Does Your Willpower Support Your Well-Being?

willpowerThe next time you find yourself “too tired” to exert self-control, challenge yourself to go beyond that first feeling of fatigue.

The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

Here’s a quick quiz, to give you perspective on your current well-being.

  • Do you like your life and smile often?
  • Are you reasonably happy with your weight and other health-oriented decisions?
  • Are you aware of something important to you that’s bigger than you? For some this is met through religion or spirituality, for others it’s science or community service.
  • Do you invest in building strong social connections?
  • Do you feel productive?
  • Are key economic factors in place for you and your family, especially food, housing, and transportation?

A resounding yes to all is the desired state, but we’re on planet earth, right? So, we might say: “My weight isn’t bad, but I’d like to lose 10 pounds and exercise more.” “My work is productive but takes so much of my time that social connections suffer.” And so on. A life well lived is one that focuses on continuing to experience well-being in accordance with our evolving needs. This article will address some of the ways we can strengthen our willpower muscles to expand our well-being.

Well-being is a broad, life encompassing concept. Willpower is a powerful strategy for conducting our lives in a way that promotes well-being.

Well-being Defined

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) studies well-being due to its public policy implications. The CDC states:

Well-being is a positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well. Good living conditions (e.g., housing, employment) are fundamental to well-being. Tracking these conditions is important for public policy. However, many indicators that measure living conditions fail to measure what people think and feel about their lives, such as the quality of their relationships, their positive emotions and resilience, the realization of their potential, or their overall satisfaction with life—i.e., their “well-being.” Well-being generally includes global judgments of life satisfaction and feelings ranging from depression to joy.

Well-being considers our whole life. Key components include:

  • Spiritual Connection or a Sense of Supporting Something Bigger than Oneself
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Emotional Health
  • Social Connectedness
  • Productivity with Self-Actualization
  • Economic well-being
  • Healthy Physical Environment
  • Life Satisfaction


Willpower is one of our primary strategies to support and expand well-being. Willpower is defined by Dr. McGonigal as

The ability to control our attention, emotions, and desires – and influences our physical health, financial security, relationships and professional success.

Here are some strategies for tapping into your willpower in ways that enhance your well-being. We strongly recommend Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct! The ideas below are influenced by her work.

Choose one area where you’d like to improve your life. Conduct a reality check, be sure that it’s viable for you given everything else happening.

Your emotional intelligence skills of Self-Awareness and Impulse Control are vital to engaging your willpower. As McGonigal says, “When we [combine these skills] we will find the willpower and the want power to do the harder thing.” (p. 28) Humans have the gift of being able to observe ourselves and even to predict what we will do and the likely outcome if we’re willing to exercise our skill (or not). Once you activate your awareness your question is will you engage your Impulse Control so you further that willpower goal and improve your life? We know this can be hard so let’s look at steps to build your skills.

  • Develop improved self-awareness. One way to do so is by committing to notice your responses when a certain type of event (you choose) occurs. Write down a few notes so you can keep track, and do this until you have a good idea of what to change to meet that new life goal.
  • Now that you’re considerably more aware, it’s time to build your impulse control muscles. These “muscles” are in the pre-frontal cortex and McGonigal assures us that the brain will remodel itself based on what we ask it to do. Perhaps surprisingly, likely the best way to do so is to meditate – even 5 minutes a day. She writes:

Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management impulse control and self-awareness. People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness. (p. 24)

  • Integrate your self-awareness and impulse control through a Pause and Plan strategy. As McGonigal points out, this is vastly different than fight or flight. Pause and plan is based on slowing down, being aware, considering various outcomes and making a considered decision.

Whether you want to improve your weight, exercise more, quit smoking or be more pleasant with your family, using the powerful emotional intelligence skills of Self-Awareness and Impulse Control so that you have the time and awareness to engage the Pause and Plan strategy will help you meet your goal.


Notice Your Resilience to Expand Well-Being

The good life is a process, not a state of being.
It is a direction, not a destination.
Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

Give yourself one of the best gifts available – expand your resilience. Your well-being will benefit from the upgrade. Sustainable behavior change is a lifestyle change, not a whim. As you expand your resilience, your overall well-being will improve remarkably.

Noticing and managing our resilience calls for us to develop and regularly use the skill of mindfulness. Some might say that mindfulness and well-being are synonymous. Mindfulness contains the intention of the definition in the very word. While there are many more elaborate definitions, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California captures it well:

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Scientist and leading scholar in the field of positive psychology, Barbara Fredrickson reports that in their entire research program in resilience they found that the key active ingredient supporting those with higher resilience is positivity, which includes openness and a better ability to keep things in perspective and see the bigger picture. The concepts of resilience and mindfulness intertwine and support one another. When we apply the two our well-being improves.

