Willpower is the strength to act or refrain from acting in the pursuit of a goal. There are many correlations which can be drawn in training willpower and physical training. Powerful people are not born; they are trained. Proper technique is important to prevent injury. Growth requires increased resistance. Just as muscle can be toned and bulked, willpower can be tempered and raised. Tempering is patience or the ability to work under stress for prolonged periods of time. Bulking provides intense energy for extraordinary feats. The variables that determine if an exercise is toning or bulking are frequency and intensity. The strategic exploitation of commonplace events can be used to train willpower. A well developed training program can transform anyone into a confident, able person who is actively engaged in controlling his or her life and environment.
Just as increased strength and stamina is an open ended goal for physical training, it too is can serve for developing willpower. Many people mistakenly confuse desire for willpower. Desire is simply wanting; the act of only increasing desire makes whiney-babies. Willpower is the ability to do or get the object of desire. Others see it negatively as a discipline where one refrains from something over increasing periods of time. This is fallacy. Little strength can be built when the training for a goal is a 100% application of the goal; there is no way to increase resistance. This is the reason why people are tired after doing a job they have been doing every day for years. This line of thinking makes other goals, such as quitting a chemical dependency, almost impossible. Every cycle of refrain-then-indulge restarts the withdrawals. Cold turkey is the only way, and can only be accomplished if you’re strong enough. With pointless torture in mind, let us consider the techniques.
There are 3 main techniques. While creating training exercises for yourself, it is imperative to keep the exercises themselves wholesome. This will benefit by the act itself and again because it was used for training. Willpower can be implemented at any time and in any way; that is exactly the point. The healthiest perspective is to exercise and monitor progress. Toning exercises can occur daily and thereby creates the tendency to think of training as punishment for poor performance. This idea is toxic. Mixed with frustration, it creates a self abusive mentality. In those cases the mistake is to be retroactively viewed as punishment while the exercise is a corrective action to prevent reoccurrence. For example, if I was working on staying focused, then I would not use pain to “teach me a lesson” for daydreaming. Pain is the body’s response to damage; damage is not healthy. A proper preventative could be to write a paragraph on a health topic, stack and balance miscellaneous items on a coffee table for several minutes, or not end basketball practice until I could make 2 free throws in a row. Here, each activity requires focus in a healthy way while improving on other skill sets. Mistakes add up. However, always allocate exercises appropriately according to the ability to train and not the inability to perform.
Another main rule of thumb when working on willpower is to progress slowly but permanently. Consider the yo-yo effect of those who attempt to make large lifestyle changes. Also consider that willpower training is nothing more than the systematic removal of you out of your own way. Taking baby steps are vital to increasing resistance while keeping it doable. If at any time a training exercise is failed, it was because the goals are too lofty. The remedy is to repeat the last successful exercise before moving on to an intermediate challenge between it and the failed exercise. Repeated in simple terms – if training is too harsh, you will not continue to train; without training there can be no development.
The third technique is the mantra, “I say so.” During all training exercises this should be repeated internally until it becomes part of awareness. Other phrases such as, “Because I’m my boss, I’m in control, this is my will, this is my choice, etc” work also; whatever feels natural. Memories can also be recapitulated in mantra to reuse past moments of expressed intent; let no purposeful act go unnoted. Please observe that the I-regard must be allowed to adapt by including other parts of self as they become aligned. It may feel pathetic to dwell in mantra as one picks up a used napkin from the floor. However, it is the mantra that can empower you to someday host a park, lake or beach cleanup party, not the ability to pick up napkins.
Development requires increased resistance within the range of one’s abilities, and strength occurs as abilities increase. Now we must set ourselves to the task of defining and discussing the subjective elements: I-regard, resistance, and fluidity.
The I-regard is exactly what you mean when you say the word, “I”. During the course of training it is very easy to associate “I” with the voice of internal dialog. Nothing could be more subtly deceptive. Where is this voice when a particular food is craved, the need to sleep or urinate arises, or a spiritual moment is experienced? It is just a commentator. Indeed, there are many reasons the mind is said to be a secondary organ of a whole person. Initially an untrained person will use information from traditional authorities as general guidelines when setting goals and developing a training program. During this phase willpower is exercised. But more importantly, the body and spirit are educated as to what is wholesome for them also. For example if our goal was health, then our program would be focused on physical training and nutrition. Exposure to these will allow the body to develop a taste for them. Quite literally, the locus of taste will shift from flavors in the mouth to bodily awareness, and a bodybuilder will not feel right for the day until after a workout. When this happens, the body and mind have become aligned. If religious convictions demand food that is prepared in a particular way, knowledge of nutrition can be included to make meals meet the demands of both spiritual and bodily needs. Once the body, mind, and spirit are aligned, the I-regard must include them. This trinity then works conjunctively in training to strengthen themselves and sculpt any facet of one’s life.
Resistance is oppositional pressure to willpower. Initially, it manifests as a reluctance to train. For example, it is present while eating a health food that is disliked, thinking compassionately about an offender, or struggling to run one more lap. These are wonderful training events! However, eventually the mind will grow strong enough to break the body and twist the spirit. When this occurs, resistance is no longer an internal conflict and will be provided by external factors. There is always one more person to help, another trail to hike, and another subject to explore while training.
There is a peculiarity of willpower which transcends the metaphor of physical training. If willpower can be used in application of one area in life, it can be exerted in the same degree toward any other. For example, let us consider an atheist champion sumo wrestler who converted and would like to become a catholic priest and also a cross-country runner. If progress is being made, it would be only a matter of time before he succeeded in both. The person who doesn’t train would have little chance at either.
Quite simply, all training exercises to increase willpower are activities that are in line with goals, healthy, and disliked. The quality of being disliked is the active principle which makes any act useful for exercising willpower. Every training program reflects the unique goals, tastes, and preferences of the individual. The list below explains the important elements and steps of a solid program to increase willpower.
- What means should willpower training take the form of, i.e. what goal would I like to achieve?
- What are a few activities are conducive to meeting the goal? (gather information if needed)
- What are examples of each activity in decreasing difficulty or dislike?
- What is my current strength level? Which item could I perform comfortably today and repeat daily with no difficulty? (training begins at one level of difficulty higher than your comfort zone)
- Monitor your progress and increase difficulty when little effort is expended to train. Slow down or take a day off when training becomes a dreaded chore.
- My goal is willpower and to build this I will use nutrition.
- I need to eat fewer snacks and more vegetables while maintaining my current caloric intake.
- A. No snacks except fruit and substitute 3 servings of vegetables* daily.
B. No snacks except fruit and substitute 2 servings of vegetables* daily.
C. No snacks except fruit and substitute 1 serving of vegetables* daily.
D. No snacks except fruit and tasting vegetables* daily.
E. 1 snack and no vegetables daily.
4. My current comfort zone is level E, so training begins with D.
* Degree of difficulty can be further manipulated according to preference for certain vegetables over others. I will start with those I like, such as corn and okra, and work my way up a list of disliked vegetables starting with Item D. This will be repeated for each level C, B, and A.
This was written… Because I say so!