hide

Read Next

Developing Willpower, by Jason Shen

Jason Shen has achieved tremendous success in athletics, technology entrepreneurship, writing, and living an outstanding life. To promote his recent GiveGetWin deal on The Science of Willpower, he sat down to tell us how he started learning about willpower, the state of what's known scientifically about how willpower and the brain work, and how you can start improving your life right away by implementing a tiny habit, thinking and systems, and using some powerful thinking tools. Enjoy:

Developing Willpower by Jason Shen, as told to Sebastian Marshall

Willpower has been an undercurrent in my entire life. In gymnastics, you have to use your willpower to overcome your fear of an activity and go for the skill you want, to get over the fear, to push yourself to finish your conditioning and strength training a part of you doesn't want to…

It didn't come automatically to me. When I was a student, I wasn't automatically self-disciplined. There were actions I knew were useful, like doing my homework in one session without getting distracted, or not throwing clothing on my apartment floor. But I wouldn't always do them, and I didn't know why.

I started to learn those answers during a student initiative course at Stanford called The Psychology of Personal Change. That's when I first started reading academic papers on the topic. In academia, willpower and self-discipline is often called "self-regulation," and in 2009 I started to get really serious about it from an academic perspective -- and saw gains from it in my personal life.

From anger to understanding

On Inner teacher

"People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." Thich Nhat Hahn.

Me: Dear beloved teacher, you said that we never respond the same way to the same situation twice, but I find myself repeating some patterns of behavior over and over again, even when I do not like the outcomes. The most difficult of these habits is responding with anger. I do not like the feeling of being angry and I know that it does not improve my relationships, but similar situations seem to perturb me every time. Why does this happen? Why is it so difficult for me to change this response?

Teacher: Dear student, if you are repeating patterns of behavior that harm you and your relationships, it is because you are not able to receive the insight that will help you transform them. To change any habit, you must be able to clearly and convincingly tell yourself why you want to transform it. And once you have a good reason to transform it, you must give yourself a suitable alternative. If you simply focus on stopping yourself from repeating the habit, you will not succeed, because you cannot fight yourself and win. You can only train yourself to respond in a way that you believe is better.

Anger can be a particularly difficult habit to break because the generation of anger blocks us from receiving insight. Anger is an indication that you perceive a threat to your well-being. Anger is just an expression of fear. In a the state of fear, your mind reverts to a primitive state where you are solely focused on survival. You have only two choices, you can run or you can fight, neither of which is usually the appropriate course of action.

What do we hope to achieve by generating anger? We seek to control the people and situations around us in an attempt to prevent future occurrences of the stimulus that we believe created the anger within us. The question you should ask yourself is, why does this particular stimulus perturb me? What do I fear losing? Did this stimulus threaten my ego? What beliefs and identities do I have associated with my ego? Did I misunderstand the situation? These are the insights you require to avoid similar perturbations in the future. But because we do not have sufficient tools to survive our own anger, we focus all our energies on controlling our surroundings rather than transforming ourselves.

Rendering New Theme...