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The only way to enhance your will power

If I've committed to working out every morning, and I wake up only to snooze my alarm and go back to sleep when said morning comes, and I do that a few more times, and then I wake up eventually with no longer enough time left for a work out, I blame myself for not having enough will power to stay true to what I committed to.

People go through this all the time. We blame our will power for letting us down when we fail to write as per our schedule, when we fail to pass up that extra slice of dessert, when we fail to wake up on time, etc.

Why is it so hard to stick to something that we rationally thought made sense and committed to? Why is it so hard to muster up enough will power to stick to our commitments?

Before we answer that, let's explore how will power came into existence in the first place.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we were still labouring our way into becoming homo sapiens from our ancestors (or perhaps well before that when we were still more primitive animals), we had simple goals of not going hungry, not being killed and not missing out on an opportunity to propagate our genes.

Back then, if we came across something that looked like it could be food, we simply went over to it and put it in our mouths without once stopping to think if anyone else (or anything else) was around. Some other animal that saw us and thought of us as food would have noticed this behaviour and came after us and killed us before we could get to the piece of fruit or whatever the object was that had caught our attention.

Over the years, the ones that learnt to look around to see if any predator was lurking before walking over to the piece of fruit survived and propagated their genes and instincts while the rest died. And the trait of caution before action was passed on.

For a hungry homo sapiens of a hundred thousand years ago, it took will power to not walk over to a piece of fruit unattended and look around to wait and see if there were predators around. And those that showed that will power survived.

Many such situations over the course of thousands of years drilled in the importance of long-term value over short-term value into our genes.

Today, when we want to not take an action that has high short-term value for us (like eating that extra slice of dessert or staying in bed for half an hour longer), we are unconsciously doing mental math to conclude that the long-term value of passing up on the opportunity and doing what we had originally committed to (like eating healthy or working out first thing in the morning) is lower than the short term value that we are getting.

Rather than think of will power as something that we need to exercise to control our impulses and boost our self-discipline, what we instead need to do is convince ourselves of the importance of the long-term value of the actions we are committing to.

When we truly internalize that, then our unconscious mental evaluations always result in the actions that are most valuable to us.

And that's how we enhance our will power.

If it takes stories, if it takes lies, if it takes something else, it doesn't matter. After all, there is ample evidence for stories and lies working well to enhance our will power. Some of the people I've seen with great will power and self discipline have also been firm believers in some religion or god.

But we don't have to limit ourselves to religious stories, we can extend that to anything that we end up believing in enough to convince us of the long term value of the actions we commit to.

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