Kelly McGonigal Presents Surprising Success Research

Written by Devtome wiki contributor: Bomac


The person you see pictured above is health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal. This article is going to include several life hacks she has come across for helping to bring about success. A lot of her recent work deals with harnessing willpower to become the person you wish to be.

But I Digress

We're going to get back to her, in fairly short order, on the other side of a bit of a detour. Unlike many of my literary digressions, there's actually a tie in. (Actually, there are a couple tie ins. The first one is the fact that having a good memory is often important to attain and maintain success.)

So I was over at the alternative news aggregator website,, when I clicked on a link about the benefits of coconut water. I try to consume virgin organic coconut oil on a daily basis and am well aware of many of its incredible benefits. It's a rather miraculous substance. I urge you to do a search for, “benefits of coconut oil.”

I really want everyone to know the benefits of coconut oil. Can you say that? Coconut oil. (I like to hear you say that.)1)

Coconut water, on the other hand, I didn't know about, so that's why I clicked the link. I welcomed the learning opportunity.


Finally! Help With Alzheimer's

Regarding coconut oil, though, one of the most amazing benefits of them all is the success people have had with Alzheimer's patients. If they get on a coconut oil protocol early enough, for an unknown percentage of people, symptoms can not only be halted, but reversed to a large degree, as well.2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) 11) 12) 13) 14) 15) 16) 17)

Obviously your mileage may vary, but a lot of people have had truly amazing results that would be front page news if it were a pharmaceutical drug. Every TV network would be doing prominent feature stories. We'd see a stock run up for the company that owned the patent, the likes of Pfizer, when it came out with Viagra. The problem is that this product is natural, cheap and can't be patented, so the only place you're hearing about it is online.

Even when Alzheimer's is not caught early, the progression of the disease can sometimes be halted, or at least greatly slowed, which can be a miracle in and of itself. The results that many people report are extremely exciting. Of course mainstream medical officials would say it's nonsense, because so-called scientific, peer reviewed studies have not confirmed these claims.

When you point out the (most certainly) hundreds (and probably thousands) of people who are reporting such success, they try to invalidate it by calling it all, anecdotal evidence. You know what? That's all well and good for stuff shirted doctors and researchers who have a vested interest in the status quo of the medical system.

We get it. We're not stupid. If you can't make a lot of money from something, you couldn't give a fat rat's ass about getting the word out. And, if it threatens to cut into your profit machinery, you'll do everything you can to prevent the truth from spreading.

You're not going to kill the goose that's laying the golden eggs. It's naive to think that you would.

The Right To Be Ignorant

People have the right to not believe in the results that people from all around the world are reporting. Anybody and everybody has the right to not use coconut oil on themselves, their parents, grandparents or other loved ones who start to exhibit signs of Alzheimer's or dementia.

Their right to not believe in or try all kinds of potential solutions, solely because they didn't hear the information in a peer reviewed journal, in no way invalidates the often miraculous results many people have been experiencing for years.

The truth is, pharmaceutical studies that are passed off as being scientific and peer reviewed, are often anything but honest. In fact, even the crooked Food and Drug Administration which mainly exists to protect the medical industry and stifle competition, has fined big pharma corporations not millions, but billions of dollars, for their complicity in false reports published in peer reviewed journals, among various other criminal transgressions for which nobody ever gets sent to prison.18)

Moreover, even if someone undertook such a study, it would be a fun day in Haiti before a peer reviewed medical journal would publish the exciting and revolutionary results.19)

Dr. Kelly McGonigal


This is a long and round about way to go about introducing Kelly McGonigal, an author and health psychologist who teaches at Stanford University. I was “introduced” to her when I was reading the article about coconut water. The website, had a small YouTube hosted video in the sidebar of the page with the image of the extremely easy on the eyes, Ms. McGonigal, that I could not resist clicking.


It was a short video. She basically said that when we come across research about studies stating promising results from one protocol or another, we should keep in mind that they are based on averages. Many participants may not have gotten any results and many others may have gotten incredible results.

That means, you might try the protocol, for instance, yoga or meditation, and not get any results. That would not mean the study was lacking veracity. Studies report the overall averages. Thus, if there were a 50% improvement in something, that doesn't mean every participant got those results. Some might have gotten 0% improvement, while others saw 100%.

