In the last few weeks I have spent an unusual amount of time at home as a small health issue has prevented me from moving about much. Stillness not being one of my strengths, it was very frustrating at first, leaving me fairly restless and impatient and mostly thinking what a waste of time. As the days have gone by and having settled into a different and slower pace, a few surprises have “surprisingly” revealed themselves.
Did you know for example that if you are housebound and there is absolutely no agenda for the day, it can simply go into a kind of flow mode where thoughts can just come and go, kids can curl up on your lap for random chats and pancake dinner feels one hundred percent appropriate? Or did you know for example that suddenly you are presented with that very rare opportunity of discovering new things to do with your hands and attend to some of those projects you have said you will do some day, when you have got spare time. Like 10 years’ worth of photo albums, making pompom garlands, researching new recipes and summer holiday destinations and the perfect colour for the poor hallway wall that has been left unpainted for an unmentionable number of years?
Stillness, after all, is not so bad seen in this light. In fact, I think I may just go ahead and plan some more agenda free, housebound days for us all. Making sure first, of course, that the cupboards are well stocked with ingredients for pancakes!
This Sunday just gone I attended a course on Neuroscience. In other words I was learning about how our brains work or actually more accurately about the current understanding of how our brains work. New discoveries are made all the time and I really like that the lovely professor (Patricia Riddle) who is teaching us emphasizes that no one can really know for sure, but research allows someone like her to form strong hypothesises. (What a fiddly word. Am not sure it is presented in its correct form, but bear with me.)
Anyhow, I am getting sidetracked from what I really wanted to share here today which is that although the human brain can have plenty of empathy for others, it is (according to current knowledge) unable to let us feel empathy for ourselves. Isn’t that fascinating? This little nugget of information has been whizzing around my brain and I am left wondering if that is the main reason so many people excel at giving themselves a really hard time. ”I feel no empathy for myself.” Full stop.
If you are one of those people, it might be worth considering doing role plays, where you pretend to be “a friend”. Literally imagine it is someone else who is experiencing what you are experiencing and feel yourself have empathy for your “friends’” situation. What would you tell that friend? How supportive would you be towards someone in that situation? Then step back into your own shoes taking the kind words and support with you. Definitely worth a try next time we give ourselves a real hard time, don’t you think? When it comes to empathy it would simply be fair to share.
Did you know that the more decisions you make in a day the more you drain your willpower? According to new research our willpower apparently operates pretty much like a battery. When we have used up a certain amount our willpower battery needs re-charging. If our battery is running low we generally will either go for the easiest option or stop making decisions altogether.
Isn’t this fascinating? I find it hugely so. It explains some of my more erratic or irrational decisions. (Some but not all, I’m sure!) And it goes some way to explain why I so easily give in to temptation – especially at the end of the day. Knowing this allows me to acknowledge that I am not simply someone with very little willpower. It means that when I find myself especially reluctant to decide or just purely go for the easy way out, my battery may be in need of re-charging. I am not simply of a weak nature. (Deep sighs of relief.)
How can this knowledge be useful going forward?
- If you are planning to make changes in your life, consider the amount of willpower will be required. Make sure to break your plans into manageable “chunks”, so your battery doesn’t run flat.
- Create habits. If something is a habit for you, you eliminate having to make decisions and therefore consume less of your willpower energy.
- Plan your time. Don’t schedule “important decision making sessions” at work, at home or with yourself at the end of a long day.
Much more information about how these findings came about and how it impacts on dieters, poor people, whether you make parole and how you may end up paying extra for features you don’t really care about can be found in this very interesting article in the: New York Times
Thanks to Ian McDermott from ITS and professor of Neuroscience Patricia Riddell for a very inspiring seminar introducing this fascinating topic.