willpower is brought into play. With this constant in mind, we can define willpower as a separate force, a special energy existing in each individual, independent of any thought or idea, which manifests itself under certain conditions
which we will specify in a moment. This force exists in every individual, and remains intact as long as that individual exists. Used in a normal way, it increases during intense periods of cerebral or physical activity, and diminishes during periods of inactivity. However, like all forces, it has its limits, and also needs periods of rest.
Therefore, this force is latent: it does not manifest itself as an increase in vibration unless a person wants to want something, and this process of activating the faculty of willpower is what we call...
The effort of willThe effort of will, which can also be called an expansion of willpower, can be compared to opening the tap of an energy reserve; the energy that flows out can be applied to an action, or to a thought or feeling. This is the simplest way of describing how willpower works. The force of willpower acts like a whip. It is temporary, but can
be renewed. Its intensity is regulated by a normal individual’s need at the moment it is brought into play, since an individual can control his/her emission of willpower, just as s/he can control all other aspects of cerebral activity.
In cases of insufficient control, we have to work not only on the aculty of willpower, which is weakened by inaction, but also on the way it is used, which is always defective. The reservoir of energy may have some leaks, or a patient may not know how to use the energy reserve at all.
What conditions are necessary for bringing willpower into play? They are, of course, the same in for persons suffering from insufficient control as they are for normal persons, and can be considered from two points of view.
First let’s look at the phenomenon of willpower from a mechanical point of view, which is the less important of the two, but which should be understood. This is what happens whenever willpower is used:
1. An effort of will is never possible when persons are exhaling. It always happens during the pause after inhaling, as if the brain were looking for a physical point of reference in the air contained in thechest cavity.
2. There is a more or less pronounced increase in pulse rate, and accelerated cerebral circulation.
3. An effort of will is almost always accompanied by a muscular contraction.
These three points describe the mechanical side of the effort of willpower.
To get patients to reproduce the same conditions, we make them do the following exercise:
They are told to inhale, and then hold their breath for 2 to 4 seconds while mentally repeating the phrase “I want” and clenching their fists.
This fulfils the mechanical requirements for making an effort of will: retaining air in the chest cavity, which also increases pulse rate and circulation; repeating “I want” in relation to an act or decision that has to be made (or simply saying “I want to want...”). Too much emphasis should not be placed on the importance of this little scenario. All that is required is that patients become familiar with the process through repetition, until it becomes almost unconscious.
Now let’s look at the psychological conditions, without which there is no emission of willpower. These are three in number:
1. Knowing what you want.
2. The possibility of getting what you want.
3. The sincerity and truth of wanting.
Knowing what you want
No effort of will is possible without definitive thought. We have to be precise about the nature and the goal of wanting. We often believe we know what we want, without realizing that the idea we have in mind is too vague and imprecise. In such cases, the mind cannot concentrate on the idea, which has no substance, and nothing is achieved. We must get into the habit of accurately formulating exactly what we want, in a clear sentence. We often realize how vague our desires are when we try to formulate them clearly. This indicates that we often really don’t know what it is we want.
Possibility of wanting
This second factor is easily understood - it is futile to want what is impossible. The mind knows when this is the case, and will not make any real effort to achieve what it knows is impossible. Sincerity and truth of wanting
Of the three psychological conditions involved in making an effort of will, it is most often this last which is defective, and I believe I am not exaggerating when I say that it is due to a lack of sincerity that most efforts of will fail. The causes are numerous: first there is paralyzing doubt, the fear of making any kind of effort, which can even be seen as a form of selfimposed suffering for daring to want something. Then we have the class of persons (and there are many) who lie to themselves, some unconsciously, others quite knowingly, but who because of weakness or moral cowardice, eventually expose themselves. Persons who do this unconsciously usually give up after “trying to want” which means that although they think they may want something, they cannot make the decision to actually want it. This can be easily corrected when
patients are made aware of their mistake.
Results are more difficult to obtain with the former group; it’s very hard to get people to admit that they don’t really want what they say they want, since they can easily hide behind all sorts of problems, some of them real, which will prevent them from making an effort of will.
