How to make “willpower” work
The word “Willpower” can evoke guilt, stress, or a rebellious impulse in even the most disciplined people.
I myself am not so crazy about the word!
If you tune in (even briefly) to popular health & fitness culture, it might seem that willpower alone is what it takes to finally have a body and style of eating you want.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a misunderstanding about the use of will.
Many people try and use a Victorian willpower of self-denial to change their eating or body and find, regardless of the commitment early on, this type of willpower does not last or guarantee sustainable change.
Think about it.
How many people have tried to cut out sugar out of sheer willpower only to find themselves ordering a danish with coffee four days later?
How many people have “successfully” used willpower with their diet but also harbor a pretentious sense of superiority around others (not to mention ongoing fears and mistrust in their own bodies)?
These examples, among many others, point to some of the problems and misunderstandings about the will.
So, you might wonder: What’s the proper use of will?
4 Types of Will
Roberto Assagioli, psychotherapist and founder of the branch of psychology called Psychosynthesis, focused specifically on the proper and life-affirming use of The Will, distinguishing four distinct dimensions.
I’ll very briefly describe them here:
Strong will: The strong will invokes the courage, decisiveness, and follow-through we need to see our objectives through.
Skillful will: The skillful will allows us to use the power of our intellect to choose a wise, well thought-out, and efficient way to take action.
Good will: The good will brings the energy of care and positive regard (a non-harming attitude) towards oneself and others.
Transpersonal will: Loosely defined as “beyond the personal,” transpersonal will calls us to act beyond our own immediate welfare and gratification. You can think of the noble qualities of love, compassion, service, dignity, justice, etc…The Transpersonal Will invites us to listen to the call of our deep and wise Self.
How are we doing with will?
Within a health and eating psychology context, many people use their Strong Will and Skillful Will to try and make things happen, but are disconnected from Good Will and Transpersonal Will.
For example. this might look like trying to yank yourself through grueling workouts or eat bland meals of chicken breast and salads with no dressing and have meals all logged on an app or a spreadsheet, yet lost are the feelings of genuine acceptance and care towards oneself (good will). A person may be out of touch with a deeper sense of what a healthy body could be in larger service of in life or may be disconnected from a kind of spiritual will that offers renewed inspiration and energy for action (transpersonal will).
(That is why the sincere loving energy in our work with your diet is foundational. Unfortunately, many people feel they cannot accept themselves until they are different).
On the other hand, Good Will and Transpersonal Will, without the direct, discerning, thoughtful, and committed qualities of Strong Will and Skillful Will, may leave people full of good intentions but little follow-through.
Let this short piece of writing act as a reminder that the Proper Use of Will is key, yet not often discussed. Any difficulty in setting out to do what you say you’d like to do, may require you to take inventory around what aspects of Assagioli’s “Will” are being left out. This is a beautiful place to explore and develop in our work together!
Have a great week!