A frequent challenge raised by our coaching clients relates to managing their resilience. They may talk about putting up with one challenge after another as a new program is being unveiled until they finally lose their composure. Or the challenge may be significant personal issues that are taking so much of their energy and drawing upon their flexibility dramatically that when one more thing happens – at work, at home or anywhere they become unusually inflexible, angry or just walk away leaving things unresolved.

Stephan (not his real name) is a good example. Most of the time, things are fine; he can manage work and personal demands. He has a good education, a reliable job with mid-management responsibilities, and a loving family. Just like happens to most of us, each of these good parts have challenges. His parents are in their 80’s and require a lot of attention. Recently his dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his mom has arthritis to the point she can’t take care of him. His teenage children need a great deal of time. It’s hard, yet he keeps telling himself that in a few years it’ll be easier. For now, Stephan is committed to giving his all to helping his parents, his kids, serving at his church and then there’s his job. His position has a lot of stress with it and most weeks require 45 to 50 hours of work plus his commute. Usually he juggles everything well enough. Then his boss informed him that the big report he and his team have worked on for two months is needed in two days instead of the two weeks they were supposed to have to complete it well. Stephan hit the roof. He yelled at his boss, refused to meet the deadline. Told his staff to just quit and take the rest of the day off. It wasn’t a pretty picture. That was a few weeks ago. Coaching is helping Stephan work through the aftermath of his outburst, as well as what brought him to it. Our focus includes understanding his challenges and building ways to stay in touch with his resilience to guide his behavior.

Strategies for Expanding Resilience

You, just like Stephan, can choose from several strategies to expand and maintain your resilience. Six of the sixteen EQi skills particularly support resilience strength. Act now to support your health and well-being by following a resilience enhancing strategy such as:

  • Meditation.
  • Recognizing that you are a part of something purposeful that’s bigger than you.
  • Expanding your happiness through gratitude or embracing and valuing your connections with others.
  • Building your optimism by expecting what works to keep on happening and get even larger.
  • Embracing your Bigger Yes – by living priorities that call for time with loved ones, time to exercise, time for you – all which expand your stress tolerance capacity.
  • Perceiving yourself with healthy self-regard by being able to view your strengths. challenges, and neutral zones and feel good about who you are.
  • Exercising your emotional self-awareness by noticing your emotions, recognizing how you feel and why and managing your responses. Throughout the day seek to call forth positive emotions.

Resilience is the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, or adversity; it’s a form of buoyancy. Fortunately, your resilience can be expanded – it’s a personal skill that may have some components of genetic predisposition but can be influenced and grown as one of your most reliable assets. However, it does require continuous upkeep. Growing the skill requires awareness and practice. Your journey is one of developing new habits that may not only change your social and psychological take on life but may well improve your health as well.

Six Emotional Intelligence Skills

There is a strong connection between the strength of your resilience and 6 of the 16 skills measured by the EQi 2.0: stress tolerance, emotional self-awareness, self-regard, optimism, happiness and flexibility.

These EI skills are ones that are more self-oriented rather than other-oriented because resilience is an internal state. You’ve probably heard that you need to take care of yourself before you have the strength and resilience to take care of others well. The metaphor most call to mind readily is when oxygen is needed on an airplane you need to put your own oxygen mask on before you start helping others. You know why – you’ll black out quickly and be a problem rather than a help if you don’t start with your mask. Life is that way as well. Though it may be easier for some to focus on the tasks, including attending to everyone else’s needs, you will be better in all ways if you start with you first – and then remember to keep prioritizing your needs!

Barbara Fredrickson’s Research

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0 and Positivity, which we highly recommend, provides copious research on the beneficial effect of resilience and the field of positivity. Fredrickson speaks about changing people’s daily diets of positivity with the goal being to change what we notice and to influence the practice of our habitual positive and negative emotions. One effective strategy she emphasizes is loving kindness meditation. What’s different about Barbara’s work is that it primarily occurs in the laboratory – her laboratory and her joint work with many other leading scientists. The blessing of her research is she is documenting what so many coaches, trainers and others have believed to be true.

Research results by Barbara and her colleagues are documenting that there are improvements on cognitive, social, psychological and physical resources for people who use positivity and resilience enhancing practices. Whether you practice meditation or other resilience enhancing strategies, we encourage you to choose a practice or two from the list provided above or another resource you have and take good care of yourself.