Basically, the only way to know if the protocol is going to work for you is to try it. Be your own scientist, and collect your own data, she said. Your life is your laboratory.

That directive, certainly fits in with the coconut oil information I just laid on you. Although in this case, it's not official studies, so much as individuals publishing their experiences, but the idea is the same.

Try it. It might work wonders for you or your loved one. Perhaps it won't do anything, but if you don't try it, you'll never know. You have nothing to lose.

Something To Lose

Now, if we were discussing pharmaceutical medicine, we wouldn't use the phrase, nothing to lose. All modern medicines, whether they require a prescription or if you can get them over the counter at the local Piggly Wiggly,20) are toxins and have side effects.

With coconut oil, however, you most certainly can say, nothing to lose. There is nothing toxic about it. The only caveat is that in larger quantities, like a few ounces, taken all at once and taken straight, (i.e., not mixed in with food,) it can be a natural laxative and extreme stool softener.

Just to be clear, when I say, extreme stool softener, I'm talking about the D word. Say it with me; diarrhea. (I don't like it when you say that, actually.) For most people it's not an all day affair. It tends to be just a single shot occurrence.

It's easily avoidable by taking smaller doses, multiple times, instead of a big dose in one setting. Mixing it with food usually avoids it, as does cooking with it. In fact, you should cook with it, pretty much exclusively.21)

Other than that, there is really nothing to watch out for. Someone showing brain issues like Alzheimer's or dementia, should take 3 to 5 ounces. Take the first tablespoon full, preferably on toast in lieu of butter, first thing in the morning. Spread them out throughout the day. You may need to start with half dosages (teaspoons, instead of tablespoons), until you build up to full dosage. The rest of us should take one to two ounces, (2 - 4 tablespoons.) It is believed to be a way to help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia, in the first place.

There are too many benefits of coconut oil to list here, so please do the research and make coconut oil a part of your daily routine.

Another Detour - But Quite Quick, Thankfully

Anyway, at the end of the video, a bunch of images appeared, indicating several other video options. I'll digress here again for hopefully just minute, so please bear with me.

If you are selling something online, with the use of a video you have hosted on YouTube, you can easily have that video placed on your website. It's just a matter of clicking the share link under the video and then clicking on the embed link. That will give you the code to copy and paste onto your site. Before you copy the embed code, look for the check box that says, “Show suggested videos when the video finishes.”

For the love of Pete, man; uncheck that damn box. You're selling something. The last thing you need is to have several videos from your competition showing up right after your video ends. I can't tell you how many online marketers make this mistake.

Some of them are extremely successful, so it's not as if it's kept them in the poor house. Yet, there is no doubt they've lost a lot of sales. I'm always amazed how it seems like nobody gets this.

Back On Point


After, admittedly being a bit smitten,22) thanks to McGonigal's good looks, great voice, awesome presentation skills and over the top intelligence, I had to have more than that two minute video. To put it in street jargon, I was jonesin' for more McGonigal.

So the next video I clicked was close to an hour in length. She was speaking from, “the Googleplex,” i.e., Google headquarters in Mountain View, Cali. Judging from the set up, they probably fairly often hold meetings for their employees. I'm presuming that includes both optional and mandatory meetings. This, I'd imagine, was optional.


A Different Take On Willpower

The theme was success advice, in general. In particular, it centered around how to naturally facilitate willpower to accomplish goals. I found it chock full of really fascinating psychological insights from which I expect to see some relatively quick benefits, as I apply them.

I have not put them to work yet. In fact, I just got finished viewing the video and I'm so excited by what I've learned, I wanted to share them with others as quickly as possible. Therefore, I am not able to give any data about if, or how, or how much these ideas have proven beneficial in my life.

Counter Intuitive

I found much of what she had to say, rather surprising. She definitely has found no shortage of counter intuitive research.

For instance, if you slip on your way to a goal, you might be inclined to be tough on yourself. You may give yourself an internal speech, like a drill sergeant would give you in boot camp. That is what many people think you are supposed to do on matters of will power. After all, willpower is all about discipline, and drill sergeants drill discipline into their recruits.

Research indicates that you'll have more success by being gentle with yourself. Tell yourself something like, “Rome wasn't built in a day. Nobody's perfect, so why would you expect to be any different?”

