Willpower vs. Compassion


Willpower never works for maintaining self-control, trying to hold a position or doing a movement in a certain way. It's stressful, impossible to maintain, and creates rigidity. We fatigue and break down.

Moshe Feldenkrais knew this as the Law of Reverse Effort.

The Swiss psychologist Charles Baudouin wrote that, “Any straining of the will that is in opposition to the imagined process will cause damage.” Furthermore, “Any exercise of willpower results in failure if unaccompanied by imagination and faith.” Baudouin might have gotten it from Aldous Huxley, who wrote on what he also called the Law of Reversed Effort:

"The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity...We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is to foster a state of mind in which understanding may come to us."

(Both Huxley and Baudouin were alive during the same time period, 1890's to the 1960s, so who knows who got it from whom.)

Fast forward to last week, and the New York Times published an article on this same topic, namely, where does self-control come from? The author, a psychologist at Northeastern University, writes:

"In choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals, we’re 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...Given self-control’s importance for success, it seems as if evolution should have provided us with a tool for it that was less excruciating to use."

The better route is described as:

"Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use."

The comment I particularly love is this one:

"When people who are exceedingly focused and dedicated to using force of will to achieve their goals come up short, they report a hit to their well-being that is 120 percent greater than that reported by those who follow a less austere and stressful path."

In short, long-term rewards are better served when we're motivated by gratitude and compassion than by the stress of grit and force. It is exactly the same in Awareness Through Movement: the pushing and the straining to achieve only create stress and limitation. Challenging the mind to slow down and use self-compassion instead of judgment is where the learning starts.

Check out the article here: The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions, based on the research of David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University who studies the impact of emotion on decision-making and social behavior.