January 28, 2011

Reading on Willpower

About will power, self-control, choice, decision making.  How people regulate their emotions, resist temptation, break bad habits, and perform up to their potential -- and why they often fail to do so.

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. - Vince Lombardi

Introduction to Will Power

Every day, we are tested. Whether it’s a cookie tempting us from our diets or a warm bed coaxing us to sleep late, we are forced to decide between what we want to do and what we ought to do.

The ability to resist our impulses is commonly described as self-control or willpower.
Willpower may refer to:
  • Willpower, the strength to act, or forbear from acting, in the pursuit of a goal.
  • Self discipline, Training and control of oneself and one's conduct, usually for personal improvement.
  • Self control, the ability of a person to exert his/her will over the inhibitions of their body or self.
Self control or self-control is the ability to control one's emotions, behavior and desires in order to obtain some reward later, and is the capacity of efficient management to the future. In psychology it is sometimes called self-regulation. Exerting self-control through the executive functions in decision making is thought to deplete a resource in the ego.

To think good thoughts requires effort. This is one of the things that discipline – training – is about.
To discipline means to instruct a person to follow a particular code of conduct or order. In the field of child development, discipline refers to methods of modeling character and of teaching self-control and acceptable behavior, for example, teaching a child to wash her/his hands before meals.

Willpower provides an intensely powerful yet temporary boost. Willpower is the spearhead of self-discipline. Willpower is a concentration of force. You gather up all your energy and make a massive thrust forward.

Self-control (or self-regulation) centers on the idea that self-control relies on a limited energy source. A single act of self-control consumes this energy source, and later acts of self-control are impaired as a result. Attempts at self-control deplete glucose that is needed for later attempts at self-control.

“Learning self-control produces a wide range of positive outcomes,’’ said Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University who wrote about the issue in Current Directions in Psychological Science. “Kids do better in school, people do better at work. Look at just about any major category of problem that people are suffering from and odds are pretty good that self-control is implicated in some way.’’

Consuming sugary drinks or snacks isn’t practical advice for a dieter struggling with willpower. However, the research does help explain why dieters who eat several small meals a day appear to do better at sticking to a diet than dieters who skip meals. “You need the energy from food to have the willpower to exert self-control in order to succeed on your diet,” said Dr. Baumeister.

Some research suggests that people struggling with self-control should start small.  A vow to stop swearing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strengthen your self-control, giving you more willpower reserves for bigger challenges later.

“Learning to bring your behavior under control even with arbitrary rules does build character in that it makes you better able to achieve the things you want to achieve later on,” said Dr. Baumeister. “Self-control is a limited resource. People make all these different New Year’s resolutions, but they are all pulling off from the same pool of your willpower. It’s better to make one resolution and stick to it than make five.”

“Will is character in action” 
-William McDougal 

Will Power & Faith
Willpower seems to be equivalent to the term "faith" used in religion. The person having strong faith or belief has probably more willpower to practice the religious lifestyle and sacrifices.

People need to develop their willpower before they can put their convictions into practice. It takes willpower for a person to do something arduous, even if he thinks it is for his own benefit.

Paulo Coelho’s exaggerated willpower –struggle with God

I am not agreed with the bold examples which Paulo Coelho wrote in the following patches in his novel “The fifth mountain”.

That NIGHT, a man entered Jacob’s tent and wrestled with him until the break of day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he said, “Let me go.”

Jacob answered, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
Then the man said to him: “As a prince, hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. What is thy name?” And he said, Jacob.
And the man answered: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel.”    -The fifth mountain, by Paulo Coelho

Long ago, the patriarch Jacob had encamped, and during the night, someone had entered his tent and wrestled with him until daybreak. Jacob accepted the combat, even knowing that his adversary was the Lord. At morning, he had still not been defeated; and the combat ceased only when God agreed to bless him.

The story had been transmitted from generation to generation so that no one would ever forget: sometimes it was necessary to struggle with God. Every human being at some time had tragedy enter his life; it might be the destruction of a city, the death of a son, am unproved accusation, a sickness that left one lame forever. At that moment, God challenged on to confront Him and to answer His question: “Why dost thou cling fast to an existence so short and so filled with suffering? What is the meaning of the struggle?”

The man who did not know how to answer this question would resign himself, while another, one who sought a meaning to existence, feeling that God had been unjust, would challenge his own destiny. It was at this moment that fire of a different type descended from the heavens –not the fire that kills but the kind that tears down ancient walls and imparts to each human being his true possibilities. Coward never allow their hearts to blaze with this fire; all they desire is for the changed situation to quickly return to what it was before, so they can go on living their lives and thinking in their customary way. The brave, however, set afire that which was old and, even at the cost of great internal suffering, abandon everything, including God, and continue onward.

 “The brave are always stubborn.”

From heaven, God smiles contentedly, for it was this that He desired, that each person take into his hands the responsibility for his own life. For, in the final analysis, He had given His children the greatest of all gifts: the capacity to choose and determine their acts.
Only those men and women with the sacred flame in their hearts had the courage to confront Him. And they alone knew the path back to His love, for they understood that tragedy was not punishment but challenge.    -The fifth mountain, by Paulo Coelho
He had fled from doubt. From defeat. From moments of indecision. But the Lord was generous and had led him to the abyss of the unavoidable, to show him that man must choose –and not accept –his fate.

Many, many years before, on a night like this, Jacob had not allowed God to leave without blessing him. It was then that the Lord had asked: “What is thy name?”