Power In Self Forgiveness

One study she referenced that confirmed this to be true involved a group of dieters on a program. The administrators of the program surprised them upon their first group meeting by making it mandatory for everyone to pick a donut to eat, from a large box that contained a vast variety of rich, delectable donuts. Then they had to drink a tall glass of water (i.e., in the literal, not figurative sense), so they would fill uncomfortably full.

Then they divided the group into two. One group was spoken to about the donut. They were told not to feel guilty. It was just one donut. They were almost forced into it by the administrators, so it's really not their fault. Besides, every dieter goes off the program now and again. It does not stop them from reaching their goals, as long as they get back on the program.

Then both groups were asked to do a taste test of some candy. They were told not to worry about their diets for the purpose of the test. They could taste and review as many of the different candies as they cared to, as long as they gave a review and reported which candies really tasted the best.

It turned out, that the group that was given the, don't feel guilty, speech, ate and reviewed less than half the candy than the group that was not given the speech. The guilt of eating that donut that the other group was still subconsciously dealing with, caused them to indulge more than twice as much as they would have, if they had been exposed to some gentle, forgiving talk telling them not to feel guilty about the first indulgence.

She went on to say that the study wasn't just some anomaly going against the results of other studies. The research is quite clear, that the harder you are on yourself for a willpower failure, the sooner you are going to have another one, and the more likely it will be even bigger than the last.

Dovetails With Wayne Dyers' Teachings


If you ever watch Wayne Dyers lectures on PBS, that is a common theme. He says guilt and shame are good for nothing, save for creating more of the same behavior that inspired the guilt and shame to begin with. No doubt, the implications for penal systems around the world, are absolutely profound.

You can imagine the opposition there would be to prison programs with agendas to downplay feelings of guilt among the incarcerated. Yet the research is quite clear that increasing those feelings will only bring more crime and recidivism.

Separate studies with problem drinkers, cigarette smokers trying to quit, problem gamblers and chronic procrastinators, all show the same results. The more critical people are when they screw up, the more likely they are to do it again, usually right away.

She says that all this has to do with the fact that when we are feeling stressed out, guilty and ashamed, that is the state that puts us into the very mindset that is much more susceptible to immediate gratification, temptation and anxiety. It is actually the biological opposite of what needs to be happening in your brain and body to remember your long term goals and to manifest the version of yourself that you ultimately want to be.

She provides a template for a self compassion message we can give ourselves when we have a willpower fail. It's comprised of three parts.


1) Mindfullness Of Thoughts And Feelings

This means to contemplate your current feelings. Do not push them away. Are you feeling guilty? Are you angry? Whatever it is, go ahead and recognize that you are indeed feeling them.

This step is similar to the foundation of the Sedona Method protocol.23) You ask yourself if you can welcome the feeling, as best you can. The reason this is powerful is because the natural reaction is to try to avoid the feeling altogether, which usually leads to doing the same behavior that brought it on in the first place.

2) Common Humanity

One of the reasons we find it difficult to get back into our motivation and willpower after a let down is the feeling that there is something uniquely screwed up about us. The common humanity message tells yourself that this is part of the process of change. It's the way it works for everybody. Not everybody necessarily has the same issue, but everybody goes through the process in general, and a lot of other people do share your exact issue. You aren't some special exception to the human race.

3) Encouragement Over Criticism

A good way to come up with the words to say to yourself, is to project the situation onto someone you care about. It's often easier to encourage someone else. What would you say to encourage a friend who is down on herself?

Tell that message to yourself. Your psyche responds to your self talk, so really take some time and give yourself some words of encouragement. Think about the good that is in you and acknowledge that. Tell yourself you will do better and you're proud of the progress you've made.

Research shows that using the self compassion message technique is so powerful, that for quitting tobacco, it's more effective than the nicotine replacement therapies that are available. Nicotine may be the hardest of all drugs to quit, so that is a powerful endorsement.

Ooops, I Did It Again

On a personal note, as fate would have it, just before watching this video, I ate a meal. I did something I've been doing lately. The deer antler velvet supplement I've been taking,24) along with the ion water I've been drinking,25) has been giving me a full filling when I eat, that I didn't use to have.

At about the half way point, I realized that I've eaten enough. Yet I have so many years of eating twice as much, I have been going ahead and eating everything, instead of putting it away for my next meal.

When I do that, I mentally beat myself up. It's a pattern. I keep overeating and beating myself up. Obviously, being the drill sergeant after I've overeaten has not helped me at all. So after I watched the video, I had a little talk with myself.

