A Reflection On Willpower Challenge: Getting Out Of Comfort Zone

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My willpower challenge is, I want to get out of my comfort zone. I have never attempted anything like this until now. I was diagnosed with high functioning anxiety when I was fourteen years old since then I have never done anything out of my comfort zone because it is too unpredictable. As a result, I have missed many opportunities that could have given me a good experience. However, I plan to change my way of thinking. I want to have the willpower to say yes when an opportunity arises. Of course, it was easier saying it than doing it. There have been some difficulties getting out of my comfort zone. One of the difficulties would be my unhealthy behaviour to use excuses to get out of situations that involve me getting out of my comfort zone. My most popular excuses are telling myself and my friends that I have school work that needs to be done. Even if the work does not need to be completed for another three weeks. I have this compulsion to put school ahead of everything, including my personal life and my willpower challenge. I knew I would be successful at completing my willpower challenge when I was able to cook two meals per week for my family. Cooking is the top thing I am most uncomfortable with. However, I was not successful in completing my willpower challenge. My failure was due to not being able to resist Moral Licensing, meaning that I rewarded myself by cheating on my willpower challenge. During the semester I was constantly in Decision Fatigue. However, there were two methods that I used on a daily bases, and even though I failed at my willpower challenge these methods helped me improve my everyday life. Meditation helped me to deal with situations that caused me anxiety. The What-the-Hell- Effect taught me the importance of being self-forgiving rather than constantly criticizing myself. There was also two methods I wished I tried, it was Exposure Therapy, which involves someone confronting their fears rather than avoiding them. The other was Social influence, as human beings, we naturally will copy others, so perhaps if I was around more people who are more adventurous than I am then I could be too.

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When we do something good it will build up our self-esteem. Sometimes we can feel so good about ourselves that we feel the need to reward ourselves. Like, rewarding ourselves with the temptations we are trying to avoid, perhaps cheating on your diet. Science calls this Moral Licensing. From the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, she talks about a woman named Cheryl who wanted to lose fifteen pounds before her wedding. She was doing great she was going to the gym three times a week, however, her mindset was not in the place. Every calorie Cheryl burned she would think about the food she could eat after. Soon she began the unhealthy habit of associating exercise with food. As a result, Cheryl gained three pounds. Kelly McGonigal states, “Moral Licensing is a trick that acts against our best interest. It convinces us self-sabotaging behaviour like breaking your diet, blowing your budget, or sneaking a smoke is a treat’. That is exactly how I felt. I viewed staying in my comfort zone as a reward for getting out of my comfort zone. I kept a number of how many times I got out of my comfort zone and when I thought I did enough, I would avoid the next opportunity that would come up. There is a way to break this unhealthy habit, I needed to stop and really think about the choice of cheating on my willpower challenge, and how it would affect my goal. Sometimes it worked because it would remind me of my goal and why I am trying to get out of my comfort zone, but most of the time it did not work. The urge to reward myself became very empowering. I do not think this method worked for me because I am a very reward orientated person. So when I did something good, like getting out of my comfort zone I would reward that hard work with staying in my comfort zone and avoid my long term goal, which is cooking for my family.

Decision Fatigue is when the brain gets very tired after making so many decisions. When the brain is tired, we become exposed to the temptations around us. According to Rescue Time Blog, there was a case study that ‘observed 1,100 parole hearings in the USA. They found that it was not the criminal’s crime, background, or sentence. It was the time of their hearing” (Jory Mackay 2018). Criminals who had their hearing in the morning were more likely to get parole, unlike criminals who had their hearing in the late afternoon. The result was because the judges are tired after making so many decisions that they did not want to make any more big, important decisions. So they took the safer route and denied criminals parole. For me when I am tired, I do not even want to attempt getting out of my comfort zone or anything else. I just want to go home and nap. I noticed this behaviour right away once decision fatigue was mentioned in class. I knew that I would be mentally exhausted after school, so I made the decision to tackle my willpower challenge on the weekends. However, avoiding decision fatigue by tackling my willpower challenge on the weekend did not work for me. I was constantly busy with school or other commitments I made, and then I experienced decision fatigue again. Sometimes if I had a quiet weekend I would take an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, but it was very rare. I learned that I need to start using weekends to focus on my wellbeing and my goals rather than book it up will more events or activities.

According to Headspace, a highly acclaimed meditation app, meditation is “not about changing you as a person. It is helping you train your brain to become more aware of your body and mind while helping gain a balanced perspective on life through deep breathing”. There was a study that wanted to see if meditation is associated with cortical thickness. There were two groups of people. Group one was made up of experienced mediators and people who practiced meditation. Group two were made up of people who did not meditate. Every group got an MPRAGE, and they found that group one who made a ‘regular practice of meditation had increased thickness in the subsect the cortical region related to somatosensory, auditory, visual, and interceptive processing. This means that group one was actually slowing the ageing process of the prefrontal cortex’. The experimented not only proved their hypothesis, but it also showed that regular practice of meditation will gradually help you to become more successful in dealing with stressful situations. Practicing meditation not only benefited me in my willpower challenge but also helped me to deal with the anxiety I got when stressful encounters came up. Every morning before school I would take five minutes of my time and meditate. As a result, my state of mind was more balanced throughout the day, and I was calmer. There were many stressful situations that came up in school but I managed to stay calm and take one obstacle at a time. I also used meditation when I went to my first therapy appointment. I was very nervous, I was even tempted to cancel the appointment at the last minute. I knew I needed to go to this appointment, so I used an app on my phone called Headspace (Meditation App) and meditated for ten minutes. I felt less stress and had a clear mindset. As a result, I went to that therapy appointment.

