During our current times when there is much to fear and worry about, what many people resort to is having more will power. Haven’t you ever heard of that if there’s a will there’s a way or that if you want to get to a destination, you absolutely need to have will power in you. You might have also heard that without will power, you will fail to reach your goals.
So what happens next? We put our foot to the ground and yell, “This is it! It’s time to take it serious! From now on, I will to try as hard as I can to get to my goal!” This gets us pumped up. But from my experience, I have learned that will power can often times be misleading and contradictory.
In college, I remember there were certain tests that I made me really nervous. To prepare, I would study like crazy in my dorm room. I often felt completed burned out the day prior to the test. On test day before entering the lecture hall, I would tell myself, “Okay, I have studied endless hours these past few days. It’s time to focus all my energy right now during this moment. Nothing else matters. When it’s over, then I can relax.”
As the test was handed to me, I could feel my entire body tensed up through the test taking process. When time was running out, I kept thinking, “I have to hurry!” My handwriting became worse, I kept finding myself erasing my answers, and even the led on my pencil became dull but I did not bother to change it!
At this point, even though I felt that I had studied harder than some of the people that I knew who were taking the test, but my gut feeling was telling me that I blew it this time and I should have studied harder. When I got the results back, I was right. I forgot about the test and focused on doing better the next test. But the same thing happened, and it just became a cycle that I grew used to.
Although my grades weren’t bad, I wanted them to be perfect. I wanted to get straight A’s and I knew this particular girl in my dorm that all A’s. The weird thing was every time I saw her, her face calm and happy. I couldn’t describe it really. It wasn’t overly excited, but not completely emotionless. It was just light and relaxed. She had a peaceful confidence about her that obviously different from my crazed self.
My dad had taught me that in order to get something, often times you must grit your teeth for it – an expression meaning nothing in life comes without pain, hard work, and struggle. This girl, however, seemed to reject all those ideas that were ingrained in my mind.
So one day before taking an exam, I walked up to her asked her, “So did you study yesterday?”
“No,” she said.
“Really? Wow, you must be prepared.”
“I am. Did you study yesterday?”
“Yeah, I barely got any sleep. I hope I do well on this test!”
“I’m sure you will.”
“Thanks. So… if you weren’t studying yesterday, what were you doing?”
“Watching a funny movie and eating popcorn.”
Upon hearing this, I almost fell on the floor.
When the results came in however, she had got a better score than me. I was so astonished and wondered how could she always have such an indifferent attitude and do so well. It was then I discovered I had been approaching getting my goals the wrong way. In other words, I was trying too hard.
Our parents, teachers, and speakers have educated and told us that life is going to be hard, that is it going to be an upwards struggle. After years of having this belief in me, I realized that life isn’t really that hard. Sometimes getting to our goal isn’t that hard either. But what we do well as human beings is making it harder on ourselves than it really is.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Can life really be easy? I think a lot it has to be a lack of self confidence. The reason we exert so much will power in ourselves is because we feel we can’t do it by ourselves, that life is not supposed to come easy, and we need “something else” to help us or give us a certain cushion that makes us feel comfortable again.
The contradictory thing about will power is that it can hurt us more than it can help us. When you’re telling your mind that you need will power, you’re basically sending an indirect message to your mind saying that there is a problem right now or an obstacle ahead. This attracts all different kinds of feelings such as anxiety, frustration, and fear. The more “will power” we put in the process really means that we are putting more force into the process which results in obstruction in the process.
Instead, do the opposite. Tell the mind what you want to feel, what you want the process to be like, and what you want the end result to be like. This is what I have learned from the girl. When I was thinking about how difficult the test might be, and how much effort I need to put in studying, that’s what I got. She on the other hand was probably thinking how the test was going to be a breeze, that the process was going to be easy, and why be nervous before a test when you can be laughing and feeling good before the day of the test.
So try to keep in mind that if you find yourself trying too hard, or forcing will power upon yourself, there’s a good chance that you very may get the opposite of what you wanted. Although it is good to work hard, there’s no need to overexert yourself or cause unnecessary or additional stress on top of you already have.
The process can be easy – relax.