“He who has a strong enough why can bare almost any how” Viktor Frankl
Why am I doing this again? Why am I putting myself through this? I was asking myself this question recently while painstakingly going through notes and files for a project that I am currently working on. I had very little motivation, very little energy or enthusiasm that was required to get myself to do the work. Why was I lacking the drive to do what I had to do, I thought. Where was the energy, drive and direction that I had when I started this project not so long ago? I basically came to a standstill and was not sure where to go from there. Then I started to really question myself, as we normally do. Am I lazy? Don’t I know what to do? Can I still do this? Do I not have any will power or discipline? Then came the judgments… “You never finish anything”. “You are lazy.” “You lack direction in your life.” “Where are you going?” Etc, etc… We all know, and have come to experience these feelings of judgment, discontent and failure from time to time if we don’t achieve our goals and outcomes. Or just if we get stuck midway in a project, plan or ideal that we are working towards. It may be an exercise program, finishing a degree, completing a course, sticking to a diet, whatever. Sometimes during the challenging phases of “moving towards a desired outcome”, when the initial passion and excitement fades we reach this point. The point where we question if it’s worth it and whether we still want to proceed in this direction at all. If we still want what we wanted in the first place and if we have the ability and perseverance to continue on this path.
It’s almost like there are many other things competing for your attention and time and it is as if the price you are paying to get where you need to go, is no longer worth it.
Is it the lack of will power? Is it discipline? And are some people just better at sticking to their plans? I think this is what many of us conclude when we reach this point in our lives. We accept that we cannot stick to this plan and we cannot achieve this outcome and that’s just the way it is. We become hopeless. We invite in negative thoughts about our ability to reach goals and dreams and accept defeat. We judge and condemn ourselves, questioning why we even thought that we had what it takes in the first place. We doubt ourselves and our abilities. We then feel worthless and our self belief and confidence takes a serious blow. The next thing we then do is to reach out for quick fixes, rebel against our original goals and accept we just cannot do this. This is negative spiraling at it’s best.
What if is was not because you are “bad” or lazy? Or incapable? What if it was something else?
I believe many of us just do not understand the concept of willpower good enough to harness it’s true power. When we reach this point of being stuck, we often forgot or lost touch with our highest intentions. Let me explain:
“Willpower” is greatly misunderstood. Lots of people, perhaps most who feel stuck, unable to make effective changes and who doubt that anything will really work believe that they have no will power. This is not true, what is the case is that people misunderstand willpower and how it works.
The power of the will involves 2 psychological factors: attention and intention. Willpower is the effort it takes to make our attentions stay with our intentions. We set up positive and wonderful intentions about eating right, exercising regularly, doing this or that and then when it comes time to act on what we decided, we seem to be of another mind. It seems hard in the midst of real world distractions, constraints, temptations and situations to keep our attention on the things that we thought we wanted.
What is the problem?
What causes our good intentions to slip and slide?
Let’s look at Intention and Attention. We experience these two facets of mind on different levels.
Attention is what is immediately in front of us, what is “on our mind” What are you paying attention to? What are you aware of? What is grabbing your attention? (Hopefully the words in this blog…)
Attention describes your mind in the present moment. It describes what is on the screen of your consciousness in the present moment. That is why the triggers and stimuli in our environment get’s our attention. As our senses encounter the environment.
Intentions occur at a higher level. Intentions describe the things in the back of our minds. At this level we experience our chosen values, understandings, goals, outcomes etc. Here we set direction or orientation for ourselves – where we want to go.
But sometimes when we return to our primary state of immediate awareness, our attentions, then the higher awareness, our intentions seem to vanish; to be overwhelmed by immediate sensory stimuli. That what is around us.
It appears as if our intentions are much weaker than our attentions. This is not true. There is much more power in intention. The problem isn’t that attention overrides intention, it’s that we have already set other old intentions before, and that our new intentions are not sufficiently established or set. The problem is that the older intentions have already been set and that the every day attentions are doing what they do best, they act as the perceptual radar for the higher intentions.
Typically we “chose” most of our highest intentions by default. We “chose” our intentions by absorbing the typical cultural values from our society where we grew up. Our mind is just running its pre-programmed programs.
The so-called “attention-deficit” that we experience is really a problem of “intention-deficit”. We have simply not taken charge of choosing and setting new higher intentions in a way that makes them stick.
Typically these intentions are really running the show. These frames of mind govern the everyday attentions that we experience and they may prevent from other intentions from getting set.
Higher intentions always govern. This is how willpower works. Once you set something in your mind, it establishes a self-organizing system so that the way you perceive, talk, act, feel etc. serves that intentional frame. It operates as the boss/CEO of all of your immediate attentional thoughts. It gives instruction to what you attend to.
So as you step back and look at all the hundreds of thousands of small choices about what to read, eat, think, talk about, respond to etc., these are the same everyday steps by which you have set your intentions. By them you establish a direction, an orientation. While this typically occurs outside of awareness, you can do it mindfully. In fact, to consciously choose you highest intentions enables you to live much more purposefully. It enables you to take an intentional stance in life and to align all of your attentions with your highest intentions. And when you do that, you experience the subjective sense of “willpower”.
You feel in control of your mind, emotions, responses and actions. You feel “at cause”.
It’s a great feeling.
So the next time you get stuck, doubt yourself and are unable to move forward. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this in the first place? What is my REAL BIG WHY?
Successful people don’t have more willpower or are more disciplined than the rest of us. They just have the ability to see everything they do through the “eyes of their WHY”.
It is our WHY power that drives our willpower.
About the author: Reinhard Korb is a thought leader in the application of nutrition, exercise, neuroscience and mindfulness. Optimizing health, wellness and performance in his clients. As the founder of Thrive he has facilitated and helped various organisations and individuals actualize their potential and achieve peak performance states. He is a certified Fitness & Nutrition Coach, Meta Coach, Neuro Coach, Stress Management Coach and Wellness Coach