by Kathie England

Self-forgiveness and the Willpower Instinct

When you think about improving your willpower is self-forgiveness the first thought that comes to mind?

If you’re like most people, you probably find the idea of self-compassion to be ludicrous. But that’s not what research shows.

 In The Willpower Instinct the author, Kelly McGonigal, shares numerous studies that show how forgiving yourself for a transgression improves your chances of developing your willpower rather than reduces it. She says, “Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control.” (pages 148-149) Self-criticism is more likely to cause you to do exactly the opposite of what you want to do.

Self-compassion is associated with more motivation and better self-control. Self-compassion actually makes you more accountable and more likely to take personal responsibility.

Dr. McGonigal explains that forgiveness takes away the shame and pain of thinking about what happened.

Throughout her book Dr. McGonigal offers Willpower Experiments. She titles the experiment for self-compassion “Forgiveness When You Fail.” She suggests thinking of a time when you gave in to temptation (or maybe procrastination). 

  • First, ask yourself, What are you feeling? (Notice if self-criticism comes up.)
  • Second, remember You’re only human and that everyone struggles with willpower challenges. (A setback doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.)
  • The third step is to ask yourself, What would you say to a friend? (You’re likely to encourage your friend not to give up. Can you do the same for yourself?)

If you’d like to learn more about the willpower instinct, join the next Making Time for Success call on Monday, November 18 at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. We’ll explore how developing your willpower muscle will help you take back your time. To register for this FREE call, go to