The Secret of Willpower5 min read

Willpower is one of the most important elements for growth and fulfillment. From the psychological as well as the spiritual perspective, cultivating our will is at the core of living a good life and expressing our full potential. In the Higher Mind system, willpower, together with awareness, is the focus of our work.

The stronger is your will, the more you can influence your external environment—the things that happen to you and how your life shapes out. Also, the stronger your will, the more you can control your internal environment—your thoughts, emotions, and impulses. In other words, the stronger your will, the freer and more empowered you are.

If your willpower is weak, you become the product of your environment—what you feel, what you do, and who you are is determined by events you have no control over. You may want things to be different, but you feel you can’t really make a change, because your habits, thoughts, and impulses are stronger than you. The environment is stronger than you.

This leads to a sense of futility, meaninglessness, and emptiness in life. You feel that what you think doesn’t matter, what you decide doesn’t matter, what you want doesn’t matter. In sum, you feel that you don’t matter.

Having goals and aspirations without cultivating the willpower to back them up is not only useless but frustrating. That is why I often say:

Either your aspirations are shaping your reality, or your reality is shaping your aspirations.

Having a strong willpower is the difference between what I call living inside out and living outside in. Our will is at the core of our being; even our thoughts, emotions, impulses, desires, and fears are external to it. They are influenced by our will—or at least influenceable by it.

Willpower, Intention, and Resolution

Willpower is the power of your will. It is how much your decisions matter and how much your intentions actually shape your internal and external life.

  • If you set an intention to start a given habit, do you actually do it, or is your intention overpowered by forgetfulness, laziness, and busyness?
  • If you set an intention to respond calmly every time you are provoked, do you actually follow through, or is your intention overpowered by the emotions in the moment?
  • If you set an intention to let go of a particular thought, are you able to do it, or does that thought come back whenever it wants and commands your attention?
  • If you decide to try cold showers for the health benefits, does the cold beat your will or does your will beat the cold?
  • If you resolve to achieve a particular goal in your life, do you actually achieve it, or is your will dampened by the obstacles in the way?

An intention is a thought of what you want to make happen—it is similar to a wish, but more focused, and charged with commitment.

A resolution or resolve is a firm intention—one that is made with full determination, earnestness, and gravitas. It’s when you put your whole heart, your whole being, behind it. Like the difference between singing a love song well and singing a love song with a heart overflowing with love.

What separates an intention from a resolution is the amount of willpower you put in. And willpower is a form of focus—it is focusing all your mental and emotional energy on a single point, and staying there without budging and without doubting, come what may.

Many people associate the exercise of willpower with some form of self-violence, or with a grinding-your-teeth type of mental toughness. Although that could be so in the beginning stages, this is a very rough expression of it, and not the way of the Higher Mind.

Instead, the more refined expression of willpower is still firm, but not forceful. It is unmovable, yet subtle. It is more like a monk calmly sitting in deep meditation than the war cry of a commander.

How to Train Your Willpower

The secret of willpower training is very simple and can be summarized in a single sentence:

Do what is difficult.

When you meet a challenge, the easiest thing to do is succumb to it, togive in, to do what is easy. Every time you do that, you weaken your will, make your aspirations more distant, and compromise your spiritual evolution.

On the other hand, every time you refocus on your intention and stay true to your resolutions, you strengthen your will. Just like our muscles grow by overcoming gravity, our willpower grows by overcoming resistance, obstacles, and temptations. The harder is the challenge, the greater is the growth.

Every time you set an intention to do something, or not do something, hold on to that intention at all costs. Stay true to it, in the face of all challenges—internal or external. Don’t be discouraged by the challenges; it is good that they come. The more obstacles the will surmount, the stronger it becomes.

Stay true to your resolutions.

The cultivation of willpower can be aided by the practices of affirmation, visualization, and meditation. It is also impacted by lifestyle elements such as your diet, how much sleep you get, and how many decisions you make on a daily basis. Yet, at its core, the same rule always applies: do what is difficult.

No matter where you are on the willpower scale, you can always take a step forward to train this important skill. There are several ways to do this, as explained in my books.

  • In Mindful Self-Discipline, I recommend strengthening your will by making Never Zero commitments, and also by going through willpower challenges.
  • In Wise Confidence, this training happens through the subtle exercise of shifting to your aspirational identity and living from it, instead of succumbing to the impulses, thought patterns, and limiting beliefs of your conditioned identity
  • In Practical Meditation, it is by using different meditation techniques to gain greater mastery over your mind and emotions.

At the end, the essence is always the same: set a strong intention, and then stay true to it, no matter what. The more challenging it is, the more you will grow. Just make sure to pace yourself and select challenges that stretch you yet are achievable, otherwise you may get discouraged, doubt yourself, and give up.

This takes me to the third point about cultivating willpower, which is self-belief. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, proved that willpower is not only a biological phenomenon linked to glucose levels but a psychological phenomenon. She discovered that, among other things, the amount of willpower we have is affected by the amount of willpower we believe we have.

Believe in your limitless potential.

This discovery is in line with what I’ve always believed in, and what I’ve learned from the ancient meditation masters. Swami Vivekananda famously said, “It is faith that makes a lion out of a man”, “Never think there is anything impossible for the soul”, and “Believe in yourself and the world will be at your feet“.

The final secret of willpower, then, is to have faith in yourself. To replace your “I cannot” with “I can and I will”. To say that to yourself with conviction, energy, and spirit. Then, and only then, you’ll begin to tap into a source of power within you that you didn’t dream you had. Your life and your growth will accelerate.

Going Deeper

To dive deeper into the concept of willpower, read chapters 4, 29, and 31 of Mindful Self-Discipline, and chapters 1, 19, and 20 of Wise Confidence. Check out also the Determination Meditation and Make Your Sacrifice guided practices in the Higher Mind app.

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