I said, “Everyone overindulges at times. It's not the end of the world. Don't feel guilty. You're good. You got this, man. The fact that you are perceiving the signal of when to stop eating is really a great sign. You never used to even notice the signal. You're moving in the right direction. I have all the confidence in the world in you.”

I have the feeling that's not the last time I will give myself that speech, but I'm quite hopeful about the long-term effect it may have. That leads me to this next point.


Visualizing Failure And Success

Notice that I said, in the paragraph above, ”…the effect it MAY have on me…“ I consciously chose, MAY, as opposed to, WILL have on me, because of this next tip I learned from McGonigal.

She asked the Google employees in attendance what they thought would be more beneficial to attaining a goal; visualizing success or visualizing failure. Almost nobody raised their hand for failure. Almost everybody raised their hand for success.

Failure Wins Out - Can You Believe It?

I've got to say that this is a very specific kind of visualizing failure that she is talking about. She is not talking about going through life in a state of constant negativity, always fearing the worst case scenario.

In the study, there were two groups of women ranging in age from young adult to middle aged. They had not been exercising at all, but they all wanted to exercise. That was their goal; to get on and maintain a consistent exercise plan.

The first group was given the typical positive reinforcement. They spoke to the women about all the benefits that come with exercise, and they encouraged them to think about their goal and to imagine themselves achieving it.

The other group was told to imagine themselves failing. They were told to ask themselves, “When are you going to not exercise? What is the obstacle going to be? When is it going to happen? What are you going to do if that happens?”

This group was instructed to write out those questions everyday, as well as to write out answers to the questions. They kept a diary of their schedule, whether they exercised or not that day.

McGonigal said they turned into detectives of their own failure. Every day, they revised what they were writing, based on what they noticed. A typical entry might include, “I didn't exercise because I kept putting it off, until the next thing I knew it was bedtime.”

They became clear about how they failed. They recognized their own failure patterns. They were able to predict future failures as a result. For instance, “If I haven't exercised by now, chances are great that I will be skipping it today.”

The results showed that the women who contemplated their failure, exercised twice as much as the women who contemplated their success.

That's a nice experiment. I don't think it shows that it's best to go through life with a totally defeatist attitude. However it does show that structured correctly, and asking the right questions, predicting failures can help you to overcome them when they happen, and even prevent some failures as a result of awareness of your failure behaviors.

Don't Focus Too Much On Your Success Results


She goes on to say that beyond this particular study, there is a lot of research that shows that tracking and emphasizing your success is not necessarily the best route to go. The reason for that is because it's so natural to the human experience to reward yourself by slacking off after realizing how successful you've been in meeting your goals.

She tells of an experiment where people were working out to lose weight The experimenters would praise the participants as they got close to their goal, but they would withhold any praise from those who were not doing as well.

After praising the ones who were closing in on their goal, the experimenters would offer them a chocolate bar. The ones who did not get the praise were also offered a chocolate bar. Can you guess which group took a lot more chocolate bars? Yes, indeed. People who were doing well and being praised, were much more likely to accept the conflicting reward.

Studies where participants track their progress on getting over procrastination, also showed similar results. The trend showed that as participants tracked their success and realized how much they had accomplished, they would stop making progress.

Goal Switching Hypothesis

She calls it the goal switching hypothesis. The idea is that any willpower challenge is a competition between two versions of yourself. They are both you: The you that wants to accomplish the goal and the you that doesn't want to do what is required.

As soon as your mind registers that one of the 'yous' is satisfied, because you made some progress, the other goal becomes primed in your brain. It becomes more appealing. Her message is not so much to not keep track of your success, but to combine both success and failure predictions and tracking. (We'll discuss more about the two yous a little later.)

What Would That Look Like?

She didn't expound, but my guess as to how that would work is, you start with the question about how you will stumble and what you are going to do when you stumble. At the same time, you would also see yourself being successful and enjoying your accomplishments.

The key is to keep in mind that you know that you could possibly slack off at any moment, and even if you do, you have a plan for what to do, if that happens. And then as you make progress, don't dwell too much on it. Keep you eye on the prize and know you might stumble. It's all good.

Pessimism As A Source Of Willpower?

