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When Willpower Fails

Over the years of working with folks around the practice of self-empathy, I've heard many stories about failure to follow through on some particular action and the self-criticism that brings up.  I'm guessing you can come up with a few examples like this from your own life.  For example, maybe you've felt determined and inspired to exercise three times a week and found that you succeed for the first few weeks and then six months later you realize you have completely forgotten about your commitment.  Your inner critic pipes up and starts tell you how you have no will power and you're a failure and why can't you get it together?!!

What you forget in those moments, is that long lasting change doesn't happen through willpower alone.  You live in a system and if the system you are in doesn't support the change you want to make, it can't help but fail.  For example, you might be a dedicated student of Compassionate Communication, but you find that over and over again, despite the number of classes you have attended, you can't access the perspective and skills you value.  Your inner critic will try to solve the problem by asking what's wrong with you.  This launches you into a black hole of self-analysis, which, of course, is painful, so you look around for something to quiet that analysis perhaps through distraction, food, alcohol, or drugs.   Strategies like these make it even more difficult to access the perspective and skills you value.  Then your inner critic starts talking again.  Round and round it goes, the wheel of suffering.

Questions like, "What's wrong with me?" keep you on the wheel.  A more helpful question to ask is, "What do I need to change in my life to support me in learning Compassionate Communication (or anything you are pursuing)?" or "What support structures do I want to put in place to help me succeed with this?"

Asking these questions is a good first step.  The next step of reflecting on the system you're in and how to change it can be pretty challenging.  For example, you might notice that the friends you have had for years don't really support the change you are trying to make.  When you get together, there's lots of alcohol and gossip.  This doesn't help you access the mindfulness and turning towards compassion that would support you in learning compassionate communication.  You feel torn because you care for them and at the same time the interactions don't align with your values.

Often changing systems requires big decisions, like ending friendships, changing careers, moving, or giving up particular entrenched habits.  Sometimes, smaller decisions can make a big difference as well, like changing your schedule, shifting the lighting in your work space, or getting a new desk chair.  Whatever the level or size of the change it's important to have a sense of humility about the impact that your environment and system has on your ability to evolve and create positive changes.  You aren't functioning on your own.  You live in a dynamic physical, emotional, energetic, mental, and spiritual matrix.  To the extent that this matrix aligns with your values and aliveness is the extent to which you will experience a sense ease and synergy as you walk your path.


Take a moment now to reflect on a positive change you have been wanting to make.  Ask yourself some version of these two questions:  "What do I need to change in my life to support me in this?" or "What support structures do I want to put in place to help me succeed with this?"

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1 Response

  1. Nov 07, 2014
    Bob Rosengard

    Hello, LaShelle!

    I just wanted to tell you how useful I find your mailings.

    This one came at exactly the right time!

    All the best,


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