A Willpower Tug-of-War Between Different Parts of Self

I spent the first two months of 2014 developing a solid daily meditation practice, and the next step towards my goal of achieving greater life balance was to add exercise to my daily routine. The first week went well.  I exercised every morning and continued to meditate regularly at night. Then we switched to daylight savings time and it all fell apart.  I was tired and not feeling well, so I gave myself permission to take a day off, then another and another.

I started reading the book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of it, by Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal, to help me get back on track.

In the first chapter she wrote, “every willpower challenge is a conflict between two parts of oneself.” She recommends identifying, naming and being mindful of these different parts.  Since I am a great believer in the existence of multiple parts of self that unconsciously impact our actions,  this resonated strongly for me. Thinking of it in these terms helped me to gain some needed perspective.

I realized that the self-indulgent child part of me that craves instant gratification was saying “I don’t wanna” and “please don’t make me” about getting up and moving in the morning and winding down at night, and my overindulgent parent part was saying “ok, you don’t have to.” I also noticed that instead of remaining mindful and pausing to give myself a chance to reflect on what I really want, my wise woman part seemed to be on vacation or missing-in-action.

Identifying the parts of self that were working against my long-term goals helped me to realize that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by giving in to my indulgent impulses.  So I started an internal dialogue to give voice to all three of these parts and to start meeting my needs first before satisfying my desires.  This has helped me to start to get back on the road towards greater self-discipline and balance.

For more information about Kelly McGonigal’s approach to willpower, you can view a talk she gave about her book: http://kellymcgonigal.com/2012/06/12/willpowerbooktalk/.  Topics addressed include addiction, cravings, procrastination, motivation, mindfulness, sleep, exercise, goal-setting, habits,  guilt, shame, and self-compassion.

Do you have internal conflicts about willpower? Which of your parts are in conflict over this? Does this parts-of-self approach to willpower conflicts sound helpful to you? Please share your thoughts about this topic below.


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2 Responses to A Willpower Tug-of-War Between Different Parts of Self

  1. DorleeM says:


    Thank you for another wonderful post. It takes much courage to be so transparent about the ups and downs of tackling new habits.

    How wonderful that you succeeded in achieving and maintaining the first part of your self-care goal – meditation [for 2 months!] that you felt ready to add on an additional component – exercise!

    I feel for you [as well as that part of you that resisted adding in this second component] for the frustration and difficulties you are experiencing in how to incorporate this second piece into your routine.

    I am confident that you will get there. You are tackling this self-care mission with determination, self-kindness and creativity – a winning combo!

    It is also reminding me of Parts Psychology [based upon Internal Family Systems Therapy] in which there is recognition of all of us having multiple parts of self. Similar to what you are suggesting, it is by giving a voice to the different parts and seeing what the objections may be, one may make peace, so to speak, between the different parts on a particular issue. The objecting part may no longer need to dissent once it is given time and consideration.

    By the way, this whole conversation on self-care is reminding me that I made some positive movement in this arena as well – for the past four weeks, I have added exercise to my self-care routine. I exercise 2-3/week 🙂

    Lastly, your posts are most encouraging because they illustrate that even though you temporarily struggle, you eventually find some way of picking yourself and returning to your goal. In other words, they may serve to inspire us all to work towards achieving our objectives.

    • Andrea Goldberg says:

      Dear Dorlee,

      Thanks so much for the support and encouragement. I have moved past the obstacles that were interfering with my progress. I’m now back to meditating every day and have been exercising 4 times per week for the past two weeks.

      It’s good to know that you value my being transparent about my process. I appreciate the feedback that my posts are encouraging.

      It is awesome that you have been sticking to your exercise plan for the past 4 weeks.