The Holy Qur’an lays down the foundation of accomplishment, it describes that it is after unremitting, incessant and persistent striving that one can achieve the object of their quest.
We all wish to achieve something in life an objective which is personal to us, which we believe will better our lives, but what is the reason that many of us fail to achieve anything at all?
Do we lack motivation, strength or are we just lazy?
People do not lack strength; they lack will(Victor Hugo – French writer)
In, a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, titled ‘Stress in America’. The survey asks, about participants’ ability to make healthy lifestyle changes, survey participants regularly cited lack of will power as the number one reason for not following through with such changes.
However, not many of us know what will power is? How do we stop it from depleting? How can we use it to our advantage? Will power is essential to success and it is our greatest strength so it is incumbent upon us to find the answers to these questions.
فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ
And when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in AllahThe Holy Qur’an (3:160)
The first question which arises is, ‘What is will power?’ To establish the basic meaning of will power we turn to the Holy Qur’an, which uses the word ‘عزم’ for ‘resolve’ and ‘will’ as shown in the above verse. The meaning of ‘عزم’ is ‘The faculty by which a person decides on and initiates an action’ In simple words, will power is the ability to control unnecessary and harmful impulses; it is the ability to overcome laziness and procrastination. It is the ability to arrive to a decision and follow it with perseverance until its successful accomplishment. It is the inner power that overcomes the desire to indulge in unnecessary and useless habits, and the inner strength that overcomes inner emotional and mental resistance for taking action. It is the ability to control short term impulses to establish long term goals.
Will Power affects four categories of our behaviour:
Thoughts: Willpower helps you focus on what you want to think about, by keeping unwelcome and intrusive thoughts away.
Emotions: You cannot will yourself to feel happy or sad. But you can decide to take actions to change how you’re feeling—“I feel down. I’m going to go for a run—that always lifts my spirits.” This takes a lot of will power because when we feel low we don’t feel like doing anything but will power gives us that extra push we need to make a change.
Impulses: Impulses are a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act, “I’d rather play games than study” or “I’m going to stay in bed, instead of praying fajr”. There are ways to minimise these impulses. But, will power helps you regulate how you control these thoughts.
Performance Control: This deals with how well you can focus and concentrate on a task, how long you stick with something before giving up, how much effort you expend during different phases of an exercise or task, how well you manage your time, etc.
Hazrat Musleh Maud raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" has defined three ways of lack of will power and failure to bring about a change in habits.
- He may have lost control over his will. His ego may have become too weak to effectively rule over his will. The ego is the master and the will is its agent. The master has become too weak to direct the agent to have something carried out and fights shy of the agent.
- The ego or the master is not weak, but the will or the agent is sick and has lost control over the emotions which are like servants of the will.
- Something intervenes between the will and the emotions. The will, the power to direct and the emotions are ready to obey, but communication between the two is interrupted.
In this context it should be remembered that action is directed by the will. One determines to do something and does it.
Why is Willpower Important?
Now that we have established what will power is, we need to understand why it is important for us. We must ask ourselves another question. Do we want a successful life with positive outcomes?
It may surprise you to know that psychologists have found two factors that consistently lead people to greater levels of happiness, health, and success and these are willpower and intelligence.
But since intelligence is innate and determined by our genetics we cannot say that everybody will be successful just through intelligence, thus making will power the only tool in our control to better our lives.
A study which supports this claim is the famous Marshmallow study, in which children were left in a room with a marshmallow. The children were told they could eat the marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes to receive an additional marshmallow. The children with the highest self-control, those who were able to wait in order to get another marshmallow, grew up to become fitter adults who got better test scores and grades and enjoyed healthier relationships.
How to Increase will power?
We know what will power is and how it can be beneficial for us, now we get to the fundamental question of how we can increase will power.
