Solomon Success
Welcome! If this is your first time visiting Jason Hartman's website, please read this page to learn more about what we do here. You may also be interested in receiving updates from our blog via RSS or via email if you prefer. If you have any questions about Christian investing feel free to contact us anytime! Thanks!

SS 74 – The Will Power Instinct with Dr. Kelly McGonigal

Play

Episode: 74

Guest: Dr. Kelly McGonigal

iTunes: Stream Episode

Download: MP3

Dr. Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford university. Kelly is the author of The Will Power Instinct and on the show, she shares helpful insight on how people can strengthen their will power. Kelly also talks to Jason about addiction, stress, and escapism on today’s episode.

 

Key Takeaways:
2:10 – Today’s lesson is about will power.
5:00 – Will power can be trained.
13:35 – People who believe stress isn’t harmful had the lowest mortality rates.
18:35 – Feeling a deeper connection to your future self will help increase your will power.
22:25 – Kelly gives her thoughts on escapism.

 

Mentioned In This Episode:
KellyMcGonigal.com

 

Tweetables:
“In everything that we do, both successes and failures, there is a chance to learn.”

“A way to re-frame stress is to think of the physical stress response as something that gives you energy and courage.”

“People who have made any attempt to overcome addiction have tremendous will power.”

 

Transcript

Jason Hartman:
Hi there, it’s Jason Hartman your host and thank you for joining me for another episode of the Solomon Success show with Biblical wisdom for business and investing. Let’s go to today’s lesson and then I’ll come back on and then we’ll have our main portion with our guest relating to that lesson.

Announcer:
Will power is a topic of great interest to a wide variety of people. The reason for this is because of the tremendous personal power that can be commended by a person who successfully develops their will power to the point where temptation can be successfully resisted. Almost every person on the face of the planet can think of some way that they wished to be more disciplined. Sometimes this discipline is in the personal or physical realms of our lives by making time for relationships or exercise. Sometimes it is in the financial realm in having the discipline to follow a budget.

However in all walks in life, there are consistent temptations to do what they’re easy in lure of what is best. The power to resist these temptations are the source of all our personal, professional, and financial advancement in life. After all, it is always easier to relax today and save the work for tomorrow. It’s more fun to spend now and pay for it later. The problem always becomes when later rolls around and the price that we pay becomes greater and then we can bare.

In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “No temptation has over taken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with temptation he will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure.” What the Apostle Paul is telling us in this passage is that the temptation we encountered in life have been laid before us by God because of his knowledge that they’re not too great for us to overcome. The temptations we encounter in our life or our learning opportunity that has been provided to us by God.

In everything that we do, both successes and failures, there is a chance to learn. The way that we internalize and react to these opportunities is what determines how we will develop as human beings. Dr. Kelly McGonigal is a heath psychologist at Stanford University and author of The Will Power Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. In this book, she breaks down the science behind why we’re given the temptation and how we can find the strength to resist.

Dr. McGonigal’s work has been covered widely by the media including the CBS evening news, US News and World Report, CNN.com, O, The Opera Magazine, Time Magazine, USA Today, and the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology. She is also a frequent source of expert advice and commentary for media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC.com, WebMD, Time, Fitness, Women’s Health, and more.

Jason:
That was today’s lesson. Let’s get to our guest, but before we do that. Please regardless of what platform you’re listening to us on, whether it’ll be iTunes, Stitcher Radio or SoundCloud. Please go write us a review, we’d really appreciate that and check out the free resources at our website SolomonSuccess.com. Here’s today main segment.

It’s my pleasure Dr. Kelly McGonigal to the show. She is a health psychologist at Stanford and the author of The Will Power Instinct. What could be a more appropriate topic for the new year. Kelly, welcome, how are you?

Dr. Kelly McGonigal:
I’m doing great, how are you?

Jason:
Well, good. So, two really important topics actually. Will power, which of course a lot of people in the new year, every year, you know, the gym memberships increase and the health clubs are crowded and the diets are sold and the goals are sets and then by mid February, you know, it all sorts to start kind of Peter out and you talk about two areas of great interest to me, will power of course, but also stress and whether it’s good or bad. Let’s talk about will power first if we can and kind of talk about some of your latest research on the topic.

