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Effortless Choice vs. Willpower

Updated on November 5, 2020
ValKaras profile image

Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.

Not Psychology - Just My Intuitive Interpretations

In my long quest to make some sense out of human nature, I got majorly turned off by something that I saw as academic cosmetics. The mainstream psychology seemed to thrive on a fancy terminology while trying to squeeze the complexity of human nature into its nauseating theorism. Even the smallest feature in human behavior or condition got promptly labeled by some long words of Latin or Greek origin. For an example, something as ordinary as "slip of the tongue" has to sound much better as "lapsus linguae".

Well, hence my insistence on simplicity. I just couldn't develop an intellectual appetite for a definition of personality as a "population of interactional complexes". For the longest time now, the mainstream psychology has been masking its turning in circles with this dignifying academic appearance which was supposed to give it a status of a bona fide science.

So, this article has no academic ambition to parade as the "textbook psychology", but rather as my own intuitively attained truisms about a certain aspect of human nature.

Focussing on Positive Outcomes

Before I bite into the meat of the topic, allow me to explain something about my intellectual orientation that could easily be misinterpreted as leaning towards new-agism.

Namely, long time ago it must have been Abraham Maslow who redirected my thinking from psycho-pathology of human emotionalism towards those life promoting aspects of our model of mental functioning that are waiting to be developed or activated.

It was a shift from the negative to positive, from searching "why we hurt", to "what is there that doesn't hurt", from "what could go wrong" to "what could go right". With that line of thinking I arrived to this question of what is really more beneficial to us---our conscious choosing or our willpower---in that pursuit of the positive in life.

Distinguishing between the two made it clear to me what each is involving and why it is conscious choosing that makes so much more sense.

Willpower - just Adding more Adrenalin

In terms of general and popular reasoning, willpower has become synonymous to character, integrity, discipline, and "brain-muscle" of a sort. However, as we give it a closer look, we see that it may not be so beneficial to us after all.

Willpower is actually used within a short circuit of vulnerable ego's inner conflicts, where two or more tendencies are at play, and we want one of them to win over the others. Like in smoking for instance, where our tendency toward health is in fight with the tendency to keep smoking.

Or in procrastinating, overeating, laziness, or any other unwanted feature of behavior which can "only" be corrected by a strong will-power. What we may not see is that inner fragmentation that's the main characteristic of ego---now being amplified by imposing a force which is to intimidate those wild dragons in us. In a physiological sense, we are adding more adrenaline to the one that's already there triggered by our dissatisfaction and self-blame.

Not a Friendly Act

It goes without saying, willpower has recorded many victories and even major triumphs over that "loser's syndrome" in us. However, it will always be a mental tool or a strategy tied to a conflict---and conflict simply doesn't fit into a mentality that's characterized by a peace of mind, happiness, self-love, harmony, and inner friendliness between different parts of our personality makeup.

Just look what happens when in your relationship with someone else you have to "put your foot down", assert yourself, demand respect, and alike. Does that speak of a "smoothness" in relating? It may flatter our ego to come out as a winner, but is the relationship really about who wins and who loses?

Making Us Stronger - or Weakening Us Instead?

Indeed, even on the big picture of global affairs we can clearly see this never ending bullying tendencies and struggle of wills. At times it reaches proportions of sheer insanity resulting with wars, acts of terrorism, and economic pressures of all sorts - in an attempt to intimidate with a stronger willpower.

The whole history could be interpreted as nothing but a battlefield of wills. So, why do we still dignify it as a "human virtue"? If we look at the mankind as one huge human organism, we have an enlarged hologram of individual inner struggles between different tendencies, each one wanting to prevail over the others---but definitely weakening us with that discord.

As a matter of fact, we are not "winning" with use of willpower, just bullying one fragment of us into submission, which may convert itself into some other vice and give us yet another reason to use willpower.