McGonigal says it's profoundly un-American to be pessimistic when you have a goal, yet it can actually be used as a source of willpower. Here's how that works: People who are most optimistic about their ability to make a difficult change, give up sooner and are most likely to fail. It tends to be because they are shocked or otherwise thrown off balance by their setbacks.

One of the ways predicting or expecting failure can be helpful is that when it happens it's not some kind of shock to your system that leaves you dazed and confused. She went on to say that studies show that when you have people make optimistic predictions about what they are going to do [tomorrow], they are more likely to not do it today.

Thus, people who intend to exercise tomorrow are more likely to eat something unhealthy today and skip the gym. On the other hand, keeping on the tip of your mind that you are going to be just as busy, just as stressed out or just as tempted tomorrow, turns out to be an important source of will power, today.

As I try to wrap my head around those last few thoughts, I think the gist of the message is to be in the now. Don't paint a picture of what great progress you're going to make tomorrow, because you may use that as an excuse to take a step backward today.

Whereas, if you are focused in the eternal present, you don't have some magical feeling about tomorrow. Whatever you're up against today, you'll be up against tomorrow, so your brain figures you might as well make progress right now.

The Importance Of Meditation

McGonigal is big on meditation. It doesn't have to take up a lot of time. She says ten minutes a day can have all kinds of great effects on your life. That includes the effect of helping you to have willpower.

She said getting enough sleep also does a lot for many facets of your life, including strengthening your willpower. Then she told the secret for getting enough sleep. Meditate as little as ten minutes each and every day. Make it a part of your routine. Just do it and reap the rewards.

The Power Of Proper Sleep

As an example of how much your willpower can be improved by these two simple hacks, she cited a study among a group of recovering addicts. About half the group was taught breath focused meditation. They committed to practice it for as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day.

The meditation brought about a stark improvement in the quality of their sleep, and also their length of sleep, by an hour a night. This group successfully improved their resolve to refrain from relapsing by an astounding and immediate 70%. This was especially impressive because the willpower challenge of addicted persons to stay on the wagon is one of the most difficult ones imaginable, especially in the early stages of recovery, as these test subjects were.

There Are Two Of You


She says that whenever you have a willpower challenge you are actually dealing with two versions of yourself. There is the one who doesn't want to do what is needed to get the desired result, and then there is the one who does want the result so much, she is willing to do what it takes.

McGonigal provides the example of the part of you that desires the candy bar, verses the part of you that desires the banana as a healthy alternative. It's exactly like there are two of you. The question is only which one is in control at any given time. One is thinking long-term health while the other is thinking short-term pleasure. They both are very much you and they are competing with each other.

Depending on a number of variables which can change from day to day, that include your mind set, energy and stress level, each one can win out on any given day for a given period of time. That's why it's crucial to do the things needed, like meditating and getting enough sleep, that will put you in the position so that the version of you that you are trying to manifest has the strength and inclination to be in control of your choices, which in this example, is eating the banana instead of the chocolate bar.

Sleep Deprivation Demonstrable In Brain Scans

Brain scan images of sleep deprived persons were projected on the screen. She pointed out the areas of the brain that were clearly less activated than they should be, due to the lack of proper sleep, which prevents the brain from doing its job efficiently.

She said that when you get less than six hours of sleep a night the brain simply does not have the ability to recruit the systems that you need to be the better version of yourself that you are trying to become. Six hours is considered a bare minimum. For most people, 8 hours really is optimal.

The Importance Of Your Brain's Ability To Use Energy Efficiently

The ability to remember who you are and what your key goals are, is dependent on a certain area of the brain (which is toward the front and center of your forehead) to be able to use energy well. Sleep deprivation is one of the main things that can get in the way of that. That explains why the sleep intervention given to the drug addicts in recovery had such a huge boost in preventing relapse.

McGonigal talks about training the physiology of your willpower. There are four main components, and they work hand in glove, synergistically.

Physiology Of Willpower

  • Sleep
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Low-glycemic, Plant Based Diet

If you are lacking in all four areas, of course you'll see results if you make improvements across the board. The good news is, you can experience significant improvement by working on just one of these areas.

As far as the food you eat, the brain is most messed up in terms of how it uses energy by having big spikes in blood sugar levels and the subsequent big drops in blood sugar. She says that if you're going to be walking around in the world, in that better-you mindset, your brain needs to use energy as efficiently as possible. A plant based or, at least a low-glycemic diet is the best brain food you can consume.