Kelly:
So, the book is based on the class I teach called the science of will power that I started teaching because I got really frustrated by the fact that I would talk to people undergraduates at Stanford, people in the community, who would say things like, I have this really big goal or I know I need to change this thing, but I don’t have the will power to do it. That really was at odds with what I knew about research on self-control and change, which says that will power is not a trait that people lack, it’s more like a strength that can be trained and I decided it was really important to offer a class specifically about the science of will power to help empower people to realize that change was possible and the fact that they were struggling with things like temptation, distraction, motivation, that was utterly human and it didn’t say something about, you know, what was uniquely wrong or weak about that and I feel like understanding the science of will power actually gives us a tremendous amount of self-compassion for why change is hard and why we may give in again and again to bad habits, while also giving us some really helpful strategies to making changes.

Jason:
So, it sounds like you’re saying then that will power is just like a muscle when you exert your muscles, they become stronger and more durable and they develop greater stamina. Is will power, is that a good analogy for will power?

Kelly:
It’s a great analogy. It also explains why we’re making a change or moving towards a goal, we sometimes feel will power exhausted that we can also fatigue strength, but as we challenge ourselves more and more, we develop a stronger will power reserve. Okay, so give us an example, if someone came to you and you were their personal trainer for will power, what would be the training program? How do we do this? What’s step one, two, and three, if you will?

Kelly:
Well, the first thing I encourage people to do in the class and in the book is rather than try to change something or to control themselves to think of themselves as will power athletes who need to be well rested and well fueled. There’s a real biology to will power, which says that in order to be the best version of ourselves, we actually need to have a brain that is well rested and a body that is will energized.

When we are sleep deprived or when our blood sugar is low, the brain the body shift into this state of being impulsive, being distracted, being stressed out, so before I even have people try to make their changes in their lives, I ask them to commit to an act of self-care, one that will support the energy of their brain and body.

Could be prioritizing sleep a little bit more, could be exercise or movement, and not necessarily a killer workout, but any sort of physical activity actually fuels the energy of the body. It could be something like meditation, which really improves how the brain uses energy and how the body deals with stress and to do all of that before you get started in, you know, kind of quit smoking or start a diet.

Jason:
Yeah, fantastic. Okay, is will power the same thing as mental toughness, same thing as tenacity or are there some distinctions here that we should make?

Kelly:
I think will power is a pretty big category and mental toughness is the strength that supports it. I define will power is the ability to make choices that reflect your highest goals and values even when it’s difficult, even when some part of you doesn’t want to. So, we need some mental toughness to do that, to deal with setbacks, to find the energy to do things that are difficult. I actually call that I will power, the ability to not give up, the ability to do things to make progress towards your goals even when you’re tired.

To really prioritize what matters instead of only dealing with what feels urgent, but we also need something called I won’t power, which is the ability to actually recognize and then control impulsive that move you away from your goals when you’re facing a temptation, when you’re about to say something that might hurt someone’s feelings, to be able toe recognize that before you do it and actually hold yourself back.

We also need a different kind of strength that I call I want power and that’s the ability to actually what your goals and values are. It’s a tremendous strength that most people don’t invest a lot of time in. To every day to think about what matters to me the most, not what feels urgent, not what’s worry me and stressing me out, but who do I want to be and what to I want to make my choices on the basis of and that’s also a strength we can train.

Jason:
I like those little phrases you have. I will power or I won’t power, I want power. Do you have any more of those? Those are great.

Kelly:
I mean, it’s really helpful to think in terms of your challenges like that. We’ve already talked about self-care of being the foundation of self-control and I like that phrase, because it actually points to a whole number of things that the signs of will power tells us that goes against many people’s intuitions and one of them is the intuition most people have that self-criticism is the foundation for self-control and the science suggests that self-criticism, guilt and shame, actually deplete our will power even more than sleep deprivation would where as self-care, self-compassion actually restores our will power.