We quit smoking, but start overeating. We quit overeating, but start indulging in sex. We size down our sexual appetite, but turn into a grouchy person. You see what I mean? It's like squeezing a balloon at one side and making it bigger at the other end.

Choosing Neither of the Offered

Now, what is conscious choosing as compared to willpower? Willpower regularly involves some given alternatives in form of a dilemma. Should I follow this or that path?

Now, let's allow the mentality of a four year old to help us here. You ask a four year old : "What do you want for breakfast - cereal, or scrambled eggs?" - and the kid may say something like : "I want an ice cream".

Of course, not that ice cream could serve us well as a metaphor in our distinguishing between willpower and choice, but the pattern of the kid's answer does it. When we choose, the mental quality of it has no force involved, as we are simply opting for what we want. Let's see it in some examples from everyday life.

Choosing a Simple Act over Fixation on Quitting

Let's say you are torn between a need to light up another cigarette and your firm decision to quit smoking. So you are bound to use your willpower while fixating on that urge and fighting it with your willpower.

Now, why not "quit fixating" instead of "quitting smoking" and simply do something that you would do right now if you were a non-smoker? What would the non-smoker-you do now? Anything around worth doing?

Have a glass of water. Go for a walk, anything will do---and don't take it as an "escape from smoking", because non-smokers drink water and go for a walk without "escaping from thirst", or "escaping from boredom". Are you beginning to see the difference?

No struggle, just choosing the "third thing". So, in that moment you are not struggling with your addiction---you are simply choosing to do something outside of that dilemma. And, as you are physically at it, look what's happening---you are not doing that lighting up. You are not "quitting smoking" but drinking a glass of water, or doing some walking, or whatever that you would do as a non-smoker..

Isn't that what you wanted in the first place---doing what you-the-non-smoker would do? For that's the desired end result of quitting smoking, isn't it? We become what we are practicing, so what are we becoming by practicing a struggle? The answer: proficience in struggling.

A Case of a Hangover

I remember those after the party Mondays when the alarm clock would sound like a nuclear blast in my ears oversensitive from the hangover. So I would sit on the bed, heavily into thinking how to force myself to go to work---or how to phone-in sick and make it sound convincing.

And then I would choose---"I am definitely not going to work, but let me just go to the washroom". And while I was in the washroom I would say : "Of course, I am staying home, by let me brush my teeth". Can you see where I am going here?

I was not struggling, not forcing myself to go to work---but I did end up at work that morning, by choosing to do something outside of my inner struggle. Even while I was working I kept promising to myself to go straight to bed when I come home. Of course, that never happened, but well---I kept choosing, not struggling with myself.

Mental Judo with Choosing

There is no way that I could remember how many times I agreed with a person but still kept thinking or doing what I chose. Arguing simply didn't seem like fun. One of my favorite lines was: "O.K., I'll give it to you in writing and I'll sign it too---you are a smarter man, much smarter than I"

That little mental judo does wonders in prevention of willpower struggles, because the opponent gets completely disarmed, with a kind of a silly, confused look, not knowing what to do now with all that adrenaline that he has pumped up into his bloodstream while ready to fight you.

It's a free, conscious choice at work. Again, nothing to do with the issue to be debated---but choosing something totally unrelated and still getting a desired result.

A Matter of Non-Invasive Authority

It's incredible what kind of a relief we can experience by replacing our inner or outer conflicts with conscious choosing. Of course, there are decisions to be made in life where no "third" element can be introduced, but one of the two has to be taken. But even then, we can ask ourselves what odds of success or risks are involved, and then dismiss the inner conflict as we go for one of the alternatives.

While we are reasoning like that we are also choosing---not flexing the brain's muscle in either of the offered alternatives. Resorting to willpower is really an admission of insecurity, for then we have to enforce our decision against an inner strong opposition.

Choosing is a wonderful way to establish inner peace and inner support. By simply choosing we are impressing our mind with our quiet authority, as we are not making it an inner war. All that inner fragmentation ceases to be, and that, my friends, is the genuine integrity, not the one stemming from willpower.


