The science of willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

TED Blog

KellyMcGonigal_Q&A It’s the second week in January and, at about this time, that resolution that seemed so reasonable a week ago — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower…

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Meeting the neighbors.

In 2007 I sought out to meet my neighbors and let me tell you, it wasn’t as foreign and scary as I thought. My neighbors were extremely friendly and in conversation I came to find that my neighbors felt the same way about meeting new people. I set out to meet most of my neighbors on my block from right to left, across the street and catty-corners. My goal was to bring a real sense of community and establish new friendships. Now we do more than just wave at each other in passing, we spend quality time together like watching football games, hosting BBQ’s and shooting pool.
I am a dog lover and so are my neighbors. I have a little buddy named Jake, a french Mastiff…I guess he isn’t really very little at all. Jake came into my life when he was a 7 week old pup, I knew he was going to be a big boy so training was immediate.
I can always tell when the neighbors were outside in there yards with their dogs because I could hear them barking at Jake from afar. Jake would sit up and just look in their direction every time they would start barking.  So I decided to whisper to Jake, who was already excited, to “Go get ‘em!”  I didn’t yell at him to come back. Well I did, but very quietly so he couldn’t hear me.   I just put my hands up in the air so that they could see that “I tried”.  My neighbors knew of Jake because the neighborhood kids would come to the yard to play fetch and football with Jake.  So they knew that he was quite friendly.  Jake was an instant hit.  Once he got over there, Jake and the Labrador were instant friends and started playing in turn, the owners of that Lab and I became good friends too.

Since Jake made me so proud, I started bringing him along with me on walks around the neighborhood, to check the mail, to the grocery store.  Over time, we made contact with all of our neighbors that were around us.

Once we established that basic common interest which I called, the golden ticket,  establishing other connections was simple. I realized that all of my neighbors and I had so much more in common.  There were other Marines, active and veterans,  retired Army guys, sons which were going to the Navy, business owners, avid fitness types, avid mountain climbers, motorcycle enthusiasts. We all became close and forged the necessary bond that neighbors, today, should have.

In October 2010, I headed overseas for a  job I was offered after having to close my dry cleaning business.  I could not bring Jake with me and I became concerned with his placement. To my surprise my neighbors insisted that Jake stay with them.  Chad and Jessica were in their 30′s and they are the ones that I grew the closest with.  They  had two kids and a dog the same age as Jake.  It was perfect!  It just made sense for Jake to stay with them, I knew he would be cared for. Jake is a 80-90 lbs French Mastiff and they wanted to care for hime while I was gone, you know you have true friends when they do things out of the kindness of their heart.  I will always be grateful for them.