The Key To Turning The Wheel of Progress

In an insightful video titled Why Music Works Alain de Button offers an implicit reminder of a humbling truth: Each of us is nothing more than a vessel of biological chemical reactions. We are all physical entities animated by interactions of hormones, neurons and emotions.

This truth is easy to dismiss, given the demands of the modern world. The efficient method to keep productive, based on conventional productivity wisdom, is to subject our lives to perpetual propulsion using our infinite reserve of inbuilt willpower. The wisdom goes, if you really want something, all you need is self-discipline and self-control, and what you want will be yours.  Contrary to this notion of willpower being an innate limitless reservoir from which we can draw to oil the wheel of progress in our lives, a study points to this reality: Willpower is a depletive resource.

For resources such as food a lacking can be obvious. We can tell hunger apart from fill, and methods to eradicate hunger are easy to come by. Most times all that is required to relieve the lack is to say the magic words: I am hungry. 

With willpower it is different. Our body's signals for it's replenishment can go unnoticed. Until benign activities, like getting out of bed in the morning, become unbearable chores. 

Willpower deserves attention because traits - like self-control and self-discipline - that depend on it are useful success predictors. Brian Little, Bestselling author of Me, Myself and Us, highlights conscientiousness, an ability that depends on the application of willpower, as a useful success indicator. Without it, important activities go undone.

Since willpower isn't an infinite resource it makes sense to be aware of ways to use it effectively. In the business of appreciating life the most valuable bit of knowledge, perhaps, comes from Timothy Ferriss in his 2007 Bestselling book Four Hour Work Week. He writes: 
"Effectiveness is doing the right things to get you closer to your goals". 
This bit of knowledge points to the importance of being attune to activities that distill value, some of which may have nothing in direct relation to tasks that tend to monopolize our attention. For example, we might neglect an activity like having breakfast because it fails to present a direct link on its importance to our projects. Our resolve stems from a simple place: resources allow us to operate within limited parameters. We might complain that there is no time or that blah or we cannot muster the will. Doing so, we fail to bring to mind that the key to yielding valuable returns isn't knowledge that we operate within limitations but knowledge of what inform our limitations. Awareness of the forces that inform our limitation arms us with the sensibility to navigate around them.

In relation to willpower, it pays to remember, first and foremost, that we are humans, vessels of biological chemical reactions. Artists often complain of creative gaps, like the infamous writer's block, in which all the willpower of the world yields nothing worthy of the name art. In these moments artists pick up other activities. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for example, has said on multiple occasions how she binges on chocolate ice cream when her writing isn't going well. The rest of us can take cue from this. The key to to turning the wheel of progress doesn't rest on the forcefulness we place on will it rests in how we might recognize our place within its sway, or its lack thereof. 


Post Author: P. W. Uduk 

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