The essential point was this: to have a name. When Jacob had answered, God had baptized him Israel. Each one has a name from birth but must learn to baptize his life with the word he has chosen to give meaning to that life.     -The fifth mountain, by Paulo Coelho

Elijah rose and prayed, “I fought Thee, Lord, and I am not ashamed. And because of it I discovered that I am on my path because such is my wish, not because it was imposed on me by my father and mother, by the customs of my country, or even by Thee.

“It is to Thee, O Lord, that I would return at this moment. I wish to praise Thee with the strength of my will and not with the cowardice of one who has not known how to choose another path. But for Thee to confide to me Thy important mission, I must continue this battle against Thee, until Thou bless me.”     -The fifth mountain, by Paulo Coelho

Balancing the exaggeration:

Paulo's bold views and ideas seems to me unbalanced, but the underlying product/idea is “STRUGGLE FOR THE CAUSE OF GOD, EVEN IF AGAINST HIMSELF”. Something amused me in this idea to the extent of purely struggle. I would like to reshape the Paulo’s idea as “STRUGGLE FOR THE CAUSE OF GOD, EVEN IF HE MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO DO SO.” or “STRUGGLE FOR THE CAUSE OF GOD, EVEN AGAINST YOUR BAD LUCK.” In other words, don’t surrender before the disappointment and failure. God tests people by sending difficulties in their ways even though the good ways. But don’t leave struggle for the success of good cause and truth.

Say: O my servants! who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is the Forgiving the Merciful. -Quran 39:53
Dr. Muhammad Iqbal's concept of Khudi

Destroy whatever does not suit you, 
Create a new world out of yourself. 
A free man feels unhappy, 
To live in a world of others. 
IqbalIn book Javaid nama, Translated by A. J. Arberry, 225.

A powerful mind is a wonderful thing, but there is something else that must be in control of the mind. It is the will power, or the super ego, or as Iqbal devised a term for it: khudi, or the Self - that illuminated nucleus of one's existence which is the source of all emotion, thought and intuition. A powerful mind that wanders in every direction is like an epileptic hand that is unable to grasp even a pen and move it from the table. The Self, or the enlightened ego, must control the mind. 

As used by Iqbal what comes closest to khudi is assertive will power imbued with moral values. Iqbal believes that growth of the human personality takes place as a result of the use of will power. Human beings have the power to choose between right and wrong and forge a path towards whatever goals they have set for themselves.  This is apparent from these oft-quoted lines:

"Khudi Ko Kar Buland Itna k Har Taqdeer Se Pahlay 
Khuda Banday Se Khud Puchay Bataa Teri Raza Kia Hai"

Endow your will with such power 
That at every turn of fate it so be 
That God Himself asks of His slave 
'What is it that pleases thee?'
- Iqbal

Will Power -an inspiration of Religion Islam

According to Islam religion, disappointment is Kufr (or apostasy). Developing willpower is the important teaching of the religion Islam. Muslims are required to develop a strong personal character and regulate their lives according to the guided principles of holy book Quran and instructions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

The Islamic belief on One God cultivates the willpower and discourages the illusions, ramifications and meaningless ritualism. As a poet beautifuly writes in Urdu:

wo aik sajda jisay tu giraaN samajhta hai
hazaar sajdoN sey deta hai aadmi ko nijaat

Translation: The single prostration (before on God), which (oh Lazy Muslim!) you thinks burdensome (upon you), it redeems the man (human) from a thousand prostrations (before idols, fears, worries, strong evil, illusions, ramifications etc.)
The person is  considered as a strong believer, who has willpower to challenge the evil and manages to regulate his life according to the commandments of Islamic Shariah. He keeps his emotions in check, shuns wrong temptations, refrains from overindulgence, exhibits courage in times of hardship, and upholds justice in the face of oppression. All he does on the basis of his strong belief and willpower.

Personal Character Regulation:

Self regulation is maintained in a Muslim's personal lifestyle by adopting right thoughts and actions, while refraining from the evil ideas and deeds, for example, refraining from adultery, telling lies, treachery, backbiting etc.

Lifestyle Regulation:
Similarly, the Muslim's daily life is regulated through regular, organized, social practices, for example, regular ritual exercises of prayers (Salaat) five times an each day, financial regulations of Zakaat whereby a share from one's annual income is reserved and given off to the poor and needy people etc.  Similarly alcohol is forbidden.

Social Regulation:

This righteous character is required not only to keep on their self lifestyle, but also to spread it to the whole humanity and society around them. This is 'Amr bil ma'ruf, wa nahi anil munkir' (i.e. giving order for righteousness, and forbidding from evil), or in other words, bringing order, justice, harmony and enlightenment. The organized social struggle (Jihad/holy war) of the Muslim's majority or legitimate state against evil and tyranny is a highly respected culmination of this idea. Mischief making, disharmony, sedition and manslaughter is not allowed.

Higher Will:

The idea of higher will is very important. The Muslim believer is required to give preference to God's Will upon his personal will. For example, he should not get any benefit, which would in fact harming some innocent. Or, he should refrain from alcohol which is forbidden by Islam. In other word, one should do justice, even if it is going against his personal benefit or interest.

Besides the individual liberties, protection and welfare are guaranteed, the general interest of society is preferred upon the individual interest. i.e. Al-masleha tul a'ama taqaddamu ala masleha til khasa (Principle: General interest prevails upon individual interest.)

Islam has discouraged asceticism, and promoted the social lifestyle. Suicide is condemned, while the human living is promoted as a right of God and a duty owing to him. Protection of life (hifz-un-nafs) and protection of generation/hierarchy (Hifz-un-nasl) are two of the 5 basic requirements, sustaining which the Islamic legal system stands for.

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