So the first thing to aim for is sincerity - getting these people to be honest with themselves - and then the effort of willpower will achieve the desired results. However, we must also recognize that, aside from persons who fool themselves more or less consciously, there are those in whom the notion of making an effort of will has been entirely extinguished, especially if they have been ill since childhood. We must understand that during their long years of illness, any attempt to exert an effort of will was nothing more than a futile struggle. These repeated failures, where trying to exert their willpower was synonymous with fatigue and anxiety, eventually annihilated any vestiges of willpower they might have originally had, to the point where these people cannot even comprehend its existence in other people.
Such people do not know how to want, but always in the sense that they don’t know how to use their willpower.
These are the three main factors concerning the emission of willpower. Now let’s look at how we can use them to re-educate the faculty in problem cases. Re-educating willpowerThe first step consists of getting patients to experience the actual sensation of making an effort of will. To do this, we take the simplest kind of action, one which requires a minimum of movement and expenditure of energy, for example wanting to get up, walk, bend an arm, etc.
As in the exercises on control, patients must be made aware that it is really their own willpower which sets off the impulse to get up, or to walk. This point must be firmly established, since however feeble the emission of will is, it still constitutes a real effort.
Next, we gradually and methodically increase the expenditure of energy patients are required to make. At first we only ask them to perform a simple action for only a few seconds, i.e. almost simultaneously with the effort of will itself.
Little by little, we increase the level of difficulty by asking patients to do things which take more energy, and for longer periods, for example writing a letter, or even making a decision and carrying it out within a given time. Patients should be reminded that in the beginning of the re-education process, their willpower is a very temporary force, and should be taken advantage of while it is there. Also, any decisions they make should be carried through, otherwise they
will lose all self confidence.
The physician’s role is to make sure that any voluntary act or decision a patient makes is within the limits of his or her capabilities. It would not be prudent to attack a harmful symptom, for example, until a patient is confident in his/her ability to make an effort of willpower. Generally, patients quickly learn to evaluate their efforts at exercising willpower, and can determine whether the effort was well directed by feeling the energy it generates in them. difficulty, the physician should proceed in the following manner:
The first question patients should ask themselves is:
a. Do I want to try to want? (such and such an object, such and such an action, etc.)
If patients are sincere, and their thoughts precisely defined, the effort of will becomes easy. They will not have to fight against doubt, nor worry about success, since they will initially be asked to do only very simple things.
b. Can I want? (This determines possibility.)
c. Do I want to want (or will I decide to want) - this is the natural progression from establishing possibility -it affirms the decision to want and constitutes the completed effort of will. For patients, these three questions involve a real examination of their conscious ability to make an effort of will, and can thus be very useful. An attending physician will often observe the following initial results: trying to want is generally successful, while establishing the possibility is doubtful, and the “wanting to want” stage is not there.
After some training, the possibility stage becomes established, but the “wanting to want” stage is still difficult to achieve.
Efforts of will should not only be directed at actions, but also at modifying ideas, sensations and feelings. Patients must therefore get used to making more abstract efforts of will, formulating statements like: “I want to be my own master!” or “I want to be more energetic!” or “I want to want!” in order to awaken the sensation of wanting itself.
In certain cases, as an additional measure, it’s a good idea to look through a patient’s past in order to find instances where s/he did exert some measure of willpower, i.e. where s/he can remember experiencing what can be termed an “expression of will.” It is curious to note how each individual experiences his or her willpower in a different way. Some find it better to work with abstract ideas, others prefer a definite act or task they must accomplish, while others prefer
to work on their emotions. People have affinities for different things (as the saying goes: Different strokes for different folks!). An orator will find satisfaction in making a moving speech, while a businessman will enjoy working out a difficult deal. It all depends on the temperament and habits of the individual patient.
In describing the major factors involved in making an effort of will, we have already inferred some of the errors patients tend to make, such as a lack of sincerity, expressing ideas which are not well defined, not realizing the impossibility of a given desire, and so on. We must draw our patients’ attention to the frequent confusion between willpower on the one hand, and desire, impulsiveness and intention on the other.
The difference between desire and real willpower is particularly subtle, since for many persons desire is the only reason for wanting something. This confusion is so deeply ingrained that patients often object to the distinction, saying something like: “Well how do you expect me to want something if I don’t desire it!”
This confusion usually prevents patients from making an effort of will. However, it can be avoided by making them aware of the difference between desire and willpower.