Acting with Collaborative Intelligence: Your 10 Step Guide

Collaboration is a result of people working together to reach a mutual answer to a challenge or opportunity. As our world becomes more integrated and boundaries become more blurred the need and desire to collaborate is heightened. Yet we are also experiencing heightened polarization with far too much attention on what can divide us. We ask that you join us in being a part of what helps our world work for the best interest of all. Bring collaboration to your workplace, community and family! 10 steps for acting with collaborative intelligence follow.

We see collaboration on the internet, such as with Wikipedia, in organizations of all sizes and shapes, such as improved efforts at the United Nations and in performance goals for individuals and leaders, such as the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ’s) that leaders in the federal senior executive service are to meet.

Organizations frequently list collaboration as part of their mission or vision statement or as one of their values. With all of the discussion of embracing collaboration, we know it’s something good, the key question is how do we collaborate and when is it useful? We’ll answer this question for individuals by exploring 10 steps for individuals to follow in order to act collaboratively and briefly review how teams build collaboration.

Collaborative Intelligence™ is a key outcome teams, communities, and any groups can reach as they build their skills. Collaborative intelligence is a result teams and groups profit from when using the seven skills measured by the TESI® (Team Emotional and Social Intelligence Survey®) When teams and groups build their skills in forming a strong team identity, engaging with motivation, building emotional awareness, enhancing communications, supporting one another in work life balance to manage stress, growing their conflict resolution skills so they can benefit when conflict occurs and act with positive mood they will be engaging multiple strengths and acting collaboratively. Developing these seven competencies helps members learn how to act collaboratively and to use this outcome wisely.

Collaboration is a communication and problem solving process that is based on a structured engagement style and process. Those who collaborate well pay attention to personality styles, behavioral engagement strategies, and timing of the decision making as well as who is invited into the discussion, often referred to a stakeholders. Individuals and organizations can act in a collaboratively style informally and

accomplish a great deal. More formal collaborative processes can be deliberately engaged in more challenging situations and usually benefit from engaging a facilitator. Because the process can be slow and deliberative it may be the wrong formal process to use in an emergency, when a quick decision is needed or when the stakes are low, such as choosing where to have lunch. Even in these circumstances when individuals act with a demonstration of inclusivity and intentionally listen to others and incorporate their suggestions as appropriate, they will build buy-in and loyalty that expands their base of support. The following 10 steps will help individuals and leaders be successful in their collaborations. These skills can be integrated into one’s natural behaviors so the benefits of collaboration abound with minimal effort.

10 Steps to Act with Collaborative Intelligence

  1. Be aware. Notice what is happening so you can choose how you are involved. Breathe deeply to benefit from adding oxygen to your brain, to your heart and to feel calm and resilient.
  2. Apply Intention and Attention. Form your intention so you know specifically what you want to accomplish and how. Then decide what steps in the process you will pay attention to in order to keep yourself on track. Intend to collaborate, which means intend to work together, to listen and to respond in order to accomplish your goal together. Clarify your own purpose and goals; this is not a process you can accomplish on auto-pilot.
  3. Commit to the process. Collaboration takes time, energy and patience. If you’re hesitant about using the process you’ll hold back, be protective of “your” information or rush through the process. One way or another without commitment you are most likely to minimize the potential for success. You may end up feeling annoyed or antagonizing others or both.
  4. Attend to others. Create a foundation for engagement by creating a personal connection. It’s out of little personal discussions where you find you have things in common that form the basis for trusting one another. You might find you both have daughters who sell Girl Scout cookies or you might both climb 14,000 foot mountains. Continue paying attention to other participants throughout the process. Often there is a valuable message behind the specific words someone is using; paying attention will help you discern the real message.
  5. Mutually establish goals and other criteria. Be sure you are headed in the same direction!
  6. Express your opinions and share your knowledge. If you keep what you know close to your vest you undermine the ability of everyone to make a good decision, you role model that the process isn’t fully trustworthy and neither are the people involved. Remember your actions speak louder than your words.
  7. List commonalities and differences. It’s amazing how often people struggle over principles they already all agree on because they didn’t take time to recognize the agreement. If you clarify where there are differences and where you agree then you can begin gathering information to move towards a mutual solution.
  8. Apply divergent thinking. Be willing to listen to other people’s perspectives even though they may be very different from yours. At attitude of curiosity will be helpful.
  9. Be appreciative. Keep noticing what works and through this positive process explore what seems to be off-center, to just not work. Explore these inconsistencies with curiosity to find points of agreement.
  10. Make decision(s). At this point everyone comes to a convergent answer and agrees to support the one answer. Before you sign off though, apply some hearty reality testing. Future pace by imaging it’s sometime in the future and you’re observing how well the decision works. Is anything askew? Did you take on too much at once? Does anything else need adjusting? If so make the changes now.

