Friday, February 4, 2011

How to develop will power

A colleague of mine asked me how to develop will power.

Before going into the mechanics of developing will power, let’s first define what will power is. Will power is the process of consciously directing a concentrated thought. Is it not strange that to do things that are not beneficial to us like wrong eating and wrong habits does not require any will power at all? Resisting the pull of these habits sometimes requires superhuman effort and despite this, we often fail.

Think of a circle with a point in the center of it and a line running along the circumference of the circle. The mind can be compared to a circle. It has a natural tendency to wander to the periphery of the circle. Every time you want to come back to the center of the circle, you have the option of coming back to the center of the original circle from which you wandered off, or use the point at the periphery of the circle to make that a new point of reference from which to jump to the periphery of another circle you just created in your mind. In this way, the mind links thought to thought and soon enough, it wanders off.

The process of bringing the mind to the original point of reference from which millions of thought circles were created is the process of developing concentrated thought. We unconsciously practice concentrated thought in deep sleep, while engrossed in a novel, while working on something we really care about etc.

In order to start this process consciously, we have to set a frame of reference for our mind and try to keep the mind there. We all have difficulty doing this. There was once a rich man who went to a class on learning how to concentrate. The classroom had a lot of objects on the wall. He was asked to pick an object, stare at it and develop a mental picture of it and then close his eyes  and try to keep his focus on it. Try as he might, he could not keep his focus on it as he closed his eyes. Feeling discouraged, he approached the teacher with his frustrations. The teacher asked him what he was thinking of when he closed his eyes. The rich man said “I keep thinking of a scratch that just showed up on a very expensive watch I am wearing”. The teacher thought for a while and said “stare at your watch and look for the scratch and keep concentrating on the scratch and close your eyes and hold your focus on the scratch”. This became effortless for the rich man and he was able to concentrate in no time. The lesson of this story is to pick an object, any object that appeals to you and use this to develop the power of concentration. The object you pick is only a means to an end.

Once you keep the mind focused on something and develop concentration on it, you can then consciously drop the object of concentration and direct this concentration to something you want to achieve. You have willed yourself to concentrate on something and used this power of concentration to achieve something you have had difficulty doing.  This is willpower.