Jason:
You know, on that self-care topic when you were talking about that a few minutes ago, I thought of people that are marathon runners and do these crazy long distance incredible endurance athletic feats, but isn’t that an example of incredible will power at a time when you’re beating the heck out of your body and most people would give up? I know I certainty would 1/3rd of the way through an iron man, if not much sooner.

Kelly:
Definitely. I think it’s actually one of the reasons why doing something like that is so attractive to many people because you recognize that you’re training these three different strengths we need. One of the best predictors of whether or not someone can finish a marathon or anything sort of event like that is their ability to tolerate the strength, you know, the physical symptoms of discomfort, to override fatigue and that turns out to be one of the best predictors of all sorts of things like whether you’re able to recover from an addiction and in someways actually training ourselves whether through exercise or other challenges to actually stick with something despite discomfort or despite anxiety is actually training us to meet any challenge with more will power.

Jason:
Yeah, amazing. So, training will power, that’s one area. I may want to come back and ask you some more questions about that, but just to make sure we cover the topic, let’s talk about stress for a moment. I have heard the concept of eustress, which I believe EUstress, probably, which is like the good stress I believe and then there’s obviously bad stress that everybody talks about and knows about. Distinguish the whole stress phenomenon for us if you would.

Kelly:
Well, so when I talk about stress, I’m mostly talking about reaction of the body, which doesn’t distinguish too much between eustress or distress. It’s a reaction of the mind and the body that is designed to help you focus on what is important.

It gives you energy to take action and it also tends to motivate us to try to connect with others who might be able to support us or who are important in our community and relationships that matter to us and we have this physical stress response, you know, any time that we recognize that we’re up against a challenge and too often I think in our society, we think of stress as being a fundamentally bad thing, because also situations that trigger that response are ones we really rather avoid.

You know, maybe we don’t want to have a conflict with someone, we don’t want to feel pressure at work, we don’t want to get bad news, but I’ve been really fascinated with the idea that you can not necessarily want the situations that trigger stress, but really appreciate the mind/body response of stress as something that can help you reach your goals if you have the right mindset about it.

Jason:
Okay, in your TED talk, you talked about that, that people believed, I mean, this is the old psychosomatic medicine concept that still not enough people are aware of, but it sounds like the belief that stress is bad makes it much worse, right?

Kelly:
Yes, this is actually, to me, this was some pretty scary news, because as a health psychologist, I was trained stress is bad, stress makes you sick, stress will kill you and I spent a lot of time telling people that in my classes and basically making people scared of stress and then a few years ago I came across the first study showing that stress only seems to increase the risk of death among people that believe stress is bad for you where as people who experience a lot of stress, but don’t believe stress is harmful have the lowest rate of mortality of anyone, even compared to people who don’t have a lot of stress in their lives and that first study that came out, there have been a number of studies by different researchers, different labs, different populations showing the same effect. It made me really re-think the way I was talking about stress and motivated me to find a way of re-framing stress that would avoid possible the more toxic effects of stress.

Jason:
Okay, so re-framing it. How do we re-frame it? Give us some examples of what we can do to think about probably, in a proper context.

Kelly:
One really exciting way to re-frame stress is to think of the physical stress response as being something that gives you access to energy and courage. There’s research that’s come out of Harvard showing that when people view own anxiety and stress response, their pounding heart, maybe they’re breathing faster, if they view that as their brain and body trying to give them energy, it actually allows them to perform them under pressure. It reduces the felt experience of anxiety and it even makes the stress response healthier. You can have the exact same stressful experience, the exact same physical systems of stress, but when you appreciate that it’s you’re brain and body trying to give you energy, it subtly shifts the severe-ology of stress for it state that it’s actually cardiovascularly very healthy and not likely to increase your risk of illness or cardiovascular disease. So that’s an re-frame and there are other ways to see the upside of stress response that makes it less of something that we want to avoid.

Jason:
You know, that reminds me a little bit of the times in my life and I’ve certainly heard stories of other people experience this one, you know, when someone wants to do something and then a personal that is important or authoritative in their life will say, you can’t do that and they’ll actually overcome all odds to make it happen just to kind of prove the other person wrong or prove to themselves they can do it. Is any of that in there?

