I will eat well today. I will focus on enjoying healthy meals. I will go to the gym no matter how tired or sick I feel. How many times have we told ourselves some variation of this semi-encouraging, semi-coercive story to force ourselves to live up to our intentions? What if there were an easier way? What if this easier way actually made us more likely to carry through our intentions and with better results?
All you have to do is… invert two little words and put a question mark behind them. Impossible? Read on.
Researchers gave two groups of adults word puzzles to solve. Before starting, the first group was told to repeat to themselves, “I will, I will, I will.” I will do words puzzles, I will do well on word puzzles, I will kick ass on these word puzzles! The second group was told to repeat, “Will I?” Will I do word puzzles? Will I do well on these word puzzles? Will I kick ass on these word puzzles? When the researchers compared the two groups they found that the group that had repeated “Will I?” to themselves performed better overall on the word puzzles than the group that repeated “I will.”
Next, the researchers compared two groups of adults who were trying to start an exercise program. The first group journaled: “I will go to the gym X times a week. I will exercise every day. I will….” The second group journaled: “Will I go to the gym X times a week? Will I exercise every day? Will I…?” Guess what? The second group, the “Will I?” group, experienced more success at maintaining a regular exercise routine and reported greater feelings of internal motivation for doing so. The “I will” group reported less success and more feelings of obligation, shame, and failure. (As reported in Scientific American: Mind, “The Willpower Paradox,” July/Aug 2010.)
Does this really mean we can give up all our I wills and I shoulds, and turn them into Will I?? The mere idea might send a tantalizing chill down your spine. “Will I?” requires a leap of faith, a willingness to invite all the inner and outer resources in your life to support your intention. “Will I?” is soft and spacious, while “I will” is directed and focused. Giving up our sharp focus feels like handing the steering wheel over to our invisible friend and saying, “Hey Dude, you drive.”
But what if it really works? Look at the results the researchers are talking about:
strong internal motivation
sense of obligation
less pressure, more easeful
feelings of coercion and resistance
more long term success and persistence
more likely to lead to failure and shame
When you look at it this way, isn’t it worth a try? Start with something small. Write “Will I?” in front of a to-do list item, or even at the top. Put a post it note with “Will I?” on your bathroom mirror or steering wheel. Repeat it to yourself, let it settle into your bones. See if it works for you.
A few months ago I wrote “Will I?” in loopy cursive on a big board on my bedroom wall. It’s the first thing I see in the morning and the last before I go to sleep. The “Will I?” invites my creative mind, imagination, dreams, as well as my physical, emotional, logical, and spiritual body to approach my intention from all directions, with all the resources at my disposal. Even when I’m sleeping, resting, or focused elsewhere, the “Will I?” seems to work quietly in the background. Then when I settle down to focus, for example on writing this blog, “Will I?” reminds me that my writing is connected to the big picture of what I want to offer the world and my life: more love for more bodies everywhere. Everything I do then rises out of that spacious intention. After a couple of months of working with the “Will I?” practice, my to-do list feels more self-motivated: more effortless and enjoyable in a way I never imagined was possible.
When you sit down to eat, instead of telling yourself “I will make good choices around food,” try asking, “Will I make good choices around food? Will I eat what satisfies me? Will I feel full and content?” Instead of “I will go to the gym every day this week,” try, “Will I exercise every day this week? Will I go for a walk instead of going to the gym? Will I have fun exercising my body some every day?” Instead of, “I will be a good friend to my body today,” try, “Will I treat my body as a good friend today? How will I show my body I love it?”
Get as big and expansive as you want with it; “Will I hold true to my intention? Will I manifest my dream for myself and the world?” Invite in the possibilities, invite in your own potential. Step into your growing friendship with yourself with these two powerful little words, and their spunky, spacious sidekick: the question mark.
Next post: Do you and your body live in the same zip code? [I got waylaid before, but I mean it this time. I think.]