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How to develop your willpower

Monday, February 05, 2007

The following article on how to develop your willpower was dictated by Wily Walnut on January 18th 2007 and transcribed on February 5th 2007.

"It's January 18th 2007... and I'm dictating this blog entry while walking in the countryside on a very, very windy day. The wind is gusting at up to 80 miles per hour. The ground, though muddy and wet, is covered with the debris blown down from the trees: branches, twigs ... hopefully not me.

Today I would like to talk to you about how to develop an indomitable willpower. Developing your willpower is such a fundamental ability in any endeavour or in anything that is going to lead to your success. So how do you develop your willpower and self-discipline? What do you have to do? What is willpower, to start with?

What is willpower?

Well, I think willpower is determination, it is commitment, it's a decision -- an irrevocable decision to do something. If you say you're going to do it, you do it. That's willpower.

Good news for the stubborn

The good thing is that if you are stubborn in any way, and to be honest most people that I meet seem to have some degree of stubbornness, you can turn that stubbornness into practical, useful willpower. You can take your ability to be strong-minded in one area and transfer it to another. So, if you are particularly strong-willed at your job, but you're not very strong-willed when it comes to exercising, well, the very fact that you can be strong-willed and have willpower at your job suggests that you can in turn develop your willpower and apply it to exercising, becoming fit, and losing weight (or whatever it is that you require).

These blustery winds are so noisy up here. I'm walking across a sloping green field, enclosed by a tree plantation on one side and a wild wooded valley on the other side. I go for a walk everyday. I like to get out, stretch my legs, get out from in front of the computer. And it doesn't really matter what the weather is like. I've made a commitment to walk everyday. I enjoy walking and I get out here no matter what... it's fine.

So, developing your willpower... how're you going to do it?
Well, you start with small things. You may want to develop your willpower to make a million dollars, lose 40lbs, or get the life partner of your dreams. You may want to apply it to your goals so that you never give up, so that you are always motivated and always have that stick-to-it-ness. Those are all very admirable traits or admirable goals, and I can see why you would want to develop willpower to do this. But to begin with you need to start small. Always start small. Dream BIG, but start small.

The Will Challenges

First of all you've got to set up a series of challenges for yourself. Small challenges where you can do something, you are going to commit to doing it, you are going to do it by a certain time, and you go ahead and you do that thing. And then you've done it ... and you've demonstrated to yourself that when you say you are going to do a thing, when you give your word to do a thing, you actually do it, you carry through. That builds a self-image of somebody who has strong willpower.

Building the powerhouse self-image

When you think of yourself as somebody who has a powerful, indomitable willpower, it's always there and you kind of have to live up to that. And that helps you, it just adds another strong fibre to empower that willpower, to make the cord of your willpower even stronger so that it is unbreakable.

Survival instinct

It's like these trees that I am looking at all around me.... This is kind of fairly old, wild countryside here and the trees are gnarled. It's in the wintertime, so the trees look gnarled, they have no leaves on. Alongside the field here they have been ravaged by the farmer's hedge-chopping equipment. Yet they are tenaciously hanging on. The wind is really strong. It's pushing them; it's bending them. And yet they grip the ground -- they're not going to be moved. They are tenacious in their resolve to grow and live. To be trees. Their 'treeness' has a tenacity, it has a willpower. And the willpower is something that you are born with. If you think of it in those terms, it's something where it's actually part of your biology, it's part of your survival mechanism. It's this instinct to survive, to persist, to continue despite all the odds stacked against you, To overcome whatever challenges life throws at you, whatever winds come and buffet, whatever storms blast against you, you are going to persist, to carry on, you are going to thrive, you are going to grow. And this is willpower.

So, we start with small challenges.
Let's say, for example, you have a bookshelf. And it's dusty. Your books are all out of order. You've taken books off and put them back on again, and it's all messed up. You've stacked books up in a messy fashion. You've taken old receipts from your pocket and dumped them on there. You've got all kinds of junk on there.

I will do it!

You look at that and think, "Hey, I'm going to set myself the challenge of this weekend, on a Sunday morning, I'm gonna wake up and get up at 7 o'clock, get myself together and go downstairs (or into the living room, wherever the library is, wherever your bookshelf is) and I'm going to sort that mess out. I'm gonna re-order my bookshelf. I'm going to clean it up. I'm going to dust, get it all ship-shape, polished and looking nice. And I'm going to take the time to do that, and will have completed it by, say, 10 o'clock on Sunday morning."

Do or die!

Now, your challenge could be anything. I'm just giving you an example here. But if you set that challenge, you are going to carry through with that challenge.

Because if you set a challenge, and then you don't carry through with it, you are leaching your ability to create. You are leaking your ability to manifest what you want in life. You are leaching your willpower, it's just dripping out of you and you are becoming a weaker person. You are, if you like, hastening your demise as a creative being.