Kelly:
Yes, you know, in some ways stress will give you access to your own resources including your strength and your motivation. Although, I don’t recommend it as like a parenting strategy to tell people they can’t do something, when you, yourself, get that message, even just understanding like okay, this is an opportunity and it feels bad when someone tells me that, will this feeling bad is actually giving me access to my motivation and to recognize that it can also be a source of strength.

Jason:
So, it gives you access to your own resources. I really like the way you put that. Very, very interesting. Well, what else can we learn from stress and I guess that kind of thing I mentioned of the stress and the challenge of being told you can’t do it as kind of a will power, maybe that’s one area where they cross over and the two merge together, but the two interrelate in a lot of ways that the topic of will power and stress?

Kelly:
Definitely. So, one of the things that seems to be the case is stress can shift us into a state of focusing on the short term rather than the long term and the stress can then make us more likely say, to give into temptation or to procrastinate and in that case I think actually the solution for the stress and the solution for the will power challenge is the same and that is to seek social support and connections. That seems to be the antidote to sort of many of the challenges that make us feel isolated, make us feel unhelpfully stressed out, and that leads us to make bad choices.

Another way to sort of re-frame the stress response is to understand that in many cases your body will try to motivate you to seek out connection when you’re stressed out and if we give ourselves permission to listen to that signal, maybe stress makes you feel a little bit lonely or stress makes you crave comfort. That’s actually your body and brain trying to encourage you to go out and be around people who care about you and that also seems to be an incredible source of will power, the feeling of being connected actually encourages us to make better choices that are consistent with our goals and values.

Jason:
Very interesting. So, that makes us, that stress can make us, you know, more of a social animal and increase sense of community, right?

Kelly:
It can, especially when we listen to it.

Jason:
Very good. Well, what else do you, I mean, as a health psychologist, what else do you teach students about this topic? It’s so interesting that, I think a lot of, I think the world of health doesn’t deal enough with psychology, it’s more about medicine and things that are considered more of a hard science than a soft science of psychology, you may not like that I called psychology a soft science, I think to a lot of people they view it that way.

Kelly:
Yeah, it’s soft in the sense that it’s incredibly complex. I wish we could do lab experiments that allow us to say we’ve proven this and it’s all nice and neat. I would say one of the psychological things that really plays a role in will power has to do with how we think about our future self and a lot of the choices we make that lead to negative health consequences come from a place of feeling like your future self is a stranger that we don’t feel that motivated to take care of our future self, because I’d say we’re throwing away our pleasure or resources and our time on some old person who’s somehow not really us and a lot of interesting and psychological interventions now are trying to help people feel connected to and caring towards their future self.

To understand, you know what, when that day comes, it’s going to be you and that experience is going to be just as real and vivid as the experience you’re having now and you really are going to be the recipient of the choices you make today and so that’s something we spend some time with in the class and in the book, thinking about ways to feel connected to your future self, so you’re willing to invest.

Jason:
If people were connect to their future self, they’d start eating right, they’d start exercising, and God, they’d stop smoking. I mean, smoking has just got to be the worst thing anybody can possibly do. There’s just no benefit whatsoever and everything about it is negative. You can rationalize that drinking has some benefits, but smoking, there’s just nothing there.

Kelly:
One thing that’s important to recognize with all of this behavior is that there are often an attempt to escape from suffering in the present moment. I mean, it’s not like people are weak or stupid. In some cases, they’re making a rational choice that says the pain right now is bad or the stress or the craving is so bad that giving in seems like the rational thing to do, because I don’t think I can stand this experience I am having and one of the other psychological strengths that we spend some time cultivating is that trust you can handle difficult sensations and emotions and experience and that’s a strength and a trust that needs to be developed over time so that people can actually make choices to delay the cigarette or to not take that drink.

Jason:
Certainty if they couldn’t access it, if they couldn’t access it, if it was completely unavailable in the environment, it’s not like they would die. They would somehow find away to muddle through and think things would work out.

