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Because it is no longer a choice

"Many people think that what the addict needs is willpower, but nothing could be further from the truth."
- Arnold M Washton

When I tell people that I go cycling early on a Sunday morning, or drive down nearly ten kilometres braving the Bangalore traffic on a weekend to attend Salsa class, some people tell me I must have great willpower to get myself to do these things. But that's not true at all. There have been days when I prefer to sleep in instead of head out with the cycle or avoid the traffic and skip Salsa class.

Many people consider having good willpower a virtue. It isn't. It is like having a strict disciplinarian control what you do. There shouldn't ever be a need for willpower. You shouldn't have to control yourself from not eating that extra piece of dessert as you're watching your weight. You shouldn't have to force yourself to run in the morning to get back in shape. If you do, it just means that you are conflicted.

If you are relying on willpower to get you to do (or not do) something, then you are simply unsure of what you want. When you are unsure, you don't set yourself up for getting what you want done, because you are unsure of what you want in the first place. Then, you rely on willpower to reason with yourself and convince yourself to act a certain way. 

Instead, embrace and be sure of what you want and what will get you there. If you really want to get back in shape, it is never a conflict in your head between sleeping in and working out or eating junk and eating healthy. You don't even consider the option that is not aligned with what you want, as you know that doesn't lead you to where you want to go.

We are all addicted to the path of least resistance. And that's the path we always take. And getting over that addiction is a long a difficult battle. Don't fight that battle. Instead, want something so bad that the path to it becomes the path of least resistance.

If you find yourself not starting on something, or not seeing through what you've started, do away with thoughts on willpower and trying to coerce yourself into doing the right thing every time. The conversation shouldn't be every time. You shouldn't have an option every time. The conversation is a one timer at the beginning. And that is when you have to convince yourself how badly you want something. 

And once you are sure, and there is no conflict, you will always make the right choice. Because it is no longer a choice.

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  1. That's a very interesting post. Just a couple of thoughts here around conflicts and being sure of what we want:

    You are absolutely right about the existence of an underlying conflict when one has to will themselves to do something. However, this conflict sometimes arises due to factors that we are not in control of - a stressful week at work causing disturbed sleep in a week where exercise is planned each morning. Maybe, in the larger scheme of things, we just have to come to terms with these small conflicts, by accepting them as a necessary evil.

    As for being sure of what we want, a lot of times, what we know to be the "right thing to do" is not what we end up doing. This is because the benefits/gratification of the "right thing to do" is oftentimes delayed, whereas our bodies are tuned to crave for gratification that is instance, albeit to different degrees. In the long run, making the right choice also requires a higher sense of awareness of one's self, which most of us struggle with. Although, with this awareness one realizes greater freedom, and greater choice as a consequence - which is not always a good thing as greater choice can increase conflicts between the alternatives.

    In a nutshell, what you are saying is simple enough to grasp but terribly hard to execute :)

    Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. - Jean Paul Sartre


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