All human beings are born free. We are free to think whatever thoughts we can imagine. We possess the free will to make choices that affect our future. Action is taken when our free will is put into operation and transformed into an agency. Therefore, thinking is the first and most important part of doing. Great actions come from great thoughts.
Every great goal and endeavour that we, human beings, have ever undertaken and accomplished—from building the great pyramids, to conquering empires, and even landing on the moon—have been due to our ability to think and transform thought into action through sheer fortitude of will. From curbing small bad habits to achieving excellence, using our willpower to control our actions is the essence of the much-admired trait of self-discipline.
Fundamentally, what right do we have to control anything else unless we are first able to completely control ourselves? Why is it that some people are able to will themselves to accomplish great feats, yet some of us fail to maximise our full potential? Strong willpower is a vital attribute that anyone can gain and master. I like to think of willpower as if it were a muscle.
Willpower is like a muscle in many ways. It can atrophy and weaken if neglected, leading to laziness, or grow continually stronger and more powerful if exercised regularly and properly trained. When a muscle is weak it can still exert some force just as very weak willpower is usually still enough to manage the most basic of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the physiological needs that keep us alive. However if trained to become strong, the only limit to its power is our imagination.
Just like in the gym, if you aren’t strong you don’t go straight for the heavy weights. You start with light weights and high repetitions, and incrementally work your way up as your muscles develop. The same applies to training your willpower. I believe that you should start with breaking small bad habits and establishing small positive ones. You then apply all your willpower to the repetition of these simple tasks, just as you use all your strength and stamina to complete a set of exercises in the gym. With rehabbing a shoulder injury you may start with weights as low as five pounds or less.
For argument’s sake, let’s start working our willpower with similar light things like flossing your teeth or washing dishes as soon as they are used. Once these habits are established and our willpower grows stronger, next the resistance in increased, just as you move from five pounds to ten in the gym. We then establish an additional habit that was a little bit more challenging and working on strengthening our willpower yet again through repetition. Eventually we work up to more pertinent things such as diet and lifestyle changes.
In the military, where discipline is essential and soldiers must use their strong willpower to overcome fear and risk their lives, special attention is paid to developing willpower through small habits. Every day soldiers-in-training must polish their shoes, make their beds and clean their weapons.
By mastering these fundamental tasks, soldiers have the framework to later surmount tremendous challenges of physical and mental toughness, just as muscles in training will eventually gain strength capable of lifting heavy weights. Our form or technique is important when it comes to training our muscles. There are certain ways to execute a movement to target specific muscles or provide the desired stimuli.
The more we practise this form the easier it becomes. Mastering and improving our willpower also require proper technique or form that is gained only through repetition.
I am suggesting here that there is a technique to thinking that begets an increase in willpower, just as proper technique in weightlifting allows you to lift heavier weights. It is often taken for granted that we are free to choose our attitudes and emotions just as we are free to choose how we move our bodies.
In the same way that being kinesthetically aware allows for greater control over our bodies, being aware of our thoughts facilitates our use of willpower to gain greater control over our rebellious minds. Unlike muscular strength, our willpower potential is limitless. The only thing standing in the way is ourselves.
All it takes is a little deliberate thought and starting to practise the repetition of willpower with small little tasks and habits like flossing your teeth, then working up to bigger, harder things, which will in turn become easy.
Have a good workout!