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    • ValKaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Alan - You got it. I am not serious about being funny. Sometimes I am just funny being serious. And then people either take me seriously, or they find it laughable. And as they laugh I am not taking them seriously, I laugh with them. There is always a lot to laugh about, and I like partners in laughter. Sometimes I laugh at myself, not to join those who are already laughing at me, but because I can't take myself too seriously, not so seriously that it would be laughable.

      So, let's you and I have a laugh. And at the end, let's try to find out what was so funny after all. - Have a great evening my friend. - Val

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      My God! That's funny! But surely you can't be serious about being funny? I mean if you got too serious that would be laughable!

    • ValKaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Allen - Looking for a square root of wisdom that would somehow explain the purpose of our evolving - I am stumbling upon the simplicity of it all. Playfulness, my friend. Believe it or not, but it's this elegant dance of the consciousness basking in the vibes of ever smiling soul. Playfulness of finding and creating beauty, harmony, rhythm - out of thin air - THAT'S evolving and its purpose at the same time.

      If you were a veteran meditator, or maybe even a beginner, it would all look so familiar, with all possible limitations of verbalizing the divine.

      There is no such thing as escaping from the truth into a dreamland, because dreamland is also a truth. A chosen one over some others that intuitively don't ring well in ears that seek harmony in a mess of a chaotic sounds.

      So, I am not too good at asking questions that suggest a depressing answer. I am crazily playful creator of my thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and damn it!!! - it feels so good. It feels godly. But don't tell anyone, the world is way too serious to understand it.

    • Aliswell profile image

      Allen Edwards 

      4 years ago from Iowa

      Hello again Val. Thank you for more of your fabulous mind awaking prose!

      I can not begin to imagine (well maybe an infinitesimal image) of how you form your topics of information and how after thus forming these wonderfully humanisticly helpful contributions- you proceed to form the overwhelming message into a literary excellence that penetrates so easily into this ole man's granite enclosed mass of what we call 'our reality/ choice'.

      Any idea what the real reason is for that grey mass between our ears and behind our eyes evolving over the eons? The, at one time simple sensory inputs, and calculated outputs of fight, flight, hunger, and Hanky Panky, have somehow e squared into subtleties of conversational nuances of human conversation inputs, logarithmic calculations of not only 'ones and zeroes' but the still shades of black/white analog outputs.

      All this happening in each and every brain based human. For ever thought of and thought about singularly inside the skull of said thought'r???

    • ValKaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Julie - You are absolutely right, things don't always turn out the way we want them to, but we have to play our part just the same while hoping for the best. Our investment in life simply makes more sense when it's positive, regardless of the outcome.

      However, even while making that positive effort we can't go wrong by checking on its effectiveness, as there are different ways to go positive. Like Einstein said, "it's insanity to keep doing the same over and over and expect a different result".

    • ValKaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Alicia - As the title of the hub says, it's about a CONSCIOUS intervention, and consciousness plays a different importance in the hierarchy of mental forces in different people. Some folks are simply not conscious enough, they may be wakeful but not conscious - rather switched to their automatic pilot.

      In many ways, consciousness actually is that sense of an available choice, it's the essence of our spirituality that we are not automatons just reacting to life situations, but conscious beings who can choose what is not suggested by our automatic reasoning which may be programmed and incorrect.

      Willpower is more of a knee-jerk reaction, as we flex the "brain muscle" and lend it to an intimidating intent - whether it's our own unwanted behavior or someone else's. By choosing something outside of the conflict we exercise our conscious freedom.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting hub, Val. While I agree with a previous commenter that the technique that you describe is unlikely to work for everyone, I suspect that it could work for many people. I'll definitely be trying it.

