When it comes to willpower, I assert we’ve gotten a bit wonky in our relation to it.
Not that I don’t think willpower plays a role in life, or that it exists; I do, on both counts. It’s more that, in our considerations and judgements, we have overvalued it. Whether we disparage ourselves or deride others for failures in life – or the opposite, exalting our inner fire or wistfully admiring it in another – we have ascribed to it an outsized role without looking at everything that underpins it.
Because we tend to view willpower as this magical, inherent, and ingrained thing that makes some people great and others not so great. Yet there are many things ordinarily hidden from our view (unless we bring mindfulness to it) that underpin this thing we call willpower. There is a great gaggle of context that plays a role, both in developing willpower (for it is something that can be cultivated) as well as supporting it in the moment.
And support is the key word. It’s about being supported, by others, who can model, and teach, and train this self-capacity. Even more so, it’s about fallback. About being able to and having a fallback should and when things go awry. It’s about having the wherewithal to actually GO for it, do it, all while being secure in what will happen if it doesn’t work out. That people will be there. That resources will be there. That the system will be there. That it won’t be fatal, either spiritually, subsistence-ly, or literally.
Heck, just being in a good place means we have the energy and brainpower to be able to engage our will. Being stressed, tired, or having to constantly deal with fires all sap our vitality and nerve.
When we have a net to fall into, we are much more willing to take that leap, walk that tightrope, and do that thing. It bolsters us. And that’s great! And before we laud or denigrate it’d be best if we acknowledge that whole picture. The self-made person is kinda true, but it’s not necessarily the only or whole truth.* There’s more to it, and it can be much more of the deciding factor than some great natural force residing within.
When we encompass and grow this whole picture, willpower – for ourselves and for us all – can flourish.
* And there are plenty of non-self-made people too, who have made it through luck or birth or etc