In Praise Of Exercise


When it comes to exercise, McGonigal says that research proves that exercise makes it easier to do a lot of things. First of all, exercising makes it easier to exercise. Not only, does it become easier to do, the more you do, you will actually begin to enjoy it and feel like something is missing if you skip it.

The almost magical benefits of exercise go way beyond that, and even beyond the hundreds, more like thousands, of proven physical benefits. Exercise has a positive effect on surprising areas of your life.

When you exercise regularly you find it easier to to eat right, as well as to not spend too much money, and to stop procrastinating, and also, to generally pay better attention to what you choose to focus on.

Those four components comprising the physiology of willpower, (daily meditation, proper sleep, proper diet, & regular exercise), may require sheer willpower in the beginning. However, as you continue to practice them (all four, or whichever ones you choose to practice), you'll notice that they give you back, far more willpower in so many areas of your life, than they required from you in the beginning. As time progresses, the need for what you think of as traditional, self discipline-based willpower is not required nearly as much.

She says that when your brain is given what it needs to utilize energy efficiently, it goes beyond strengthening your willpower. It actually makes it easier to make the better choices. It's not like you're using brute force willpower to give up choices you used to make. You naturally start wanting to make the choices that used to require willpower. The struggle dissipates.

Meet Your Future Self


McGonigal spoke about research relating to the behavior of people in relation to their ability to think about their future self. If people either naturally, or are directed to, contemplate and relate to the person they will be a few decades in the future, they tend to behave more responsibly, ethically and are even more punctual.

Not surprisingly, they are better at saving for retirement than those who are entirely disconnected from the thought of themselves in 30 years or so. They are generally more successful and have more assets. They take better care of their bodies as well.

Two Future Self Exercises

Since it is so beneficial to relate to your future self, she suggests to take part in a couple different exercises.

Letter To Your Future Self

The idea is to use your imagination to get the feeling that you are writing to a future you who already exists in the future. Talk about what you are going through. Talk about what your current goals are that you hope to have accomplished when that future self, through the passage of your time, becomes you.

You can ask questions. Say whatever comes to mind as long as you are taking it seriously and making the feeling as real as possible. You are establishing a very important connection that is intended to stay with you and not simply vanish once you are through with the letter. From your current perspective, it's almost like another person, yet in 30 (or however many) years time, that is going to be you. Imagine what it will be like in 30 years when you get that letter you are writing yourself.

As I think about this, I'm getting goose bumps. I can feel how it can be extremely powerful. I have yet to do it, but I'm definitely going to. I may continue to write letters as time goes on. I may keep the letters and read them when I am at that age.

I may take it a step further. I might, at some point, write a letter as if I'm channeling my future self, writing to my current self. It might be a bit trickier and require imagination, but I feel like making the connection a 2 way street may provide additional benefits.

Back To The Future

When I saw the “Back To The Future” graphic she had on the screen behind her in the Googleplex there, I presumed it was the letter from your future self, but I was incorrect. It was about imagining yourself in the future, but not writing a letter or communicating to, or thinking about the current you.

Curiously, she said merely imagining yourself doing mundane things like grocery shopping in the future helps establish the connection to your future self. She also mentioned an experiment where one group was told to imagine their future if they continued on with all their bad habits.

A second group was told to imagine their future self after a life of doing all the right things that they hope they are going to do. This wasn't just a 30 second process. The groups really took time and got very specific as they exercised their imaginations.

Of course the first group was creating a rather negative movie in their mind. The second group created a positive mental production. Interestingly, both groups documented positive results in their member's behavior.

I must admit to being surprised. I would have guessed the negative mental movie makers might have gone on to commit negative behavior, but that's not how it went down. It worked as a warning, that they heeded.

Dovetails With What Tony Robbins Teaches


I know that Tony Robbins is big on the concept that people are motivated by seeking pleasure and also by avoiding pain. However, between the two, he tells us the greater motivation is, by far, the avoidance of pain, so that may explain the results of the experiment. The participants saw the potential pain, and were thus motivated to start taking steps to avoid it.

A Different Kind Of Breath Test


Who Knew?

It is the fear of millions of motorists that they will find themselves being asked to take a breath test. In McGonigal's presentation she brought up a different kind of breath test that is endlessly fascinating. It definitely falls into the, “Who knew?” category.

