For most of us, the classic test of willpower is resisting temptation, whether the temptress is a doughnut, a cigarette, a clearance sale, or a one-night stand. When people say, "I have no willpower," what they usually mean is, "I have trouble saying no when my mouth, stomach, heart, or (fill in your anatomical part) wants to say yes.
Willpower is a myth. The problem with trying to use willpower to achieve and sustain a behavioral change is that it is fueled by emotion. And as we all know, our emotions are, at best, fickle. They come and go. When your emotions start running down -- and they will -- even your best-laid plans will fall flat.
She had not wanted him to but had let him have his way because ever since she was a child she had generally yielded before anyone with strong willpower, especially if it was a man, not because she was naturally submissive, but because strong male willpower gave her a feeling of safety and trust, together with acceptance and a desire to give in.
The discipline gave me a sense of achievement. Not least, fasting is a test of willpower and, whenever I felt my willpower weakening, I would tell myself that I could eat as much as I wanted after sunset. But then the strange thing was that after fasting all day long, I tended to feel full with just a small snack.
Hitler had the willpower of a demon and he needed it. If he didn't have such a strong willpower he couldn't have achieved anything. Don't forget, if Hitler had not lost the war, if he did not have to fight against the combination of big powers like England, America, and Russia - each one he could have conquered individually - these defendants and these generals would now be saying, 'Heil Hitler,' and would not be so damn critical.
The problems with willpower are many, but they may hardly be noticed by the person focused narrowly on success. First, there is little economy of means; in systems thinking terms, we act without leverage. We attain our goals, but the effort is enormous and we may find ourselves exhausted and wondering if it was worth it when we have succeeded. Ironically, people hooked on willpower may actually look for obstacles to overcome, dragons to slay, and enemies to vanquish--to remind themselves and others of their own prowess.
The surest way to identify those who won't succeed at weight loss is that they tend to say things like "My goal is to lose ten pounds." Weight targets often work in the short run. But if you need willpower to keep the weight off, you're doomed in the long run. The only way to succeed in the long run is by using a system that bypasses your need for willpower.
If we can't forget, how can we forgive? I believe that forgiving can't be done by willpower alone. I can will myself to write out my own memories and feelings. I can will myself to imagine onto the page how someone else may have felt. I can will myself to research someone else's life in order to better understand what happened. But I don't think I can forgive by simply willing to forgive. Forgiving happens to us when our hearts are ready. Sometimes it takes the form of working on our own story until quietly, often surprisingly, we simply let go of the hurt. Sometimes forgiving makes it possible to pick up the pieces of a broken relationship and begin again. Sometimes it means letting a relationship go. We can't forgive through willpower. What we can do is work toward readiness of heart. Writing as a spiritual practice can be that kind of work. When our heart is ready, we often don't even know it until forgiveness happens within us. It is a gift.