The What-the-hell-effect was discovered by Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman. The What-the-Hell effect is when we feel stressed, guilty, or ashamed about doing something, perhaps overdrinking, cheating on your diet, etc. Then we go back to the thing that made us feel guilty and ashamed because our minds are telling us that is what will make our mind feel better. However, there is a way to break this behaviour. The Willpower Instinct wrote about a study that was conducted by two psychologists named Clair Adams and Mark Leary, they both wanted to see if there was a way to break the cycle by using self-forgiveness. They got a group of young women who were dieting and asked these women to test taste junk food. These women were divided into two groups. One group received a kind message that was meant to relive the women’s guilt of indulgencing and the second group did not receive any kind message. The result was, the group that received the message ate fewer treats than group two. Kelly McGonigal says that ‘self-criticism gives will promote less motivation and worse self-control, and is the biggest sign in depression. While self-forgiveness will promote more motivation and better self-control, especially in stressful situations”. Understanding the What-the-Hell Effect and its negative impact on my life and my willpower challenge really helped me. I truly thought that being self-critical of myself was actually helping me to avoid giving into temptation. When I took a moment and thought about this behaviour and read the case studies I realized that being hard on myself for not getting out of my comfort zone was actually driving me to stay in my comfort zone. Last month I made it my goal to not take the back roads to Kitchener and go onto the number seven and eight highway. The first time I made that goal I ended up taking the back roads because I got really nervous. I was about to criticize myself, but before I did I remembered what the Willpower Instinct said about self-criticism, and I knew if I started to be unreasonably hard on myself it will lead me back to my comfort zone. So I told myself, ‘Do not worry about it, at least you had the mindset. You plan to go into Kitchener next week, I am positive you can take the number seven and eight highway then.” And it really worked, I did end up taking the number seven and eight highway!

This year I would like to try Exposure Therapy. As I have mentioned before, I do have high functioning anxiety. Anxiety is a normal and helpful feeling, it helps you to identify dangers. However, my mind has misdirected fears and dangers, and now it is not helpful for my wellbeing. Exposure therapy involves the person confronting their fears, experience the feelings they get as they are being exposed to the fear, and then learning that their fear will not actually hurt them. Exposure therapy will help me see that the fears I have are not harmful, by experiencing the fears that I have it will help readjust the processing parts of my brain. By doing this I can activate the operator part of my brain and it will readjust the so-called fear I have in the monitor part of my brain. My hope is that eventually my mind and body will be more balanced and I will have a better perception of what I should fear and what should I not fear.

I would also like to expose myself to a new group of people. I would prefer if these people did not have anxiety. Reason being, because behaviours are contagious. In the Willpower Instinct, it states, ‘research from fields of psychology, marketing. And medicine reveals that our choices are influenced by what other people think, want and do. Eventually, we become accustomed to what they think, want, and do’. Kelly McGonigal shared the story of a man named Mark in her book The Willpower Instinct. Mark was around coworkers who smoked, and eventually, he started to copy their behaviour and he started to smoke too. It is a negative example, but I read that and thought about how I could use this compulsive behaviour to my advantage at my willpower challenge. I strongly believe that if I meet a new group of friends who have a more adventurous mindset, that I will eventually copy their adventurous behaviour.

In conclusion, my willpower challenge is, I want to get out of my comfort zone. I knew I would be successful at my willpower challenge if I was able to cook two meals per week for my family. However, I did fail at my willpower challenge. It was because I could not resist the urge of moral licensing. When I took an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, I rewarded myself by refusing the next opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. I also made the goal to complete my willpower challenge on the weekend to avoid decision fatigue, however, I still was filling up my weekends with school work and other commitments I made. As a result, I experienced decision fatigue again and did not work on my willpower challenge. However, there were some methods that were very helpful to me and improved my life. Mediating for five to ten minutes a day before school helped me to keep a clear mind and to stay calm in stressful situations. Learning to break the What-the-Hell-Cycle helped me to see that forgiving myself is a better path to follow than criticizing myself. At the moment I did fail at my willpower challenge. However, I am not a person who gives up easily. There are two methods I plan to use throughout the year to help me complete my willpower challenge. I plan to try exposure therapy, this type of therapy gets clients to confront their fears by experiencing them. By experiencing the fear, the client is learning that the fear will not actually hurt them, this helps them to redirect the thinking process of the brain. I also want to expand my friend group by meeting people who are more adventurous than I am. I think that this would benefit me more because the more you are around a certain group of people, the more you start to copy them.

References

  • Lazar Sara, Kerr, Catherine E, Wasserman, Rachel H, Gray Jeremy R, Greve Douglas N, Treadway, Michael T., McGarvey, Mettae,Quinn, Brian T. Dusek, Jeffery A.; Benson, Herbert Rauch, Scott L, Moore Christopher I, Fischl, Bruced , ‘Meditation Experience is Associated with Increased Cortical Thickness’ Volume 16 Issue 17, September 19th, 2005, page number 1895 paragraph 5, NeuroReport, https://journals.lww.com/neuroreport/Abstract/2005/11280/Meditation_experience_is_associated_with_increased.5.aspx
  • N.N “What Is Meditation.” Headspace, N.D www.headspace.com/meditation-101/what-is-meditation.
  • MacKay, Jory. “Decision Fatigue: What It Is and How It’s Killing Your Motivation – RescueTime.” RescueTime Blog, 20 Mar. 2018, blog.rescuetime.com/decision-fatigue/.
  • McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Avery, 2013. Electronic Print
16 August 2021

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