The ability to hold your breath is one of the best predictors of people's ability to succeed at attaining difficult goals. It's related to what psychologists call, distress tolerance. That's the ability to stay put when things get uncomfortable.

She didn't go into detail, but one can only assume that practicing holding your breath, presuming, of course, you don't have a condition that would make it dangerous to do so, is a way to build up the right stuff for goal attainment.

Surfing The Urge


Surfing the urge is an extremely powerful tool that has helped people deal with compelling urges and compulsions. The idea is that in many ways it's the opposite of the way we usually think about willpower.

For instance, if you are trying not to eat dessert, you may push it away, or put it into the refrigerator. The idea is to simply deny it, and switch the subject.

When you surf the urge, you acknowledge your urge. You recognize it and become acutely aware of it. Focus on your breathing, as well as the energy of the urge. How is it manifesting physically? What discomfort are you experiencing? What are the specific physical sensations?

While you are asking and answering these questions, you are trusting that you can ultimately tolerate the sensations, but by being keenly aware of them, instead of trying to ignore them. You keep confident in your ability to wait out the compelling sensations.

You are surfing the energy of the urge, just like you would surf a wave. You are using all your focus to stay on the board and not fall off. All waves end and so do all urges. You are going to surf this out.

Any emotion, sensation or impulse will go away. All you have to do is breathe, focus on the energy, and wait it out.

The Torture Test


A group comprised of people who wanted to stop smoking were told to buy a pack of their favorite cigarettes and carry it with them for 24 hours. They were instructed not open them, and to go without smoking, without cheating, for those 24 hours.

There was a meeting scheduled for just after the 24 hour period. They knew that they were required to bring their unopened cigarette pack and a lighter to the meeting. So this room full of smokers, all jonesin' for a drag, filled the meeting room with so much anticipation, you could cut through it with a knife. They anxiously awaited their reward, and looked forward to the group aspect of getting to smoke at least one cigarette with a lot of other people who had just been through the same test.

The instructor announced over the P.A. system, “Take out your cigarette pack.”

Everyone took their pack out. “Stop.”

Then they were instructed to look at their cigarettes for two minutes. They could not do anything with their phones, but they could write with pen and paper about the urge they were experiencing. Then another announcement came.

“Take off the cellophane.”

Everybody took off the cellophane.


They were given two more minutes to only look at their cigarettes, or write down their urges and sensations if they wanted to.

They kept being given instructions, like take out one cigarette, smell the cigarette, put it in your mouth, take out your lighter, etc., etc. This went on for more than an hour and they never got to smoke their cigarette.

The Actual Experiment

Half of this group of smokers had previously been trained to surf the urge. The other half had not. As you might imagine, the trained participants were fully taking advantage of their new-found coping tool, for the entire time.

All participants were told they could smoke during the next week, just as long as they were honest about recording how much they smoke and report it at next week's meeting. As it turned out, the group that had surfed the urge for that hour of torture in the previous week's meeting, smoked close to half as much as they normally smoked. The other group had not reduced their smoking at all.

McGonigal says it's interesting that the members of that group reported, by and large, that they no longer felt a connection between stress and the urge to smoke a cigarette. That is extremely powerful and it was totally unexpected.

Stress is what generally happens to people who are trying to stop smoking. It is the impetus that compels them to smoke. The absence of stress makes it much, much easier to quit.

Surfing the urge is the go-to tool for when you need strength and willpower to negotiate a compulsive urge.

McGonigal says that people like to talk about habits being the key to willpower, but habits won't do a thing for you, if you are fighting an overwhelming compulsion to indulge in an addictive behavior.

The Awesome Power Of Acceptance

Surfing the urge is part of the power of acceptance. People have used acceptance with remarkable success in a number of different willpower challenges. They include, but are not limited to; anxiety, weight loss, substance abuse, intrusive thoughts and even schizophrenia.

McGonigal ended her presentation at the Googleplex with an onscreen graphic that provided excellent summaries of key concepts of her talk.

Micro Cliffnotes Summary


Five Willpower Rules

1) Train your willpower physiology (eg: eating plant based diet, meditating, exercising, getting enough sleep)

2) Forgive yourself (when you have a willpower setback)

3) Make friends with your future self (in a way that feels real)

4) Predict your failure (learn the process and then plan your response)

5) Surf the urge when you are facing temptation

Social Sciences | Self-Help | Psychology | Health

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