Kelly:
But in that moment it often feels like it or it feels like dying would be a preference to the suffering or the pain that is present and I actually want to point out that for people who are dealing with behaviors like addiction or smoking that often they have more will power than people who have never struggled with addiction and we can be very quick to judge because it looks like a weakness, man, people who have made any attempt to overcome addiction have tremendous will power.

Jason:
Oh, listen, I completely agree. Nicotine has got to be such an incredibly addictive substance because if you look at the warning labels, you go to other countries and you see the warning labels that are actually photographs and they are larger than they are in America. It’s not like these people don’t know. I mean, it’s got to be just an incredibly powerful chemical to overcome all of that rational thought, I mean, I’m not judging that in the sense that saying these people are dumb or unaware, they know and it just shows you it’s just an incredibly powerful substance. It’s amazing. T

hat actually leads me to maybe one other quick topic here, I know we’re limited on time here, but escapism. I have long believed Kelly that some degree of escapism is actually okay. In fact, you may totally disagree with me on this, I believe that Maslow’s hierarchy should have even included escapism as a concept, some degree of escapism as long as it’s not destructive, but you know, maybe you’ll say it’s always destructive, I don’t know, but it seems like that’s sort of, you know, it depends the way we do it, we all have our different ways, but it kind of a pressure release valve almost. Is it okay or is it just a bad thing all around?

Kelly:
I think it’s absolutely okay. I guess you could call it wholesome escapism. There are a lot of activities that give us the experience of being completely immersed in an activity, could be a great narrative TV series that you watch, you know, maybe a few episodes of in one sitting, it could be a great book, could be a hobby, could be being outdoors, sports, exercise, there are a lot of activities where what we’re actually escaping things like, you know, the not so helpful habits of the mind that maybe keeping us worrying, the physical pressures that we experience or work that we’ve left or really want to leave behind. Escapism is only a problem when it starts to take over areas of your life where you really should be spending time on something else, but I think people should give themselves permission to do the things that restore them and it really is not time wasted.

Jason:
Okay, so let’s, just before you go, let’s just define the types of escapism. So, certainty being engaged in physical activity would be considered a good escapism. I mean, just the fact that we’re moving, you know, it changes our equilibrium, it changes our state. I don’t think anyone would argue that’s a good form of escapism, but what about alcohol for example?

Kelly:
That is probably not helpful and I think the way you can probably distinguish between the two is how the episode ends. I mean, alcohol, in theory, having a glass of wine could be a positive way to restore yourself, but the things that are not helpful escapism are the things where they never really end with satisfaction, when they start to look more like an addiction, you know, is it the case that you can play a video game and feels great or do you not stop until you pass out and I think some actives are more likely than other to create that cycle of, well, it seems like it’s good, but I can never actually get enough of it, spending, sometimes video games, you know, food, drink, these are things where often they will continue to trigger the need to engage with them rather than give us a natural sense of completion. Very few people are going to exercise themselves to death because they just can’t stop. The wholesome escapism, we tend to feel nicely resolved at the end of it and ready to reengage with some other aspects of our life.

Jason:
That’s a key phrase I think you said, we feel nicely resolved after it. So, yeah, very good. Very good distinction. That’s great. Well, Kelly, give out your website if you would, tell people where they can find out about you.

Kelly:
You can find on the web, on Twitter, and on Facebook by my name Kelly McGonigal. KellyMcGonigal.com and The Will Power Instinct, the book, is available everywhere.

Jason;
Fantastic. Any closing thoughts that you’d like to leave us with?

Kelly:
I would say that the number one thing that I hope people experience from the book and from the class is to understand that the things we tend to judge ourselves on that we may believe that we are weak or inadequate because of the struggles we’ve experience that whatever they are, they aren’t unique. To understand the common humanity of the stuff and it maybe be one thing for you and something else for me, but the way we experience challenges around will power is fundamentally the same and it’s our ability to kind of accept that, but often gives us the strength to change.

Jason:
Fantastic. Very good points. Dr. Kelly McGonigal, thank you so much for joining us today.

Kelly:
You’re welcome.