One key component of these strategies requires acknowledging two opposing forces at play — how painful a change can be, and at the same time the strength of the person who needs to make the change. 

“Prepare patients that they’re going to have thoughts that they can’t do it, but let them know that you believe that they can. Remind them that it’s part of the process of change — it’s going to be uncomfortable but it will also give rise to self compassion and self trust,” she said.


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Successfully achieving a behavior change requires three types of power: want power, will power, and won’t power:

  • Want power requires patients to understand that making a change is consistent with their own internal vision of what they have for themselves and their lives, not what someone else wants
  • Will power involves patients figuring out what they need to do to make the change — whether it’s getting up earlier to have time to exercise, grocery shopping in a different way, or a willingness to get on a treadmill even when they’re tired — before they are good at it, when it’s still uncomfortable or distressing
  • Won’t power requires acknowledging what is getting in the way of making a specific behavior changed and figuring out a way to say “no” to whatever is pushing them toward counterproductive behaviors

McGonigal gave two examples of these theories in action — the “surf the urge” technique and the “I cannot walk” intervention.