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Enhance Willpower: Change Your Inner Dialogue

A recent survey reported by the American Psychological Association of 566 adults revealed that most people(93%) made a resolution to change some aspect of their behavior in 2012. Many did not succeed. The top reason most gave for failing in their efforts to lose weight, save money, exercise or make other lifestyle changes was lack of willpower.

What Accounts For This Lack Of Willpower?

Willpower is defined as the inner strength that enables us to make decisions and carry them out. What many may describe as a “lack of willpower” may actually reflect a tendency to overlook an important factor that influences our determination to make something happen – our inner dialogue.

Inner Dialogue

Our inner dialogue is actually the fabric of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Sometimes the inner message is very conscious; sometimes it is so automatic that we hardly know we are thinking it; and sometimes it is without conscious thought.

Often if it is negative, we may just feel down, hopeless, unmotivated, angry or anxious – the associated feelings to defeating messages sent to self.

“Outing” the Internal Dialogue

Stopping to consider your inner messages – what you tell yourself about yourself – is invaluable in harnessing willpower. It involves:

  • Recognizing and understanding your inner dialogue
  • Altering the negative messages
  • Accessing the positive ones.

It makes the difference between heading to your goal with an inner critic or a positive internal coach.

Recognizing and Understanding Your Inner Dialogue

Our inner messages are central to our definition of self. Many evolve from our earliest experiences and identifications with the significant parental figures. Years may pass but we may still echo our own internalized version of what we were told.

  •  “I knew you would do a wonderful job on that picture!”
  • “Can’t you ever get it right?”
  • “You are not as friendly as your brother – that’s why you have no friends.”
  • “You’ll always be fat!”

Sometimes our inner dialogue is shaped by experiences we have had over our life. Some experiences are so positive that they become life messages we can carry and draw upon.

  • “I can’t believe I actually won the scholarship.”
  • “I’m a Marine – I can do anything.”

Some experiences trap us in a perception colored by pain or shame that obscures the best of us.

  • “I must be a loser or he would have stayed with me.”
  • “I’ve made such bad relationship and career choices – I can’t trust myself.”

Sometimes we carry inner messages that are context bound. Locked into an old experience of self in a certain time or place, we continue to tell ourselves things that don’t apply out of that context and sabotage our efforts.

  • “I was never an athlete growing up. How can I run in my forties?”
  • “I flunked out of college at 18 – Who am I to think of going back to school.”
  • “I wasn’t ever one of the popular kids. I don’t speak up in groups.”

Altering the Negative Messages – Accessing the Positive Ones

There is no doubt that positive affirmations underscore willpower. Make room for the positive coach inside of you by altering the negative messages.

If they are negative historical echoes, consider replacing them with a positive message from your present adult selfThat was then. They should see me now. That was a very small world. I own my life and my goals. I know how to parent myself. I want this for myself.  I have people in my life now who believe in me.

If they are positive use them and connect them to your present goal. – They always said I loved competition. I usually figured out a way. My parents never gave up on me. My Dad knew I was smart. I’m like my Mother – I don’t give up.

If they are negative messages from life experiences re-frame and use them as positive assets. –  If I could get though cancer, I can do anything. I am not a victim – I’m a survivor. If I could cook for 4 kids all those years, I can cook for myself on this diet. I want to be strong enough to travel alone or with a group.

If you are faulting yourself or being told you are your own worst enemy because of your “lack the willpower” to achieve your goal, consider that you may be stuck in an old survival pattern.

A crucial way to drop negative messages is to recognize why we think we need to hang on to them.

One of the things we find when rationale adults seem to be sabotaging themselves is that the best survival techniques of childhood are often the most self-defeating patterns of adult life. Rather than berating yourself, accept that you once needed to survive – now you have a right to live.

  • It is really ok to lose weight – You don’t have to protect a jealous sister.
  • You don’t have to play dumb and be the silent audience anymore because no one is going to demean you for interrupting Dad or telling a story.”
  • You can change careers – there is no rule that you have to be what someone else wanted you to be in order to be loved.”
  • You can try out new lifestyle modes without being perfect because no one is checking or needs perfection- not even you.

Workable External Plan

If you can use your inner dialogue and positive affirmations to trust yourself to choose and follow a workable plan toward your goal, your willpower will be enhanced and your success more likely.

As described in the Blog, “Who Said That Change Was Easy?”

  • Plan a change when you have time and energy to focus
  • Set up simple and clear day by day goals
  • Record change
  • Work with others if that will motivate you
  • Find other motivations
  • Stay with it even if you lapse
  • Support others

…. and no matter what…keep your inner dialogue positive!

Woman thinking photo available from Shutterstock.

Enhance Willpower: Change Your Inner Dialogue


Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP

Suzanne B. Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist. She is Adjunct Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Doctoral Program of Long Island University and on the faculty of the Post-Doctoral Programs of the Derner Institute of Adelphi University. Suzanne Phillips, PsyD and Dianne Kane are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Learn more about their work at couplesaftertrauma.com . Visit Suzanne's Facebook Page HERE.


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APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2012). Enhance Willpower: Change Your Inner Dialogue. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2012/03/enhance-willpower-change-your-inner-dialogue/

 

Last updated: 3 Mar 2012
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.