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October 16th, 2018

If we crack these words open a little, it results in a deceptively simple formula for how to generate more will power.


The word will comes from high German and simply means ‘wish’.  This makes a lot of sense if you think about it in the sense of a person’s last will, or their legal will.  Such a document is a record of their wishes about what should happen.


Power is simply work divided by time, or rather, power is defined by how much work we can do in a given amount of time.  If we can do a lot of work in a small amount of time, then we might be described as having ‘power’. 


At first glance, such a definition of power does not seem to be in accord with our cultural definition of power which seems to indicate something about someone’s ability to yield their will over other people.  But, someone who is willing to work a lot and efficiently, can with time gather the resources that enable them to hire and direct people to do their will, say, in a growing business.  Such an occurrence without the initial luck of some kind of capital inevitably requires some hard work on any individual’s part.


Power on a local, individual level as defined by doing more work per unit of time can eventually lead to the sort of power that is more colloquially used.  (though this need not be the only way to obtain such power, nor does it guarantee the acquisition of such colloquial power.)


However, on the level of the individual, we can use this definition of power and combine it with our understanding of the word ‘will’ and see that will power is a formula that indicates: if we can do more work in shorter time with regards to the things we wish, then we have more willpower.  In this little equation, which parts do we have the most agency over?


Our wishes need not be of huge concern with regards to effort.  It’s not terribly difficult to sit down and thoughtfully look at one’s life and decide how it could be better, or any other wishes we might have that can be written down.  That is perhaps the easy part.  Time is also a fairly fixed variable, unless we start thinking about how we are forced to allocated it, say with a time-consuming job, or bad habits that consume lots of time.  Regardless this has to do more with how we spend that time and not so much about how much time is ultimately available, such a quantity is relatively fixed day to day no matter how we spend it.


Work is the big variable in this equation that we can substantially change, but in order to do so, it may be useful to answer the question: what is work?  Work can further be cleaved in to the amount of force that can be exerted in a given unit of time.  What this ultimately breaks down to is how much energy we can spend in a given amount of time.


At the root of the will power equation is the one lever that we can mindfully toggle with different strategies: how much energy we have available every day that we can expend in the direction of our wishes.


Will power is not really a matter of being able to call up loads of endless energy on some sleep deprived morning and throwing one’s self with herculean strength into the next activity.  Everyone has had the experience of being exhausted upon waking up and clawing their way out of bed with huge difficulty.  In such a situation, answering the question of what would give such a person more energy is probably fairly easy:  such a person probably just needs more sleep.  It’ll take more time, but if such a person’s ability to work is amplified with enough energy, such a person might get more work, and higher quality work done in a far shorter amount of time when compared to sleep deprived performance. 



Nutrition and exercise also come into the picture as the other primary ingredients for power performance.  Sacrificing an hour of work to work-out can go a long way to making working hours far more productive and efficient.  Good nutrition simply adds to this combo.


Breaking apart the words and the concepts they represent reveal that will power is not some mysterious trick of mental life that we seek like some kind of holy grail.  If some people seem to muster huge amounts of drive from seemingly nothing, we would not be best served to try and emulate such a model.  Most of us would be better served by thinking more practically about our days as a sort of energy model, one that we can properly aid and feed to allocate more energy for the day.  Levelling-up need not be some divine wish that we beg for, but rather a conscious and methodical set of strategies that we research, discover, implement and compare in order to see what works best. 


Looking at the body as a kind of machine that requires certain inputs, like sleep, good food, and exercise is a good start for hacking the mental part of life and opening new spaces of will power.


The owner of a Ferrari for example wouldn’t pour coca-cola into the gas tank and expect it to perform at it’s peak… or perform at all really, so why do we expect ourselves to perform at our peak without the exact right kind of fuel, rest and activity that most benefits our body?

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Podcast Ep. 184: Will Power

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