Only willpower is an active form of energy, and only willpower expresses freedom of choice; desire is passive, subjecting persons to blind attraction/repulsion reflexes. If, as often occurs, we can reasonably want what we desire, it is
only after desire has been tempered by judgment and freedom of hoice. However, we should not wait for a desire to arise before wanting something, since this would mean giving up our freedom of choice. Impulsiveness is the same as desire, but exerts an even stronger influence. It is a powerful form of mental energy, but it is also disorganized, with no built-in braking mechanism, and therefore not an expression of freedom.
Impulsiveness is even more dangerous than pure desire because it is less rational, and can dominate an individual’s mind more completely. Once again, patients who cannot differentiate between willpower and impulsiveness believe that they want what they impulsively decide to want, without realizing that they are, in fact, slaves to their own impulses.
Intention, even more than desire, misleads patients. Isn’t intending to do the right thing enough? Well, no it isn’t, since almost all intentions remain just that - an intention -instead being transformed into action. Persons who rely on this false conception of willpower quickly run out of steam and rarely achieve their objectives. Intention is all the more dangerous in that it satisfies a person’s conscience to some extent - people are content with defining an objective, but do not make any real effort to attain it. Intention, although an illusory form of energy, can possess a certain amount of force, just like feeling sincere about the intention to do good can create the illusion of honesty.
However, with a little training, it is not difficult to differentiate between intention and willpower.
Only willpower can completely satisfy a person’s conscience; your conscience knows when a decision has been made - it is no longer preoccupied with finding an objective, nor with defining what it wants. When an outlet for its energy has been found, your conscience becomes calm. When only the intention is there, the energy is only encapsulated and not actually used - you always get the feeling that something is missing, that your intention is only half true. Physicians will have no problem differentiating between intention and willpower, since a patient’s desire will not lead to an exercise
of willpower, but only to a greater degree of inner tension. Patients can be helped to recognize this purely physical difference in sensation, and will eventually be able to tell if there is a real emission of energy (in the form of willpower) or simply an increase in tension (intention).
We will now attempt to explain why patients, when faced with two choices, cannot make up their minds to want one or the other option.
The error patients make here is to try and see too many of the consequences involved in choosing one or the other option. The major issues are obscured behind a host of secondary considerations, which in turn prevent patients from exercising any kind of clear and objective judgment. They can no longer find sufficient reason for choosing one option over the other. Patients must be taught to “go with their feelings” since the primal, instinctive choice is usually the right one, encompassing as it does the most important elements of both options. This is what patients should base their decisions on, and this is what will give them the right to want whatever it is they decide. Generally speaking, patients should get used to making rapid decisions as soon as the idea of what is wanted is clearly defined. The more they hesitate, the more objections they find, until they lose themselves in secondary considerations and end up not knowing what they want at all. The role of willpower in treating insufficient control Willpower plays a capital role in the re-education of cerebral control. When used properly, it can make all the difference. The exercise of willpower instills patients with a sense of self mastery, and forces their subconscious to remain within normal limits. It inspires confidence
and courage. In short, almost anything can be accomplished through a concentrated effort of will, including the re-establishment of cerebral control. Psychologically speaking, all passive and uncontrolled thoughts become active when they are controlled by an exterior force or influence. All mental symptoms of illness disappear as soon as the influence of willpower becomes possible. Anxiety which is produced voluntarily cannot last; even the strongest phobias make no impression against an effort of will.
We could therefore say that a patient who is able to exercise his or her willpower is all but cured.
As soon as patients get used to exercising their willpower, the faculty becomes almost automatic, especially in instances of insufficient control, and constitutes what we call Mental Recovery. It would be hard for psychasthenic patients to recover if they had to make a real mental effort every time they tended to act passively, without sufficient control.
Fortunately, this is not the case. A well trained brain makes the effort on its own, with hardly any conscious participation on the part of the patient. By simply being aware that s/he is falling, the patient will make the necessary adjustments to remain upright, without any conscious effort - balance is recovered so to speak. Although unconscious, this mental recovery is the result of an effort of will, and can be monitored in the intensity of vibrations felt through hand contact.
For some patients, mental recovery feels like a mechanical effort. One will find the sensation stimulating, another disturbing. What is curious to note is that these patients do not think they are exercising willpower, and see the change as simply a defense against passivity. When mental recovery assumes this mechanical quality, it may not last very long. There is a danger that such patients will resume their old bad habits. Real mental recovery, on the other hand, is a guarantee that control is stable, and that the habit of exercising control is firmly established.