How to Generate Willpower On Demand
Would you believe the way to live your fullest life is to imagine yourself at the moment of death? Therapists Barry Michels and Phil Stutz, creators of The Tools®, explain how it works.
Sticking to our commitments is one of the most challenging things to do. Why is that? Because we have an unreal view of what it means to be human: We like to think of ourselves as finished products, but we’re not. We are actually works in progress.
Think of your mind as a newly bought, state-of-the-art, flat screen TV. You eagerly take it out of the box, but it won’t play. The electrical connection has come loose, but there’s no buying a new connection—you have to fix it with your own effort. Worse, the connection will keep coming loose and you’re going to have to fix it every day.
The broken connection in your mind isn’t to electrical power; it’s to higher forces, like forward motion, self-expression, and gratefulness. And every time the connection breaks, one of your personal problems appears. Your work is to repair the connection time and time again.
This constant effort requires willpower. You need willpower to do something difficult or unpleasant, like working out, balancing your checkbook, or even getting up in the morning. You also need it to restrain harmful impulses, such as overeating or drug use. Without the spark of willpower, you will be prone to giving up and will never reach your full potential.
The Jeopardy Tool
We’ve developed a tool to help you generate the spark of willpower whenever you need it. It requires that you generate a sense of urgency, since when you’re in jeopardy of losing something important, like a job, a relationship, or your physical well-being (each of us has our own version of a terrible future), you are motivated to act. To keep yourself motivated, you need a way to stay aware of how much is at stake. The tool we call Jeopardy generates the urgency that triggers unwavering willpower.
Imagine you can see far into the future. See yourself lying on your deathbed. This older self knows how crucial the present moment is because they have run out of time. See them rouse themselves from the bed and scream at you not to waste the present moment. In response to their exhortations, feel the deep, hidden fear that you are squandering your life. Use the energy this urgent pressure creates to immediately act on your own behalf.
Some people feel put off when they're asked to look at their last moment on earth. But this is the perspective that creates the greatest sense of urgency. Death is the most powerful reminder that there are only so many moments in human life. That’s what makes the present moment priceless. The galvanizing effect of nearness to death was eloquently described by the 18th-century British writer Samuel Johnson, who said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Unless you’re currently on death row, this kind of an inexorable focal point is probably not part of your daily experience, which is convenient if you want to stay comfortable. But beneath it all, most of us live with a hidden fear that we’re wasting our lives. An unprecedented number of ways to distract ourselves helps us bury that fear. Using the Jeopardy tool breaks through our denial and turns our fear into the urgency to act. That urgency lights the spark of willpower.
When to Use Jeopardy
Although the Jeopardy tool is effective at any time, there are certain moments when it’s most crucial. Use Jeopardy when you want to use the Tools® (or other personal growth practices) but are too immobilized. Whenever you’re tempted to quit something like a diet, exercise program, writing, working on your relationship, etc., Jeopardy can help you find the fire to keep at it. You’ll also want to use Jeopardy when you’re feeling really good and no longer think you need to continue to work on yourself—that’s a trick; don’t fall for it.
Willpower is the missing link in reaching your full human potential. Because it’s so crucial, you’ll discover many other situations where you need it. It’s necessary for everyday moments like getting out of bed in the morning, concentrating in the face of distractions, or restraining the impulse to give into a bad habit. You also need it to make a big change and take your life in a new direction. You might want to start writing a book, open a business, or move to a new city. What is something you fantasize about endlessly, but don’t take any steps toward realizing? Jeopardy can get you there.
Jeopardy is more than a tool. It’s a model for being fully alive. Paradoxically, this sense of life emerges from a relationship with the death bed version of yourself. Because the future-you knows what it’s like for time to run out, they have the wisdom you need at every moment. Invite them into your consciousness, feel them looking at you every moment, and welcome the pressure they put on you. You’ll find you move through life with the wind at your back.
© 2016 by Barry Michels and Phil Stutz. Adapted from The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower—and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion by Barry Michels and Phil Stutz.