    • Julie Nou profile image

      Junie Rutkevich 

      4 years ago from Cripple Creek

      You know, sometimes having too much willpower and positivity sometimes ruins a person, especially when the thing they have expected didn't turn out they way they wanted to... Admit it, NOT ALL that we think will go according to plan, no matter how much positivity we put into. And this comment isn't being negative at all - just stating the mere fact.

    • ValKaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      alancaster149 - You are quite a wise person, I like what you are saying here. I also like that dash of dark humor in all of it - I am using it all the time.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Sometimes we have to close ourselves off so as not to fall in with conditioning. Pavlov's dog might not have been as co-operative had rewards not been on offer.

      Some of us just go through the motions. I've noticed (as you've got that traffic sign 'Try Your Brakes') drivers brake even if the ford's dry. I've also noticed them signal even when there are no other vehicles around, without looking in their rear view mirrors (I have to assume they're aware of what's going on ahead). I've heard people described in anger as being 'dead from the neck up', drivers turning into traffic without first checking for other road users. I nearly came a cropper the other day when some airhead did that in front of me, about thirty yards ahead. If we react violently we're the ones who are chastised. Best let them carry on, and hopefully the next driver they do it to is a 30 ton truck.

      'There's nowt so queer as folk".

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting comparison.

    • ValKaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Alan, my friend, you have probably noticed that I am not participating at Q. & A. for quite a while. It's a waste of time to discuss anything with people of closed minds. I am not missing any of that one bit, and ever since I have never even visited to see what's going on out of curiosity. Not because of their naïve attempts to "bully" me into this or that belief, but because of the quality of their reasoning. The whole thing just didn't make any sense while being on a level of teenage outsmarting.

      Other than that, I am happy that you found something interesting or inspirational in my hub. Have a great evening, or, whatever time it is Down Under now.

    • ValKaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Val Karas 

      4 years ago from Canada

      MizBejabbers - Decades ago I used to be a chain smoker - and I quit it cold-turkey without any withdrawal symptoms. I also loved my beer, and I was a "coffee-monster" - and I quit them both cold-turkey as well.

      Now, getting to your ex-husband's case, of course, we are all different, and he sounds like someone who was so deeply locked in a life mission to please himself that it was stronger than any opposition to it. Even his own willpower or conscious choice couldn't override that inner program of "having it his way".

      While I am not necessarily saying that your ex was of a pre-psychotic mentality, many of such individuals' field of consciousness is so narrowed that they can't consciously order themselves to snap out of their irrational groove.

      Well, of course, my hub could not cover all deviations from more-less "normal" mentalities, and I was basically talking about those folks who had conscious ability to play a trick or two on their addictions to let them go. I was not a of superman's mentality when I quit my vices never to taste any of them again.

      I am happy about the ultimate choice you made in that situation.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Nicely put, Vlad. Lots of food-for-thought there. It's always useful to have insights that show the workings of my mind. It also helps in trying to understand where others are coming from. We are an integrated body of people in reality although, of course, individual is other aspects at the same time.

      It occurred to me briefly in one of those paragraphs of yours, that my disquiet with some people of a strong belief system is not their belief, but their bullying effort to impose their will upon ME. The further enlightenment which your hub here has imparted will have very useful affects in my future handling of such situations.

      Thank you again.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      4 years ago from Beautiful South

      Val, you make it sound too easy, but there is a difference between experiencing a physical addiction and choosing to give up something that you merely need to give up. I had a husband who was addicted to alcohol. I know that he tried for years to use will power, even AA to give up drinking alcohol. We tried to help him by distracting him and he made the conscious choice to try, but it didn't work. Even after he lost us, his family, he still didn't quit. It was after tumor was discovered on his thyroid and removed that he was able to become a recovering alcoholic. Neither will power nor conscious choice worked for him. However, I think that being an SOB is a conscious choice and he could give that up if he wanted to. So I made the conscious choice not to take him back, so I do agree with you here. It didn't take will power to keep me away.


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