.
You have the thought that they don't respect you. Or maybe something like, they're not doing what they should be doing; they're not holding up their end of the bargain.
You feel anger, maybe resentment.
But….you don't want to say something. Because you're afraid that they'll think you're petty, or you tell yourself that it shouldn't be that big of a deal. You tell yourself to “suck it up.”
You use willpower to push the resentment aside, and you pick up the clothes yourself. All the while telling yourself you're being the bigger person.
Then a month goes by, and you get in a totally unrelated discussion that brings up other resentments you've been holding onto — because where there's one unexamined resentment, there are others — and you bring up your partner leaving clothes on the floor out of left field. After the argument, you feel guilty, and maybe you even feel compelled to apologize. You tell yourself you don't have any willpower.
You can substitute a client calling you after hours with work, and you'll go through some of the same motions in that example.
Let's talk about how it might show up in your law practice.
You tell yourself you're turning over a new leaf, and you're going to work out 4 times a week.
You even place your appointments with yourself on the calendar, so you don't forget when you're at the office.
You're working on a project one day, and you remember that you'd planned to go work out.
But you don't want to. And that feels like a good decision. You'd much rather finish the project you're working on even thought technically you have enough time to finish it later. So you stay late at the office instead of working out like you'd planned. You tell yourself that you'll do it tomorrow, but you don't. Then you tell yourself that you just don't have enough willpower.
Some symptoms of working from willpower instead of commitment:
– disappointed in yourself
– resistant – saying to yourself “I don't wanna”
– blaming – saying that “They should have picked up the laundry.” “My client shouldn't have called me so late.”
You might think that having more willpower is the solution to feeling one or all of these emotions. It's not.
I want to tell you that there's nothing wrong with you for not being able to will yourself into not being upset about the laundry on the floor or for not being able to will yourself to get to the gym.
The word willpower the way most of us use it is an unfortunate problem because it doesn't take into account how our brains work.
Willpower was definitely how I was raised, and it created a lot of resistance and shame when I didn't achieve what I aimed for.
If I got a bad result, I wasn't supposed to look at my emotions. I was supposed to ignore them, and…
“Suck it up.”
“Get over it.”
I'm not saying that we don't move forward. Clearly, that's not what this podcast is all about.
What's ignored in most discussions about willpower is the acknowledgment of our emotions.
What's been ignored for centuries in multiple different cultures and professions is our human nature.
Our brain creates emotion for a reason. It's literally a vibration that runs through our body in response to our brain having a thought.
If we ignore it, we're ignoring a key tool that's been given us to achieve our goals.
It's not our fault that we do. Everyone tells us that our emotions are superfluous and that they don't help us.
That we should ignore them and move on.
Depending on how you were raised, you may have been told things like I was when I was crying: “Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about.”
Emotions were a sign of weakness.
And as a lawyer, weakness means you're not a good lawyer.
We've been taught by society that of course we would shove our emotions aside and ignore them.
And that's why there's so many lawyers suffering in overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and depression.
Instead of learning how to connect with themselves and use their emotions, they've been suppressing their human nature.
When clients come to me, and they aren't in touch with their emotions, that tells me they've been working from willpower.
We work through where feelings show up in the body, and they begin to understand the triggers that they have that create the mental habits bringing these same painful feelings up over and over again.
So when a client calls them late at night, instead of sitting in resentment, they see the resentment and learn how to release it.
When they have a workout planned, they learn the skill of harnessing commitment instead of willpower. And if they decide to skip the workout, they don't sit in guilt afterwards wasting time and energy.
They're not afraid of their human side. They learn to use it. To harness it to work towards their vision.
I've done a couple podcasts on processing emotion, so I'll link to those in the show notes at www.dinacataldo.com/155
But I want to give you a few questions to begin exploring
– What feelings do you ignore or push aside?
– What kind of feelings are they? Name them. Ask yourself how they feel in your body.
– When do you notice yourself pushing those feelings aside the most?
– Why do you tell yourself that pushing them aside is necessary?
– What stories do you have about feeling your emotions? From childhood? From your work environments?
Understanding our emotions instead of denying them is what creates more ease in our life.
We were meant to have the full spectrum of emotions, but we weren't meant to suffer in any of them. We create the suffering by pushing them aside and thinking they disappear.
The painful emotions you feel that keep coming up over and over again will keep bubbling up like when you try to push a beach ball underwater.
No matter how hard you push, it just keeps popping back up.
The problem with this is that ultimately we never move forward if we're dealing with the same problems over and over again and never move past them.
Once you learn how to process an emotion, any time it pops up you see it, recognize it for what it is — part of your human-ness — and release it instead of allowing it to control your actions.
I want to give you another example before we go.
On Instagram I posted something about procrastination and managing emotions. I'll link to the post in the show notes.
I talk about the difference I experience when I'm choosing to watch Netflix and truly enjoy it versus watching Netflix to avoid negative emotion. When I used to watch TV programs, I felt horrible. I had this nagging in my head that I was supposed to be doing something else, and I felt guilty. I couldn't will-power myself off the couch. And I would do other things while watching TV like some menial task to feel like I was being productive.
In truth I felt like a failure because I wasn't doing what I'd planned on doing during that time.
When I learned how to see the urge to watch TV — to procrastinate — for what it was — a human reaction to an emotion I was feeling — I realized I had more control than I thought.
Changing myself took practicing thought work and recognizing the emotions I was generating, and it took me not wanting to suffer anymore.
If you're clicking with what you heard on this podcast today, you need to schedule a strategy session with me.
When you work with a coach everything in your life changes.
I see it in myself, and I see it in my clients.
My clients come to me for their law practice, and they realize that the work they do on themselves not only grows and improves their ability to practice but it impacts every area of their lives including the relationship they have with themself.
You can book a call at the link at www.dinacataldo.com/155
Booking this call could change everything for you. It did for me when I hired my first coach.
I hope you have a wonderful week, and I'll talk to you soon.