Thoughts on health, happiness and sustainability

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Is will power really important?

Will power is one of those funny things that we refer to casually when we are trying to resist eating that second piece of cake or motivate ourselves to go for a run, but do we ever really stop and think about what it is and whether it is really important?

In my case, I think it is fair to say that the answers were “no” and “no” until fairly recently.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have any will power, but simply that I wasn’t fully aware of its importance and role in my life, and therefore could not maximise its benefits.

So what is will power?

The annoyingly cryptic answer is that no one really knows, because no one actually knows what consciousness is.  However, on a more practical level we know exactly what it is.  It is the driver of the machine (your mind and body) that you inhabit.  Your mind and body are constantly reacting instinctively to the environment around them but there is that little voice inside your head (that’s you!) that is witnessing all of the events and stimuli and casting judgement on them.  It is that little voice that can will the mind and body to think about certain things or perform certain actions.  If it doesn’t assert its will, the mind and body just go with the flow.

Sound a little bit strange?

Well lets go back to that second piece of cake.  It is sitting in front of you, calling you – “Eat me, eat me, I’m so delicious”.  You’re natural reaction might be to eat the cake.  It’s understandable, you couldn’t help yourself.  Right?  Well, no actually. The cake didn’t make you do anything.  The cake is just an inanimate object sitting on a table.  But yet you let it control you.  You got pushed around by a bit of sponge!

There was that little voice inside your head telling you whether or not this was the right thing to do and you had a choice as to whether you asserted the decision of that little voice or let it slide.  The question is, did you consciously decide that a second piece of cake was the right thing to do or could you just not help yourself?  If you made the decision, then you used your will and that’s fine.  If you couldn’t help yourself on the other hand, then you were not in the driving seat of your own decision.

Can we improve our will power?

You can’t control the world around you to any great extent, but you do have control over your own actions and thoughts, and that is what defines you as a person.  You literally have the power to assert your will – hence it is called will power.  In truth, it is one of the only true forms of power that a person can ever attain.  And we can attain it.

Think of will power as mental strength.  It works exactly the same way as physical strength.  If you exercise your muscles regularly they get stronger and you gain power and control.  If you exercise your will regularly, you gain power and control.  People who claim that they don’t have the will power to live the life that they want to live are simply out of practice.

The solution? Exercise your mental strength.

Just like physical fitness, start small and work your way up.  If for example you want to stop drinking coffee but think that you don’t have the will power, start off by finding small opportunities to exercise your will power.  Maybe you just try to say no to one coffee per day or even per week.  Maybe you don’t even start with coffee but just start trying to resist other things in your life.  You could try not to make impulse purchases in the supermarket, you could try not to reply to every email within 15 minutes, or you could try to do more positive things such as admire the view for a minute a day or eat one extra piece of fruit.  The more you use your will, the stronger your will becomes. The stronger your will becomes, the more you can use it until eventually it will be strong enough to achieve your goals and dreams.

I have found that as I regularly exercise my will power to do or not do a particular thing in my life, I not only become more disciplined in that area, but also in other areas of my life.  I gain control over my own life and find it easier to live the life that I want.

Will power is essential for a successful life

There are many great characters in our world who live inspirational and successful lives and these people all have one thing in common – a strong will.

One of the most inspiring people in my own life has always been my Grandma and she is one of those with incredible strength of mind.  Her determination to do the things that she wanted to do has allowed her to live a full life and now even at the age of 98, she still lives her own life, cooks for herself, goes on holiday and goes out with her friends.  She has more self-discipline than almost anyone else I know and there is no doubt that this strong mental attitude has been a key factor in her ability to live a long and fulfilling life so far.

It is summed up well by the following quotes from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari:

An abundance of willpower and discipline is one of the chief attributes of all those with strong characters and wonderful lives.

Building self-control and discipline into your life will … bring you a tremendous sense of freedom.

Most people have liberty.  They can go where they want and do the things they feel like doing.  But too many people are also slaves to their impulses.  They have grown reactive rather than proactive, meaning that they are like seafoam pounding against a  rocky shore, going in whatever direction the tide might take them.

Nikola Tesla also writes about this in My Inventions and Other Writings, stating:

I began to practise self-control. At first my resolution faded like snow in April, but in a little while I conquered my weakness and felt a pleasure I never knew before – that of doing as I willed.

So start taking steps to exercise your will at every opportunity, however small, and gradually you will develop the strength, confidence and discipline to make more positive decisions to live the life that you truly want to live.  Your will will set you free.

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