Willpower is not something that is innate, unchangeable and very difficult to achieve. A strong willpower does not mean that the person is fighting with themselves all the time.
The exercise of a strong willpower should be an effortless and pleasurable experience. A good planning can minimize the fight e.g. fighting to wake up at 4 am can became a lot easier if we slept early at night, studying is a lot easier if done in a library or in solitude without the television blaring in the background, and it would be easier to control one’s food intake if not exposed to food all the time.
Willpower is defined as having a level of control over our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. If all of these things are being controlled then who is the controller? A quick answer to that would be the emotionally neutral part of our mind is controlling the emotionally charged parts of our mind, and the manifest behaviour is the outcome of it.
Willpower does not seem to be a unitary concept but a combination of a number of different functions of our mind. It is propelled by our life goals, values in life, seeing some purpose and meaning in doing something, equanimity, intelligence, energy levels, physical and mental health etc. Willpower comes into force when we are convinced of something, this convincing can happen through a discussion with people or as a result of our own reflection.
Decision-making can happens at one or both of the following levels:
- The planning level.
- Execution level.
Common sense dictates that a strong willpower involves sticking to the decision taken at the planning level. A Bollywoood star, in one of his movies, uses this dialogue “once I have made up my mind, I don’t even listen to myself”. This may be a display of his willpower.
In my opinion willingness, openness and having an ability to accept or make changes at the last minute is also a sign of mental strength, and one’s inability to cope with the last minute changes would be a sign of mental weakness. I say to people – be open to last minute changes and don’t complain if someone make last minute changes, within reasonable limits, as on most occasions they are for betterment. Some brilliant ideas come to the mind only at the last minute as the mind is properly focused on the task nearer the execution time, there is an emotional investment and intensity of attention. Putting aside that last minute insight in order to execute one’s planned decision and willpower would be foolishness. I have also noticed that my lectures and presentations are a lot better if I keep revising my presentation slides until the morning of my presentation. However, there is also a risk that this willingness to make last minute changes can weaken our will power.
The decisions taken at the planning level are often amended at the execution level. Sometimes decision taken at the planning level are more sensible and appropriate than the decision taken at the last minute.
If the decision taken at the planning level was done with an equanimous mind and adequate information/ground work then it should not be amended at the execution level. But if the decision taken at the point of planning was not done with an equanimous mind and with adequate information on hand, then this decision should be altered at the point of execution as more information becomes available later on.
It is therefore important to reflect for a moment at the point of execution of an action if a change in the decision was made. We need to ask ourselves what is leading to this change of mind at the last minute, has any additional information become available now and what are the consequences if we don’t stick to the plan. And once it becomes clear that the earlier decision was well thought through then one must exercise one’s willpower to stick to the plan, as our body and the mind have a tendency to slip/stay into their comfort zones.
It is like enhancing the strength of our muscles. We go to the gym and build our muscle which can be used in any situation. Similarly we can enhance our willpower through our everyday activities.
We should announce to ourselves, preferably write it down on a piece of paper what we are going to do – very simple steps and stick to them.
I will not get up from my desk whilst studying for at least 30 min.
I will not watch television for more than an hour at a time / two hours a day.
I will not watch television whilst I am eating.
I will not eat meals after 8 pm.
I will go for 10 min walk every day.
I will pay my bills immediately as they arrive if there is money in my account.
I will respond to all the emails received on the same day, even if I don’t have an answer, I will say I don’t have an answer now but will let you know later
I will …
I will …
It doesn’t matter what resolve we have made, it could be irrelevant to our everyday activities e.g. I will keep standing here for 5 min, I will breath fast / slowly for 2 minutes, I will rotate my neck clockwise and then anticlockwise three times etc.
Any success in our efforts in this way will enhance our willpower and this can be used anywhere else – in important life decisions, just as muscle built in the gym can be used for any other job. These little efforts add up like drops falling into a pot and after a while it gets filled.
How to develop equanimity for a better willpower
- Saying to yourself – all things are impermanent, what I experience right now is not my real me, faith in superordinate systems and surrender to them, non-doer ship etc.
- Don’t lose equanimity just because your willpower wasn’t strong enough in a given situation.
- But if you have lost equanimity, don’t lose your equanimity just because you have lost your equanimity.
- Don’t lose equanimity just because you are unable to keep equanimous at all times.
Our emotions or passions provide the energy for our actions and equanimity the direction. Under most circumstances a part of our mind experiences the emotions and the other part remains equanimous. Execution of a strong willpower would be possible only when the part of the mind that is experiencing the emotions doesn’t overwhelm our equanimity, otherwise the energy will get misdirected.
The goal is to arrive at a place in our mind which is equanimous – where the consciousness is like a mirror – knows everything, reflects everything, but doesn’t make judgment or react emotionally. The willpower that emanates from this inner consciousness / observer is very powerful and can achieve anything.
The problem is that we can see only glimpses of it and that also only for a very short period, and then lapse into our habitual reacting mode. But the fact that we can witness that consciousness even for a short while gives us hope that all types of mental obstacles can be worked on just by doing some inner work. As soon as the mind touches this equanimous zone, the healing switch is turned on.
The mind travels through only two grooves –
- Judging and emotionally reacting – it builds up suffering.
- Non-judging and emotionally neutral – it starts eradicating suffering.
There is no third way. And as soon as the mind switches to non-judging and equanimous mode and stops reacting emotionally, the inner healing starts, as the old judgments and emotional reactions start getting eradicated.