The Truth About Willpower…
“Willpower, for the most part, is determined by factors that we’re typically
unaware of; we have to use an indirect process to attain willpower because
it’s governed by dynamics we don’t intuitively understand…”
One of the overarching concepts in my book How to Conquer Yourself – one of the key themes running throughout it and that all the techniques are based upon – is that willpower is an indirect game; that cultivating willpower, raising your productivity, building motivation and overcoming procrastination are aims best handled by methods that are indirect and counter-intuitive, rarely obvious or straightforward.
Specifically, willpower is NOT a direct game because human behavior, as a whole, is NOT the direct process of conscious will or of any rational, decision-making process. To the contrary, for the most part, human behavior is an indirect by-product of subconscious emotions and instinctual drives we tend to remain oblivious to.
The “truth” about willpower is that you can’t really “will” yourself to sustain it, because it’s governed by dynamics we don’t intuitively understand.
As an analogy, just as when you’re dating someone, you’re not dating how attractive they are (or the material objects they own) but the actual person underneath – the true character it takes time to uncover – there’s…
- a hidden behavior-pattern to raising productivity
- a hidden dynamic and approach to cultivating willpower
…and so on. The things you have to do and the dynamics you have to understand in order to conquer yourself, like the real personality to someone you start casually dating, aren’t readily apparent. They take time to get acquainted with, so remember to be patient with yourself as learn to uncover these true, hidden dynamics…
Two Examples, as Demonstration
In chapter two of my book, which covers how to overcome procrastination, I explain that procrastination is really an issue of self-esteem, not necessarily laziness or apathy (even though that’s what it results in), and that we procrastinate when we confuse what we’re able to accomplish with what our personal value is as a human being; at one point saying:
“Underlying our procrastination is a mistaken, subliminal connotation between what we do and what our intrinsic value is as a human being. On a deeper level, we tend to unconsciously translate tasks into measurements of who we are – into evidence as to whether or not we’re acceptable and into forecasts of what’ll become of us into the future…
Once you confuse your performance with your identity like that, ‘finishing this screenplay,’ ‘starting this business,’ ‘passing this exam,’ and ‘landing this job,’ get inflated with a level of significance that makes failure (and even slight mistakes) seem like the end of the world; unbearable and cataclysmic, like psychological equivalents to falling off of a Manhattan high-rise.”
In chapter five, which covers how to raise your productivity, I explain that productivity is the natural offset of focus, clarity and concentration and that since our entire world suffers from attention deficit disorder – since we literally *live* in culture of constant technological distraction – it’s as though the very fabric of our society conspires to keep you less productive than you would otherwise naturally be, so you have to adjust your work process counter and shield yourself from such societal dynamics; at one point saying:
“Because our entire world suffers from attention deficit – because there’s an inordinate amount of technology making attention deficit the norm, rather than the exception – traditional time-management is played-out. In our modern, digital age, traditional time-management techniques no longer suffice, because traditional time-management theory stems from a society which no longer exists.”
…and then proceed to describe ways to harness concentration, rather then time, as that’s the hidden factor that productivity relies upon.
So again, remember, because this will help you a lot (and what I’m saying here applies in a variety of ways) – willpower is an indirect game. Specifically, willpower is NOT a direct game because human behavior, as a whole, is NOT the direct result of conscious will, reasoning or logical thought.
I talk about this more extensively in the book, but simply take a good, honest look at your own behaviors and at those of everyone around you and you’ll find that almost nothing we end up doing – almost none of our actual behavior – originates from true “willpower” or “resolve” in the technical sense. Conversely, the vast majority of human behavior has its origins in unconscious imprints, emotional responses and instinctual reactivity…so even though that’s not what we’d like to admit, that’s what we have to uncover and grasp in order to get ourselves under control.
So the key idea to developing willpower for your goals, especially your personal ones, is to let go of the delusion of force and tenacity, which is what the term willpower implies: when you use a phrase like “will power,” it conjures up images of some Herculean Superman who can perform extraordinary tasks with ease and even hints at a sense of religious virtue (whereas we’re essentially limited creatures whose behavioral dynamics are best understood through science). Let go of this old-school, Victorian notion of having to always compel yourself and start leveraging the more less-apparent, lesser-evolved factors that are actually governing the process.
You have to conserve and safeguard the little bit of willpower you do have, while also de-romanticizing the entire notion. In essence, you have to stop idealizing what willpower means.
For more on this, read books like Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal or The Dragon’s of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan
In my book How to Conquer Yourself, I describe this indirect process for each specific component of your ambition, and do so by chapter, as in…
- another chapter talks about the indirect, counterintuitive way to raise productivity
- another about the indirect, counterintuitive way to build motivation
…and so on. Get your copy now here on Amazon.
To recap, again, willpower is an indirect game: the actions you have to take and the understandings you have to grasp in order to obtain it are subtle and counterintuitive, never obvious or straightforward.
In general, it’s my belief that everything in life has a “shadow side” which determines the outcome to it. Just like with a person you’re dating, and just like human behavior as a whole, in most cases it’s what you don’t see that governs how a circumstance plays out and dictates what a situation, or objective, requires and demands.
To discover more now, order my book How to Conquer Yourself: Discipline & Willpower for the Conscious, Creative Thinker here.