Self-compassion increases willpower

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Self-compassion increases willpower

The thesis that self-compassion strengthens the will has its origin in the fierce struggle some people have to wage to achieve their goals. In these cases, an internal dialogue that is too censorious and critical can end up separating from numerous objectives.

Last update: January 10, 2022

Dr. Kelly McGonigal of Stanford University has proposed an interesting theory in his latest book The Willpower Instinct: Self-Compassion Increases Willpower. In other words, being good to ourselves helps us to overcome obstacles, to row when the wind is not blowing in our favor.



It shows very clearly in matters of habits. Especially at the end of the year, we intend to change a habit or acquire another that we consider positive. However, it is not easy, even so we believe it will be worth it. We start with a lot of enthusiasm, but after a while we give in and retrace our steps.

Quit smoking, exercise more, eat a healthy diet and much more. Often there is a fierce struggle within oneself between what one wants and what one owes. The former almost always wins.

Dr. McGonigal points out that this occurs because self-compassion is not taken into account and is capable of increasing willpower.

“The mind is complex. Knowing this and applying paradoxical thinking allows us to smile at the machinations of the mind and to proceed in better directions ”.

-John Campbell-

Go against yourself

Dr. McGonigal raised the thesis that self-compassion increases willpower as the basis for a reflection on motivation and stress. Any difficult goal to achieve causes a certain amount of stress. This tension can be resolved by motivation.



When the stress increases, the motivation fails. In these cases it is no longer so important to reach the desired goal, but rather to recover a state of well-being. Stress is not easy to overcome and can become the factor that makes us give up.

Of course, all humans are prone to achieving greater degrees of comfort. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact it is a biological trend. Each organism wants to reserve its energy to carry out the mandatory activities and not waste it for what can be managed in another way. It is therefore about energy optimization.

Self-compassion increases willpower

The majority of people thinks that the best way to achieve difficult goals is to persevere and resort to self-criticism. The problem is that sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves.

Failing to reach a goal, such as resuming smoking after quitting for a few days, can lead us to impose mental punishment at a very high cost: abandoning our goal.

We can also end up despising ourselves for not achieving what we set out to do. After all, says Dr. Kelly McGonigal, we live in a society that overestimates results.

We have been using social networks for years where people tend to post hits. We have internalized that failure or error is rare and typical only of clumsy or clumsy people.

Punishing ourselves is a strategy that often fails. But when we have a kind dialogue with ourselves - honest, but without being cruel - things can change.


On the one hand, the stress implicit in the situation is reduced. On the other hand, you can maintain motivation based on the most important aspect: your well-being.


Strengthen self-compassion

Success in achieving a goal is possible when the motivation is greater and more intense than the stress involved in the effort.


The secret is in dealing with setbacks, which always appear. McGonigal's advice is to be good to yourself when you give in to the temptation to give up. What should be done in those moments? McGonigal suggests three actions:

  • Observe and describe how it feels immediately after failure. Is there self-criticism? If so, as often happens, it needs to be analyzed.
  • Remember that we are human beings. Just the thought helps you to be kinder to yourself.
  • Support and comfort. It is important to treat yourself as you would a close friend. Support, understanding and comfort are needed, not a pointing finger.

Dr. McGonigal is convinced that subtracting strength and adding courage make it easier to achieve any goal. Self-compassion strengthens willpower because the latter is the result of motivation and the former feeds it.


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