First of all, we need to understand the way will power works, new findings which have been recently discovered by psychologists have changed the way we think about will power. Will power is a muscle! Just like any other muscle in our body, will power is a muscle in our brain. As with every other muscle the more we work it, the stronger it gets, but if we use it too much it can fatigue.
It is the same with will power, the more we use it, the stronger it gets but if we use too much at once our will power levels can deplete.
How to strengthen will power?
While there are many ways to conserve your willpower, there’s really just one way to strengthen it.
By regularly working on a goal or a habit that exercises our self-control. Which is exactly what the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" is alluding to in this hadith?
“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.”Sunan Ibn Mājah 4240
Remember willpower is like a muscle, and just like a muscle, it has to be exhausted in the short-term in order to build its strength in the long-term.
When you work to change a habit, you deplete your willpower in the struggle, but over time, the strength of your willpower muscle increases from these exercises, making you better able to take on future tasks.
Our Will Power is strengthened not only by tackling bad habits, but even by taking our brain out of its comfort zone, for example, trying to stop swearing or even trying to constantly correct our posture during the day has shown to increase the overall strength of our Will Power.
Conservation of Will Power
When battling our temptations we use a lot of our will power reserve and feel like we don’t have enough to keep resisting impulses. But just as there is a way to strengthen will power there are ways to conserve and recharge our will power.
Work on One Goal at a time:
Because your will power is a finite resource, when you spend your will power on one thing, you have less of it available for other things.
Thus when you try to change multiple habits at the same time, what you are actually doing is using up all your will power. This will eventually lead to failure. Hazrat Musleh Maud raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" states:
“One should cultivate the habit of practising the virtue which one is seeking to acquire; and should cultivate the opposite of that which one seeks to discard”Way of the seekers, Hazrat Musleh Maud raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", Page: 110
Meditation is a good way to recharge our will power when we feel low. As Muslims we are given the opportunity to meditate at least five times a day through prayer, we isolate ourselves from the world and sit and concentrate on reciting what we have memorised, which is exactly the way meditation works.
Research has shown that by doing this over a long term we can increase the grey matter in our brain where will power is located (Prefrontal Cortex). But not only this, our concentration increases and our control of emotion increases too as they are all located in the same area of the brain as will power.
Furthermore, meditation also helps us manage stress, which in return stops our will power from depleting. Muslims are given the opportunity to meditate at least five times a day through prayer.
Self-Awareness means monitoring your behaviour and consciously knowing what you are doing. If you do not know where you are at with a goal in life then how will you know how far you need to go?
Exercise is a really good way to build will power, because it takes discipline to do. It takes an exercise of the will power muscle just to get into the gym, to do the workout routine. Hazrat Musleh Maud raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" states that when a habit is caused by physical means then the first advice for such a person would be to engage in physical exercise.
Have a higher purpose:
Having a higher purpose helps conserve your will power because the structure and path it provides makes many of your decisions, if not automatic, then at least a lot clearer. This is one of the reasons there is a strong correlation between having strong self-control and being religious, the requirements of faith give the will power muscle plenty of exercise through things like prayer, fasting etc. The Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" speaking on controlling behaviour and having a higher purpose states:
“Who has told our friends that they have a long life to live? Nobody knows when the death would approach. It is, therefore, expedient that whatever the time a man is granted should be utilised in the best possible manner. This time would not come back; it is only the stories that will be left behind.”Malfoozat (Vol. 1, p. 436)
Ultimately, will power is man’s greatest strength and by using it effectively we can change our lives, become what we want to be and achieve what we want to achieve.
At the end of the day, talent without hard work will only take you so far. It is will power that provides the strength to resist short-term desire to achieve long-term goals.
Developing strong will power will not just happen after one meditation session, or by overcoming one temptation, just how becoming a marathon runner will not happen after a jog around the street.
Establishing purposeful habits takes commitment, and strong will power will prepare you with the grit necessary to follow through with your goals.
‘And as for those who strive to meet us—We will, surely, guide them in Our ways.’The Holy Qur’an (29:70)