The result of collaborative behavior and decisions is that you have tapped into everyone’s smarts, built trust and have gained mutual commitment to success. What’s not to like about that scenario!

HOW TO LEAD TEAMS: The Relationship Between Team Skills and Human Development

pie_wedge_pushThe Emotionally Intelligent Team model proceeds from the archetypal process of human work itself. The seven scales measured by the TESI® (Team Emotional and Social Intelligence® Survey) are core skills for teams as they reflect specific needs that have arisen over the course of human evolution.

1.  Stress Happens — we arrived as infants desperately needing a breath of fresh air, then warmth, then food, and the whole range of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Everything that interrupts the satisfaction of these needs is experienced as some degree of stress, and yet a certain amount of stress is necessary to keep us from sinking into complacency. Developing the awareness and focus necessary to successfully meeting these needs gives us our concrete task orientation skills. Successful teams need the resilience that comes from Stress Tolerance skills.

2.  Life is hard, but we are naturally motivated to relieve instinctual drive states in order to improve our life conditions. Successful team leaders help their staff connect with and utilize this natural motivation rather than employing the command and control strategies that disrespect the individuality that gives rise to motivation. A major component of successfully modeling this understanding lies in the leader being able to distinguish between what the team members move towards, what they move away from, and what we move against. Building Motivation, for example, calls for the leader to move the team towards the reward of being acknowledged for a job well done. The leader realizes they will move away from embracing a new task if the necessary resources aren’t provided and that the team will become oppositional if they see team members being treated disrespectfully by the team leader.

3.  Because it is too hard to hunt effectively alone, we learn to Communicate in order to coordinate and maximize group efforts. We learn to develop our trust and relationship skills from the model communicators we encounter in our early world. the key lies in how well we send and receive meaningful signals from one another.

4.  Communicating effectively is a difficult process in itself, and there are many opportunities for misunderstanding which give rise to conflict. Then our challenge becomes a matter of how we get people to change: from no to yes; from “I” matter to “we” matter, from “I want to be right” to “I want to be happy.” These are core skills for Conflict Resolution.

5.  In order to resolve conflicts we need to be sensitive to what others desire and value and expect for their efforts as well as how they actually achieve those goals. This is where the team tunes in with Emotional Awareness.  To really be able to hear and appreciate their various positions requires the empathy, respect, and active listening that enable others to perceive us as trustworthy. Only then can we be open enough to achieve the atmosphere of spontaneous mutual influence that yields maximum benefits.

6.  Communicating effectively in the avenues of both task and relationship builds a powerful sense of Team Identity  in which teams feel free to risk and experiment, repeat what works and celebrate the results and build traditions and innovative new solutions. The value of belonging to such a team is the source of the leader’s ability to hold members accountable.

7.  Positive  Mood is the evidence of our collective success in satisfying individual and group life conditions. This is an important time and space of reaffirmation, rest, and recharging, because new stressors are no doubt just around the corner.

Authentic Success for 2013

How was your 2012? What are you seeking for your personal success indicators in 2013? To gain a viable answer hold an internal conversation between your ideal self (how you would most like to live) and your real self (how you really live) and develop an authentic structure to your goals. Authentic success integrates these two parts into a happier and more successful you. Our article was so well received in earlier years as a way to frame moving into the New Year, that it’s back by popular demand.

Authentic success begets peace of mind because you are living and working in accordance with your values, strengths, and your sense of purpose instead of living in conflict. Reaching this highly desired state requires personal awareness. Without it you will be missing the joy from your current wealth by only focusing on what hasn’t happened. Happiness and optimism, both components of emotional intelligence, are vital to experiencing authentic success. The following 10 Actions are based on years of research in the fields of emotional intelligence and positive psychology and set forth choices you can make to change the quality of your life in 2013.

10 Actions to Make Your

2013 a Year of Authentic Success

1. Define happiness. Know what you are looking for when you are seeking happiness. True happiness isn’t the quick food fix; even Belgian chocolates bring a temporary response. As an article by Carlin Flora, “The Pursuit of Happiness” in Psychology Today states, “The most useful definition – and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks – is more like satisfied or content than ‘happy’ in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose. It’s maximized when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush – though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.”

Action: Happiness is closely tied to being aware of what success truly means for you. Write your own definition of what Authentic Success means to you and intend to live in synch with your truth about Authentic Success in 2013.

2. Practice mindfulness. While defined in a variety of ways, mindfulness simply means paying attention. Notice how you are feeling and why and then make a choice to stick with your current path or take a breath and intentionally shift.

