A Willing Heart vs. A Wagging Finger

This past week I’ve been helping my mom move. We were up in her attic going through items. I went to lift a box and grunted, “Mom, what is in this box?” My mom replied, “Oh, that’s all the projects I wanted to do but never got started!” It was full of quilting magazines earmarked for ideas. Dang, can they get heavy! The attic of good intentions.

Plato said we are like a charioteer driving a chariot being pulled by two horses: one horse represents passion and the other represents intellect. Our brain is the chariot and it is at war with itself by the things we want to do and the things we know we should or shouldn’t do. When we tell ourselves we “have to” do something it actually ramps up temptation and makes us feel constricted or deprived. When we “want to” do something, our intrinsic motivation is ramped up and we are more likely to do it. Researchers conducted a study with commuters on street sign effectiveness using both “want to” language and “have to” language. One sign read, “Will you take the stairs?” The other sign read, “Take the stairs!” At the decision point, commuters’ reactions to the “want to” language, “Will you take the stairs?” caused them to more often take the stairs versus the “have to” language. The autonomy and internal desire created the more lasting behavior change. Connecting the want to motivations makes more effective change.

So how do we help our inner charioteer to get our whole self working in harmony to reach our goals? As Susan David states in her book, Emotional Agility, a willing heart is more powerful than a wagging finger. The power of want can bring our actions more in line with what really matters to us. Try changing your inner dialogue from, “I have to reduce the number of emails in my inbox” to “I want to reduce…” Instead of, “I have to have this conversation,” say “I want to have this conversation.” Notice how your body reacts to have and want. I feel a tension and a resistance with have. I feel something open up when I say want. It helps me to find desire within rather than feeling obligated. An important point to consider is not neglecting underlying concerns by trying to force a “want to.” If you can’t find a want to in some particular part of your life, that could be a strong indicator that a change needs to occur.

What’s in your “attic” of good intentions? Can you find some internal desire that will motivate you to take action? As always, I’m here to listen and help. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

P.S. For the record, I did get to take the magazines out of the box and chuck them down the attic stairs to the recycle bin below. THAT was fun!


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