I recently reviewed Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill. I have also been reading a superb science fiction series, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The hero of this story is a modern day 40’s noir-style private investigator in Chicago who happens to be an actual wizard. Harry Dresden is a powerful smart ass who attracts a handful of loyal and powerful friends who recognize the good man he is, creates a legion of enemies who misunderstand him or whose plans he thwarts, and even encounters powerful and scary beings whose attitudes are somewhere in between. There’s a fascinating and useful parallel between these two very different creative writings.
Hill’s Devil, not Satan with the horns and the brimstone but the negative aspect in the polarity of creation, claims that 98 of every 100 people are under his sway. He is forced, under protest, to reveal what the 2% who are free of his grasp have in common. The revelation is that those fortunate few have cultivated an unwavering definiteness of purpose. It renders them immune to what he calls “drifting.” Drifting is what we do when we are not clearly decided upon what we want in life. The Devil wants us to drift. He keeps us drifting, sowing seeds of doubt by fanning the flames of our fears.
As a very powerful wizard, Harry Dresden uses his iron will to overcome adversity and harness and manipulate magical energy. In Butcher’s fictional world, magic comes from life force. It sort of reminds me of the Jedi Knights’ use of The Force in Star Wars. It is Harry’s willpower and his uncanny ability to channel his fear that makes him so formidable. Foes with much more power than him fail to destroy him time and time again.
Do you see the parallel I’m talking about yet? Definite, uncompromising purpose is intimate with adamantine will. Those who make the biggest differences in the world, for good or ill, have cultivated such a will. It is almost a force of nature. It propels all good stories in fact as well as fiction. The archetype has perhaps best described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.
If not the Devil, if not monsters of myth and legend, life itself tests our will. You are inevitably met with adversity in your path to achieve your aims. That adversity knocks you back, down, sideways, silly. Your will is what sets you straight and keeps you moving toward your aims, even if your path to get there must change.
In your Hero’s Journey, you do not arrive at your destination the same person you were when you began. Your trials and triumphs change you. Hopefully, by the end of a particular story in your life you have grown. You’ve learned and have something of value to show for it. You got what you wanted, but it now means something different to you than you initially believed it would. You may have set out not even realizing what you truly desired, and the outcome was a complete surprise to you.
If we fail to learn, to grow and to change, we still take the journey. That part is not optional. Our path still has value, even as a cautionary tale for others. Funny how life is – nothing is truly wasted.
Let’s get back to the notion of willpower. What is it exactly? Clarity? Passion? Stubbornness? Is it even ours or is it given to us? Is it in our power to increase our will – to consistently build it from where it currently is? Or is it spiritually, genetically, and/or experientially determined and once we’re adults it is what it is?
I believe that we can cultivate willpower. We can gain clarity. We can find purpose. We can enflame passion. We can resist fear, temptation, and doubt. Each victory, and defeat, can make our will stronger. We can become more determined, act with greater tenacity. One way to do this is check our beliefs.
Certain beliefs are toxic to our will. We might imagine that we our powerless, or that our power is insufficient for our cause. We might think that what we do doesn’t matter, at least not that much. We might believe ourselves unworthy of the prize. These are Hill’s Devil’s illusions, and they work really, really well. They sap our resolve and our energy.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your personal will? If you’re so inclined, you might ask the same of people you know well. Compare responses and compare what score you would have given each other. This is useful because we can’t see our own blind spots. And we all have them. Hill’s Devil is very, very clever. He distorts our perceptions, usually in the direction of: a) being afraid of what others will think of us, and b) forcing us to unfairly compare ourselves to others and thereby underestimate our own potential.
With the feedback of your friends and the courage to take a clear look of where you are, identify the beliefs that may be limiting your will. Use your power to dispel these beliefs. I’m not a big affirmations guy, but there is some power there. Mostly, you need to accept the higher wisdom that recognizes the divine spark within. You must embrace the idea that you are worthy of whatever goals you have or they wouldn’t be there. You must purposefully set out to strengthen your will and not accept anything less.