So when you decide you are going to do something -- when you set yourself a little challenge -- you make sure that you do it. You are there. Come hell or high water, you're going to be there.

Overcome resistance

Woooaaaahhhh! The wind has just blasted me like crazy. I'm going to have to speak up a bit into my tape recorder. I'm getting hit by 80 mile an hour gusts here. It's blowing all kinds of s**t in my eyes as well! Okay, I'm just going through this little gate into another field and then we'll continue on with our little chat about Willpower -- and How to develop it.

I'm now walking into a headwind, which is just blasting so hard that I can hardly hear myself talking into this tape recorder. So I'm going to have to do some persisting myself, and exercise my willpower to press on here. And that's what you've got to do, when you give your word, when you've said you're going to do something, when you make a commitment or a promise, either to somebody else or yourself, you are going to give your all to follow through on that commitment or promise.

I'm going to have stop the tape here for a moment because I'm not sure its going to be able to pick up my words. No actually I'll press on, I'll continue and hope this is all recording okay.

A promise is a promise

So, as I say, when you give your word, you are going to carry through on it. This is particularly important with these small initial challenges that you set yourself in order to build your willpower. So make sure when you set the challenge that you carry through it.

Preparation and commitment
So on that Sunday morning, you are there and you are ready. You've got your polish and your cloth, you have a bag for any crap or rubbish that you've got cluttering the bookshelves. And you start tidying it up. You get all the books off. You stack them on the floor. You get the rubbish off. And you bin it or file it somewhere, wherever you've got to do with it. And then you start cleaning those shelves. Then you get your books and sort through them. You stack them in the order that you want to have them. And you tidy that bookshelf. And you've done it. When you get to the end you can say, "I did it! I said I was going to do it, and I did it!"

The inner rewards

And you feel that inner commitment, that sense of achievement of having said you would do something and having actually done it. And that's willpower to me.

Small but hard

So set these small challenges. Again, initially, just with little things that are things that maybe you've been putting off, like conversations or phone calls to people that you've been ignoring, or jobs around the house that are kind of tiresome and you don't really enjoy doing them and you've been putting them off for a while. Anything that is going to be hard -- not really hard -- but hard, and you are going to have to apply your willpower to get it done. When you set that target, do it, do it even if you have to almost half-die in the process of doing it. Make sure you get it done.

So build your willpower with small challenges.

Transferring willpower
The other way to develop your willpower or get more willpower in your life in order to apply it to the goals that are most important to you, is to transfer willpower from one area to another.

You are so-ooo stubborn!

Now, lots of people I know, including myself, are very stubborn in certain areas of their lives. They might be very stubborn about not liking to go out to family do's or something like that, maybe they don't like to be at home. You know, it's that kind of 'fish on Friday' mentality of having to have things a certain way. Having to have your house a certain way. Not liking it when anything interrupts your routine or your preferred lifestyle. Not having adaptability. You kind of resist against things and resist against change. And that is a kind of negative demonstration of willpower. But again it is willpower -- it's using your will to resist.

Positive and negative uses of willpower
The positive use of willpower is using your will to resist distractions from achieving your goal, from pursuing your path. The negative use of it is sometimes... I mean sometimes it's a protective thing; you've defined the life you want and you resist those things that are going to knock you off course from that life, so in someway it's positive anyway. But in some cases you kind of see there is a negativity attached to it, particularly if you are stubborn in relation to destructive habits:

  • Habits that keep you lonely.
  • Habits that keep you fat.
  • Habits that keep you stupid.
  • Habits that limit your income.

If you are stubborn about those, then you've got to take that willpower that you are using to keep yourself in that limited lifestyle and instead transfer it over to something positive. So instead of resisting positive change, you are going to resist those habits that keep you in a negative situation.

I'm now walking across an immense field which is like a big open plateau, where as far as the eye can see the field stretches, and just at the horizon you can see trees and bushes and things. But the wind is just rolling across this plain, straight into my path, and I'm almost bent right over, leaning into the wind, straining to push forward and keep going on this hehe 'enjoyable' country walk.

Superhead's willpower problem

We're talking about transferring willpower over from one area to another.... I was talking just this last weekend with a couple. The wife is like a super-headteacher who goes into poorly performing schools and helps them get their grades back up, get their performance levels back up, and she darts around the country doing that -- rescuing schools.

She's a very successful lady. She's very successful in her career; she was recently introduced to the Queen of England; she had dinner with her, just her and another lady. She's one of these people who is up and out of the door by 6AM driving around the country, working really hard.

