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Why Willpower Wilts and Wanes

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on May 19, 2011 | Comments (2)

Jason Miller, using the name Inominandum, has a great blog called Strategic Sorcery. If you’re not reading it, you might want to check it out. In a recent post, Alternatives to Will Power, he talks about how he is “a big believer in willpower…the ability to make yourself do things that you know you should, in the moment that you least want to.”

“I believe strongly in the cultivation of willpower and discipline,” he writes. “Unfortunately, it is easy to talk about willpower and less easy to exercise it.”

I certainly agree strongly with him on this. He goes on to justly criticize those who tell people to just use their willpower to achieve goals.

Of course, we all know that most people who try to use willpower don’t succeed. In fact, it seems like most people can’t use willpower. We all talk about it, but few seem to be able to actually use it. The question is, why not? It is here that Jason and I go in different ways.

In his blog, he uses a very materialist point of view. Basically, he says that people don’t use their willpower because of “genetic pre-dispositions that lend themselves to various bad habits.” He writes also that “the more you do something, the more your brain accommodates and craves it.”

“The reptilian [part of the] brain loves comfort and instant gratification…”

His solution is to “make the reptile brain work against itself by making what it would normally find pleasurable painful…” and then gives some behaviorist-style solutions to making changes such as visiting a cancer support group to help you quit smoking. Another solution he gives: “ Curse yourself or summon a guardian to curse you when you fail to make the change.” He says he has done this himself “and MAN is it effective.”

If you are a materialist, believing only in things on the material world, including Skinnerian style behaviorism, then Jason’s explanation and solution is a good one.

However, I’d like to propose an alternative, one in which you don’t have to be terrified by the awful results of cancer to stop smoking or curse yourself if you fail to make a behavioral change (a form of what scientists would call negative operant conditioning).

The major difference Jason and I have is that I am not a materialist. I would say that the brain does not think. It is the mind that thinks. The mind, I would contend, is not physical. You cannot see or taste or smell it. Yet it is very real and connects to the physical world through our brain and nervous system.

The reptilian brain or limbic system is just a bunch of nervous tissue. It doesn’t love anything. The part of our mind that is connected to the reptilian brain (brain stem and spinal cord), however, does think and operate in certain ways.

Parts of the Mind

And this, then, is the key to making changes in our lives, understanding that there are different parts of the mind. Well, actually we each have just one mind, but it makes it easier to understand if we approach the mind as if it had parts.

In this discussion, the parts are the conscious and unconscious. The conscious is the “doer.” It lets you, well, consciously choose to do things and then actually do them. The unconscious is the “instigator.” It directs the conscious in what to do. And here’s the challenge:

When the conscious conflicts with the unconscious, the unconscious always wins.

Not sometimes, always. You can tell yourself (consciously) a million times that you’re going to quit smoking and see thousands of people suffering horribly from smoking-caused cancer. But if you’re unconscious says, “I’m a smoker,” you’re going to smoke. You can tell yourself, “I’m going to lose weight,” but if your unconscious says, “I want that chocolate cake now,” the conscious mind loses, the unconscious mind wins, and you eat that cake.

The solution, then, is to communicate directly with the unconscious mind. When it changes, you’ll change. The problem, however, is that there is a filtering agent, dubbed the Critical Factor (CF), that prevents you from easily accessing the unconscious. You consciously say, “I’m going to quit smoking.” The CF says, “You’re addicted. You can’t quit.” The unconscious only hears what is filtered through the CF. So the key, then, is getting around the CF. You don’t need a Skinner Box to do it. In fact, there are several ways to do this. What follows are a few of them.

Three Techniques

Positive Affirmations: Positive affirmations consist of repeating to yourself a desired change. The definer of the technique, Émille Coué, made the affirmation “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” famous. They can be very effective, but the sad truth is that for most people they fail. For affirmations to work, they have to pound, pound, pound away at the Critical Factor until the CF, tired of being beaten, finally gives up and allows the desired message through to the unconscious. This could take weeks or months of regular practice, and most people either forget to practice or simply give up before they succeed.

Magick: There are a wide variety of magickal techniques that will allow you to bypass the CF. A good technique is to design a talisman and then charge it to achieve its goal. During that charging process you achieve an altered state of consciousness that bypasses the Critical Factor and allows the symbols and words of the talismans direct access to the unconscious mind.

Hypnosis: Perhaps the easiest and most direct method of behavioral change is through hypnosis and self-hypnosis. There are numerous good books on the subject including Hypnosis for Beginners, New Age Hypnosis, and Self-Empowerment Through Self-Hypnosis. Hypnosis, contrary to popular belief, is not merely about trance. It’s about bypassing the CF. Most often hypnosis involves trance, but as practitioners of NLP have shown, it’s not necessary.

The Great News

No matter how long you’ve wanted to make a change, using one of these three systems (or all of them or other techniques) can help you bypass the CF and convince the unconscious to make a change. And here’s great news:

All change is instantaneous!

Oh, it may take a while before you can convince the unconscious to make the change, but once you do so, change is instantaneous. The unconscious will tell the conscious what to do and the conscious will do it. That means you can achieve your goals and desires.

Reader Comments

Written By Jason Miller
on May 19th, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

Hello Don Kraig.

First, thank you for the kind words about my blog. As I have mentioned here before, your work was a huge influence on my early training and to have you comment on something I wrote is a thrill.

That said, I do want to point out that just because I offered a materialist solution does not make me a “materialist”. I have used NLP techniques, affirmations, and magic to change habits many times. I try my best not to be dualistic about what is materialist and what is magical and attemptt to integrate methods whenever I can. In this particular case I was focusing on a materialist technique, but there is no reason that Magic, hypnosis, and affirmations could not be used along side it or as part of it.

Anyway, I just wanted to make that clear. Thank you again for your time and kind words.

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on May 19th, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

Thank you for your comments, Jason. And as I wrote, I do encourage people to read your blog! In reading over my post I see that I made a jump which I should not have done. I went from saying that you presented the point of view of a materialist in your post to assuming that you were a materialist. That was a jump I should not have made, even though in your post the materialist solution was all you presented. I hope you understand why I could have made that error and I apologize for doing so. Thanks for the correction!

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