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The White Bear Experiment

May 4, 2012 by  
Filed under blog

I am sure, like me, you know some people who seem to have an endless supply of willpower and others that don’t seem to have a single once of it. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. And of course what we hope to find is “the secret” or a “formula” that will give us what we need. You might not believe this but researchers have uncovered a kind of secret that can be used by just about everyone that will amp up a person’s willpower. And it’s already, literally, there in your head.

First let me tell you about the “white bear” experiment. A number of years ago a professor at Trinity University in Texas instructed a number of students to NOT think about white bears for 5 minutes. Well they tried but they couldn’t do it. In fact the harder they tried the more that white bear thought would pop into their minds. Kelly McGonigal PhD, in her book The Willpower Instinct says, “The effect was strongest when people were already stressed out, tired or distracted.” Daniel Wegner, the professor that conducted the experiment, dubbed “this effect” as the “ironic rebound”. You push a thought away and it just boomerangs back.

Now what the heck does this have to do with a “breakthrough” to increase your willpower? Well, Kelly McGonigal goes on to explain in her book that “thought suppression” doesn’t work because of how our brains are wired but we can work around it. You’ll want to read her book to get the details about this but what I can tell you right now is a little about how to work with what your brain does. What you do is accept that bad or wrong thought which will give you great power to lead your brain to where you want it to be and very likely change or direct your behavior into something more positive and constructive. Here are just a few of Kelly’s suggestions that you can try yourself when you need more self-discipline or willpower.

1—Notice when are thinking about your temptation or feeling a craving.
2—Accept the thought or feeling without trying to immediately distract yourself or argue with it. Remind yourself of the white-bear rebound effect.
3—Step back by realizing that thoughts and feelings aren’t always under your control, but you can choose whether to act on them.
4—Remember your goal. Remind yourself of whatever your commitment is and what it means to you.

**If you like what you’ve read in this blog please send it on to people you know and love, to people who you think this message and information may be very helpful. There is nothing in the world that brings greater satisfaction than helping other people. Don’t you agree?

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