And yet she was saying in other areas of her life, particularly with health and diet and things like that, she was implying that she just didn't have the willpower to take vitamins on a regular basis or eat the right foods and right meal sizes. She implied that she didn't have the willpower to do what she needed to do to be fit, trim and healthy.

Yet in her career she has this enormous willpower, this enormous drive, this ability to push ahead, and overcome obstacles and resistance. At these schools, she said that quite often she is met with real cynicism when she first arrives. And she has to push through that and get the teachers, the existing head teacher and the parents on board, and turn this whole disaster zone around and make a success out of it.

So she's up at the crack of dawn doing that, driving herself forward. In some senses maybe she feels like she doesn't have the energy left to apply her willpower to other areas of her life and so she kind of goofs off a bit. But that is besides the point. She has got this willpower. She's got this incredible ability to persist, to drive forward and go for it. And she can draw upon that energy in any area of her life if she wants to. She's just got to find the same reasons or motivators that enable her to use that.

The wind in your sails

Now I've come out of the big field now. I've taken a right angled turn away from it. I'm walking up this muddy lane between a stud farm paddock and on my right is a tree plantation. And the wind seems to be behind me now, so it is giving me a bit of a push up this hill. And you want to kind of get the wind behind you so willpower is easy to apply. You want to get into a situation where you are finding it absolutely easy to persist in what you want to do.

Gathering momentum
You will find that there is a kind of momentum to be gathered. Things are hard when you first start out, obviously. But if you press through that initial difficulty, the resistance is often greatest in the first few days, but if you press through, continue on, and everyday you press forward, and you don't let your mind get in there, you don't let your mind or your thoughts get in there, you keep moving forward. And you'll gather a momentum.

Driven forward

Where before you were having to press forward, it's now almost like you have got the wind behind you and you are being driven forward by this great, this immense, this superior will, if you like. It gets behind you when it sees your commitment to what you are doing.

Over in the far paddock I can see this horse galloping up from one end of the field up to the top of the field with the wind behind its tail -- and it looks so graceful. The sun is just coming out, and glinting on the horse's winter coat showing the first shine coming through its thicker hair.

Keep on keeping on

Okay, I'm entering into a big field which is full of horses, well, not FULL of horses, there are about 5 horses in here, moping around a bit because it is so windy, having a little nibble at the grass and looking sorry for themselves as horses often do in the wintertime. I'm plugging away through this muddy field and the mud is kind of sucking and pulling at my feet. You've got to keep ploughing on anyway, even if your progress feels like it is being impeded and you feel resistance.

Creative willpower

I'd like to talk for a moment about willpower as applied to creative thinking. That is kind of the emphasis of this blog and my main site: creative thinking; your genius; your intelligence.

And willpower here is really about... can you persist, long enough, hard enough, to really think through your ideas? To think up good ideas? To really get through the initial ideas, the crappy ideas that first come along, and keep persisting, keep driving forwards, keep driving on and asking again and again, "What else? What else could it be? What else can I do?"

Quantity of ideas

So you are really getting that initial quantity of ideas if you are brainstorming or idea generating at the start of a project. But also willpower is so important in the sense of being able to exploit an existing idea. To persist with it and see what else can be done with it. What else can be made from it. What else can be achieved with it. Sometimes people abandon ideas too soon. And sometimes people don't abandon ideas enough.

Natural Born Idea Killer

One aspect of willpower is a kind of ruthlessness. You need to be able as a Creative Thinker to kill your old ideas and allow them to die. Otherwise you become one of these people who is married to an idea and then time moves on, the Times move on, fashions change and you are left marooned on this 'island' which was once hot but is now cold as an iceberg. And you're still kind of hugging it as though it's so precious and important ... but of course it isn't. It's changed.

Recycling ideas or regeneration

Now, occasionally, very occasionally, old ideas have been abandoned by the masses too soon, and they come back around again. But mostly, from your point of view as a Creative Thinker, you need to be able to regenerate, to come at things afresh (a sort of Madonna-like capacity to reinvent yourself in different formats). So you really want to be able to look at that.

I will be creative!
Allow your willpower to be almost like a sort of determination to be creative, to be innovative, let's you burn forwards, to burn up your own identity as it is attached to and formed by the ideas that you have had so far. So that you can think anew. You want to retain you experience and the lessons you've learnt as they are incredibly important, but at the same time don't let it limit your ability.

Stuck in the past?
So often if you look at life we see that a particular generation, the thinkers in that generation, have ideas and then they kind of get stuck in them. And then its up to younger people, who come along and they're not caught up in that idea, in that whole mindset, so they are able to think in new ways.

Stay fresh

So as part of your developing your willpower program, I would encourage you to look at that and to think about ways in which you can renew yourself, so that you are coming at things afresh, so that you are not attached to ideas, so that you can think with a new mind. With a fresh young perspective on things. That is challenging, that is definitely challenging, and well... that's the challenge!