Action: Set a time each day when you will review your day with intention to notice and expand your mindfulness. Even a short review will make a difference.

3. Be you. Embrace yourself. Know your good points and that which you don’t consider so favorably. Know your styles and preferences and trust you are a good and resilient person. We received the following quote awhile ago and we give profound credit to whoever first said it though we don’t know the original source.

Action: Print this out and tape it around your environment:

There is nothing wrong with me that what is right with me can’t fix!

4. Practice your 2% Solution. As Marcia describes in Life’s 2% Solution, the 2% Solution requires just half an hour a day (3 ½ hours a week if it works better to cluster your time). Spend that time doing something that’s deeply nurturing, meaningful, fulfilling to you. It may be what you’ve vowed to do later when you are free to explore long-delayed purposeful pursuits. This seemingly small expenditure of time is even more critical in today’s harried world, where work deadlines loom, the carpool to soccer awaits, the dry cleaning is piling up, and a dinner party fills up whatever free time is left. We get it all done, yet feel incomplete. This stress-filled existence leaches away our creativity, passion and sense of fulfillment. We sacrifice the long-view of our lives for short-term results, to check something off a list. No doubt, that scenario leads to burnout.

Action: Integrate your enhanced awareness from taking some of the above steps with your own 2% project. Investing 2% of your time in an unusual way on yourself will make a world of difference. It’s an achievable way of creating more work/life balance without having to turn your life upside down by radical change. You can learn more and follow the 10 step process found in my book Life’s 2% Solution.


5. Relationships matter. Take time for friends and choose friends who support the values you wish to live with.

Action: Notice who your friends are. Ask yourself if you are giving the time it takes to cultivate valuable relationships. If not make a change. Keep your expectations of time with friends manageable.

6. Carpe diem! Seize the day.

Action: Today is the only version of this day you’ll ever have. Take advantage of it!

7. Know your values. It’s easy to get caught up in the multitude of options that expand daily from numbers of cereals to forms of entertainment to interesting books. We all have twenty-four hours in a day. Take advantage of your day by knowing what is truly important so you don’t get distracted with the job of making too many unimportant choices.

Action: Make a list of your top values – somewhere between five and ten items at the most. Then practice connecting your values with your choices.

8. Create. It feels good! Humans are amazingly creative beings. You probably create much more than you realize and miss giving yourself credit for your gifts.

Action: Intentionally make a soup, draw a picture, write a letter. Whatever feels simply good to you and then stop and acknowledge the act of creating and give yourself time to enjoy.

9. Express gratitude. This is a big one. Anytime you want to build happiness, be grateful for what you do have and go find a way to give. So much of authentic happiness is based in giving your gifts and in being a good and compassionate human being. Don’t make it hard; find easy and natural ways to give with no strings attached. Pay it forward is a great strategy.

Action: Take time to stop and say thank you. Notice how you feel and how the recipient feels. Keep a gratitude journal. Notice five to ten events that occur each day for which you are grateful. Be specific. Feel the gratitude in your heart as you write your list and as you read it over.

10. Smile. It’s impossible to be grumpy and smile at the same time.

Action: If you are willing to change your emotional state, you will. Breathe, notice what is going on, notice any tension you are holding in your body, and be willing to let it go. Be quiet and smile for a full minute.


Authentic success combines your inner and outer strengths, though integrating these two is not always so easy. Good luck on your journey. We’re always interested in learning from you about how this works. Comment on our blog.

What Qualities Do You Associate With Emotional Sustainability?

Emotional Sustainable Qualities visualAt Collaborative Growth’s recent Symposium on Emotional Sustainability participants identified the key qualities they feel are associated with this hopeful term.  Their answers follow and were the heart of how the Emotional Sustainability Word Cloud you see here.  After some soul searching these answers were highlighted at the Symposium:

  • Gratitude – being without regret or anxiety
  • Self/other awareness
  • Work/ life integration – eliminating my own internal silos
  • Modeling
  • Accountability – how to get EQ in at the bottom of the organization
  • Language – feeling words, able to speak on emotions in a structured way
  • Joy – living to one’s full potential
  • Kindness – leading people to be comfortable to learn in the classroom
  • Love, the verb! – Stress disconnects us from our higher purpose and we need to recognize that fear harms learning.  Be transparent around emotions.
  • Present to moments of Grace – align talent with organizational goals
  • Intimacy – transform leaders as people by deeply and respectfully connecting
  • Act with the recognition:  In love I am one with you
  • In Lak’ech – from the Mayan tradition this is understood to mean I am another yourself (A modern day interpretation) and also means I am you, and You are me (A traditional Mayan interpretation)