Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.  —William Shakespeare

A recent break in our winter weather gave us a sunny, 55 degree day that simply begged for me to go outside and play. Though not my typical form of exercise, I chose to go for a run. I laced up my shoes, put on my headphones and put the iPhone on a favorite playlist as I headed outside to “enjoy” the day. I put “enjoy” in italics because, as an infrequent runner, there are a multitude of aches and pains that accompany even a casual jog – however, I was outside, breathing fresh air and stretching my legs. Into the third mile, my indoor conditioning began to show as my knee started to ache, my calf muscles twinged and I found myself needing to be more intentional with every step. As I considered the three mile return to my house, I began to think about the importance of will as it relates to every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Was I going to pull up and walk or finish this run at pace?

Acts of Will

Much of history has been driven by people imposing their wills upon those around them. We often think of “will” relative to making things happen in the world around us. We will it to be so it happens. There is a tremendous amount of literature describing acts of will – people achieving their desires by willfully shaping their environment. These stories are often dramatic; inspiring or terrifying, they bring a sense of the grand nature of human possibility. What exactly is an “act of will”?

I decided to finish my run at about the same pace as I started (ok, maybe a wee bit slower). So, in the case of my casual jog, my act of will started with a decision. A decision to endure some pain for a result that I desired. Nothing earth-shattering, just a little internal definition of my end-in-mind and a conscious decision to achieve it. Step one in channeling your will:

1. Decide what you want.

Your decision brings you into direct conflict with the forces acting against you. It sets you at the edge by pitting you against resistance. Once you’ve decided, things get interesting.

For me, deciding to finish at pace meant that I was going to encounter some pain. The resistance was going to come from within. The path had not changed and the weather was still nice (though the wind had increased). My decision put me in direct opposition to what my body was telling me. In considering the opposition, I discovered that the next step was:

2. Consider the price to be paid.

No pain no gain? It would seem so. To set your will in motion, you have to understand the resistance and face it squarely. The price you have to pay determines how much will is required. Now, we are in an all out war….with our Self.

What was that? Yes, with our SELF. Channeling your will is not about imposing your self on the world around you. It is about conquering your own resistance to the pain required to achieve your aims. Big or small, brief or long term, acts of will are internal battles first and foremost. Once you understand the price of your objective, then you can determine if it is worth it and move into the next step:

3. Discipline yourself to action.  Again and again and again.

As I turned to return home on my run, the aches intensified, the wind picked up and my body rebelled. I realized that it wasn’t going to be easy. I “willed” myself to continue running in spite of the pain. But it didn’t stop there, I had to keep making the decision to act and then acting for each step. I distinctly remember thinking about the sheer force of will distance runners must exert upon themselves continuously to achieve their ends.

Channeling your will is not a one time event. It goes hand in hand with discipline. To conquer your own tendencies, you have to decide to act again and again and again. We often think of will in the case of athletic contests or major achievements like climbing a mountain. Yes, there is incredible will required in that moment and the preceding moments, however, the real battle started months or years before when that person started working toward a vision. Channeling his/her will meant a million small steps that added up (over time) to a big leap in achievement.

Will and Goals

Simple enough, right? Decide what you want and the price you are willing to pay, then just act. I’ve focused on “will” specifically because it is the engine of achievement. The three steps above are deliberately simple and general. The engine still needs guidance. It has to have a purpose, a mission. Running a few miles is incredibly basic. What about your life? Your career? Your relationships? To harness your will, you have to want something, otherwise, there is no need.

My point with this post is not to explore goal-setting but to highlight the power of will and the necessity of controlling it to get you where you want to be. It is not easy and that is exactly how it should be. The ongoing effort to conquer our inclinations in pursuit of our dreams defines us, molds us, lifts us. As much as we want to “have it over and be done with it” that is simply not how life works. The intentionally persistent effort to attain our objectives is a decide, act and repeat cycle that must be anticipated and embraced.

I mentioned earlier that channeling your will is not about imposing it on the rest of the world in some kind of grand conquest. It is about controlling your impulses and conquering your self to make your life the fullest it can possibly be. Whether losing weight, building a company or creating a lasting relationship, your ability to exert your will upon your self will ultimately determine your success.