Power of Will: New Years Tip

Just as we should seek joy by engaging in enjoyable pursuits, we can receive the benefits of willpower indirectly, by removing the need to expend it in the first place. Instead of focusing on willpower, we should look to the power of will.” *

Right on!! Love that. Power of Will. And what’s wrong with Willpower? Well, turns out there is considerable debate in the literature on whether the faculty of the mind we call willpower is like fuel in a fuel tank that gets depleted and needs to be refilled (maybe with a cookie or bowl of ice cream) – or more like an emotion (say, joy) that comes and goes and can be taken as a guide to inform our optimal living. Not a matter we will settle here; the studies are ongoing. But, what this author contributes is the notion that when we don’t feel like doing something we know we should, or we feel like doing something we know we shouldn’t – we should take heed, pay attention. There is important information here.

His example is good. He is a writer. Sometimes he doesn’t feel like writing. Sometimes it just pours out of him. He says he could use his willpower (no good) to force himself to write the stupid thing, but it won’t be nearly as good as a piece he really wants to write. The great piece is driven by the power of his natural will to write it. Feels like it practically writes itself. The not-as-good piece drains enormous amounts of time and energy, as he forces himself to just get the thing done. Of course, he feels depleted. He just wrung himself out doing something he didn’t want to do, propelled by nothing more than some idea from who knows where that he was supposed to do it.

Pay attention. If everything in us is saying we don’t want to do this whatever it is, then maybe there is not a thing wrong with our willpower. We just don’t want to do it. And then maybe we shouldn’t. Not right then anyway, because forcing it is bound to deplete us, maybe even make us resentful. Now we have to deal with that too, being all pissed off. And maybe we want to make it up to ourselves, to feel better whatever it takes, let’s say by mindlessly overindulging in some feel good in the moment no good person, place, or thing – like a bag of potato chips, I mean the whole thing. We know we do all kinds of things we know we shouldn’t to ourselves when we are tired or mad or both. People do this.** What Kelly McGonigal, PhD calls the “What-the-Hell” Effect. Once we have fallen already somehow, what-the-hell, and then there’s hell to pay for that. Excess drinking, eating, spending, couch surfing… So what’s a better way?

Well, what if every time we felt like we were forcing our will instead of being powered by it, we paused to ask ourselves how we would rather spend that moment of our lives – and go with whatever that is instead. Wouldn’t life be grand? Doing and not doing exactly what we do or don’t want to do all day long, every day for the rest of our lives. Wouldn’t work that way all the time would it? Not in love. And not in work. Sometimes we just have to do or not do things that go against our felt wishes at the time. Then what? Okay, so what if for that we paused and gave ourselves choices. What if we added two alternative courses of action to the one we felt pressured (and potentially drained) by. Then we could do a modified Lewinian Force Field Analysis. To keep it simple, quick, and propelling instead of inhibiting, instead of listing both the forces “for” and “against” each option, we could just list the forces “for,” pick the one that turns us on the most, and then use the power of that will to take us where we decided to go – like a magic carpet ride.

It’s a New Year. I am going to try this myself on a couple of fronts, and believe that it will work, which raises another point of the article for this post. Belief matters. People who believed humans run out of willpower felt depleted and performed less well on tasks they were assigned. So here’s to you and your own Power of Will to help you create the life you want to live. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else (including new program on Mindful Emotional Eating: Jump Start to Effectiveness) would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*“Have We Been Thinking About Willpower the Wrong Way for 30 Years?“ Nir Eyal https://hbr.org/2016/11/have-we-been-thinking-about-willpower-the-wrong-way-for-30-years

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

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