I'm now in this sloping field, it's got sheep in it, which is one side of a valley which my house kind of looks over. I'm looking right across this field and the valley curves round to the right, and the trees bank up to this hillside where my house is sitting and I'm going to walk back in that direction now. And we'll talk a little more about willpower and how to develop it.

What are the characteristics of willpower?
When you look at history, there are incredible people like Alexander the Great. You can talk about somebody having indomitable will. Maybe polar explorers, those guys who were going somewhere that nobody else had ever been before. That sense of persistence.

Touching the void
You may have seen the film, Touching the Void, about two British guys, who just went off and tried to climb a mountain in Bolivia, the 2nd highest mountain in the world I think it was. They kind of got there in the end but on the way down the experience turned into a disaster when one of them fell over a snow shelf cliff and the other one was being pulled down gradually over a couple of hours.

Night was falling. He was going to get pulled over the cliff and so he had to make the decision to cut the rope, which he did. As it was night, he cut the rope, didn't know what happened to the other guy, there was a terrible storm blasting around him, so he made a snowhole and crawled in just to try and survive the night.

He was okay. But the other guy out there on the rope, he'd already broken his leg horribly when he went over the cliff and was immobile. So when his friend cut the rope, he fell about 150 foot down onto what proved to be a snow bridge, he crashed through that falling another 150 feet straight into a fissure in the ice. So there he was in this ice fissure, in terrible pain, not knowing what to do.

The next day his friend who'd cut the rope, got out and managed to make his way down the mountain. And as he was getting down he saw where his friend had been hanging over this snow cliff that he hadn't been able to see the previous day. And then he saw this huge hole and he thought, "He's dead." And he didn't think to go look in the hole to see the body. They hadn't had water for a couple of days and so he went on back to his base camp. Fortunately he stayed there a couple of days to recover his strength and his wits and deal with the loss of his friend.

This other guy who had fallen down this ice hole realised that he wasn't going to get rescued, that he wasn't going to get found, so he had to make his own way out. So he kind of crawled out. And if you've seen the movie or read the book, Touching the Void, you'll understand what incredible willpower, that kind of survival instinct that I talked about, what incredible willpower he had to get himself out of that situation. And he eventually managed to drag his shattered body down the mountain and get back to the base camp before his friend left, even though he was pretty far gone by the time his feeble shouts were heard. And he survived.

So there's another example of that kind of indomitable willpower. I'm sure you can think of many better ones than I've come up with.

Charisma and energy
One of the characteristics... there is usually a charisma about people with willpower. There is a reserve of energy, like a big balloon of energy around them, and you can sense that they are drawing on that. They have this power, and when they say they are going to do something they mean it. And when they say they are NOT going to do something, they mean it.

The power of purpose
And you just know that person is like a mountain, there is an enormous presence about them. Willpower, again there's a sense of certainty about it and I think that comes from having a powerful sense of purpose. A purpose really is all tied up with values, and the decisions you've made about you life, what you expect from it, what you want or intend to achieve.

The chosen life
Quite often people with strong willpower have made decisions about the kind of life that they want, they've chosen and set the goals. And they set them, unlike most of us with our 'Oh I hope I achieve this' kind of attitude, instead they believe that they will achieve it. They know that they will achieve it. And that sense of certainty, that sense of 'it doesn't matter what gets in the way, I AM getting this', that attitude carries through in their bearing, in their way of communicating.

The killer instinct
And as I said before there is ruthless quality about willpower. Often it's really evident. I mentioned Alexander the Great. Really in other ages people like this were very ruthless, they committed attrocities and genocide, and while Alexander the Great had many fantastic qualities, if he was around in this era we might look upon him so benignly as we now do.

Reaching for the summit
I've now reached the bottom of the very steep wooded hill that is beneath my house. And I'm going to stop recording now because I need both hands to grab a couple of walking sticks that I've left propped here against a tree. These are going to help me climb up this slippery, muddy slope. There is about 150 to 200 feet to climb and we've had lots and lots of rain here recently. Without these sticks I'm not going to make it, so I'm going to persist up this hill and I'll meet you at the top in a few minutes, where we'll wrap and pack this willpower article. See you at the top....

Closing remarks
Thank you for accompanying me on this wild and windy 'walk and talk' through the subject of willpower and how you can develop it. I hope our conversation stimulates new ideas and thoughts in you about how you can use your willpower in productive and satisfying ways. As you develop your willpower and self-discipline and use it wisely to become a great creative thinker, I look forward to one day hearing your stories of persistence in the face of great odds.

You are an immensely powerful creative being. May you use your willpower in wonderful ways for the benefit of yourself, your loved ones and the whole world.

Upwards and onwards,
Wily Walnut