ASK ABDI: HOW DO I STRENGTHEN MY WILLPOWER?
QUESTION: It is difficult to admit, but I’ve come to consider myself a lazy person who lacks commitment. I might start the week intending to meditate every day, but end up meditating just four or five days. I may start the year intending to eat healthier, but may only stick with a diet for a month or two. I’ve recognized this pattern of setting intentions and then quietly abandoning them until I’ve become sufficiently disgusted with myself, to reset the same intention and begin the cycle anew. An objective observer might say, “Dude, just choose to keep your intention this time. You’re in control". That seems like it might be true, but why don’t I feel in control? Why do I sometimes feel like I’m a captive of my own weakness? Insofar as it is an important attribute, how does one strengthen the willpower?
ANSWER: This is such an important topic and there are several important points that need to be addressed. First off, this is not about being lazy, an inability to commit, or willpower. Sure, those can be issues that need examining, but there are other energies at play here. However, if you are interested in learning more about willpower, Roy Baumeister’s 1996 chocolate and radish experiment will provide great insight.
Welcome to the world of your unconscious mind, where your shadow is running the show. Our inability to commit to things that we desire consciously comes from unresolved issues that we have not healed unconsciously. Here, intellectual understanding is useless. The only way out of our predicament is to go inside and examine what wounding has led to this pattern, which is emotional in nature. This is not an issue of "control"; it is an issue of unearthing, healing, and integrating these repressed aspects of our psyche. This repression starts at a very young age and is the result of parts of ourselves not being accepted by those who care for us at that time. Whether perceived or real, the repression then leads to a whole host of coping mechanisms and distorted conscious behaviors in our adult life. These are not an enemy to be crushed, rather disowned pieces of ourselves that need to brought back into the light of consciousness. As you might guess, healing these splits takes time and effort.
Willingness and willpower are different things. One can have the willingness to change and that can be a stepping-stone to healing. Unmoored willpower by itself, disconnected from our core, has its own negative consequences. There are people who have powerful wills and manage to meet many goals and manifest materially. I come across many such successful people. Sometimes that goal is connected with their inner voice and there is true joy in their lives. Sometimes this ironclad willpower is a response to and coping mechanism for unexamined anxiety and unaddressed wounding. This is our typical "type A" person who can manifest much, but taste little. From the outside it seems that they are in control and their willpower is serving them well. But, internally it is really their unconscious anxiety that is running the show and constant movement is the only way they can keep the dread away.
Having more willpower is not the solution. Its presence, or lack there of, is a symptom of a greater issue: our unexamined wounding. The pain you are experiencing is truly a gift; once you’ve experienced enough, it beckons you to look for a way out. That is where willingness comes in. The way out here is to do the psychological work that allows you to access your inner compass. This will permit you to both know what feeds you as well as calm your constant anxiety enough in order to pursue that voice. From connection with that voice, you can find out if the things you require willpower for feed you or poison you. This is the healthy place from which we can live fulfilled lives. It is a harmonious dance between inner and outer, soul and ego. You are aware of the pattern, you are frustrated and in some discomfort. Follow that through to the next level of finding that voice and dance partner.