Imagine that early in the morning, when it is still dark, the alarm clock begins to ring. The warmth of the bed seduces you; we want to stay curled up, but we know that we have to get up and start the day. Those who manage to overcome the temptation to lie down, are practicing an exercise of will. We submit to a small torment—which is sometimes immeasurable—because we understand that we are in search of a greater good. An act of will is one that provides us with discomfort or subjects us to short-term discomfort and to which we submit to achieve something better.
The acts of will are a binomial that has to be given together, if any of its parts are missing, it is no longer about that but about something else. They are actions that are paired and in the event that one condition is met without the other, it is no longer an act of will. In addition, there should be a sequence:
- first, we voluntarily leave our comfort zone with an eye on the goal that lies in the future;
- second, we get down to work to get closer to the goal we set for ourselves. That is, located in the present, we build the future.
These actions come in all dimensions: from taking that nauseating flavored tonic to relieve stomach pain to the great heroic acts that people get to perpetrate. The ingredient that unites will and action is character and more specifically the dominion we must exercise over ourselves. The exercises of will have the great advantage of being something that we initiate and whose results are harvested in a wide radius of influence.
More than ever, we need ways to recharge our energy, calm our anxieties, and practice self-care. Look for moments that inspire awe or admiration. It is necessary to find experiences that drive us to think, to generate positive ideas, to create solutions for problems and people outside of ourselves. We must get out of the cocoon that we have built ourselves and thus help us achieve these objectives. This doesn't necessarily require a pilgrimage on foot to the Grand Canyon or jumping into a barrel to Niagara Falls. To get our purposes to become realities, we can start with strategic will exercises. To make things happen, we need to want to. To get going, you have to stand up and feel like taking the first step. This has been done since ancient times and was known as asceticism: a set of practices and habits that the ascetic follows to achieve moral and spiritual perfection.
No, ascesis is not a novelty but, today we know them as exercises of strategic will. In the West, the first ascetic doctrines emerged in Ancient Greece, with military training and physical exercise. But the ancient Greeks did not stop there, they also went to the depth of the exercise of virtue. However, this type of practice was already millenary in the East. Asceticism is the philosophical or religious doctrine that seeks, in general, to purify the spirit through abstinence. Most as looptic systems disdain the physiological needs of the individual as lower-order. Therefore, the exercises of will are a binomial: they have the component of ascesis and seek a specific end that brings us closer to the goals set.
Will exercises are thoughtful acts of effort, persistence that demonstrate character, and even kindness to others and to ourselves. They are opportunities in that they can seem simples and are powerful. For example, give us a break if we feel overwhelmed, instead of continuing; be curious and observe the beauty that surrounds us; eat in a dignified place and not on the desk; if you can not be far from the computer, take advantage of the natural wonders at your fingertips; several studies have shown that even nature videos can inspire our sense of wonder; if we are in a meeting or in a talk that requires our full presence, leave the cell phone aside or any action that takes us out of our comfort zone.
It seems trivial and it is not. These small moments of wonder will not only recharge the batteries but will also enhance creativity and collaboration at work. Especially, in the situation that we are having to live in. We may be gradually returning to our offices or to our daily tasks. We may be daring to get out of lockdown or we may have already left a long time ago. Maybe, but the tensions of the pandemic are barely over. As we enter a transitional stage after a year of trauma and tension, more than ever we need ways to refresh our energies, calm our anxieties, and take care of our well-being. There is rarely any talk of a potentially powerful intervention in the workplace: the cultivation of ascesis.
One of the great virtues of these exercises of strategic will is that they usually produce experiences of wonder. Like gratitude and curiosity, wonder can make us feel inspired and energized. It is another indispensable piece in our professional toolbox. Sometimes, it is difficult to address the issue of will exercises because no one wants to hear about sacrifices, renunciations, or costs that we must incur. We want everything to come out for free and effortlessly without realizing that this is impossible.
When we practice the strategic exercises of will we come across the wonder we feel when we encounter something powerful that we cannot easily explain. Cultivating exercises of will that bring us experiences of wonder is especially important and useful for renewing our energy and making plans for a more hopeful future. This is because, beyond the physical effects like tingling and goosebumps and a lower heart rate under stress, amazement also affects us emotionally. We have to fight against discouragement, disinterest, apathy. We have to change. This transformation has great benefits: as we tap into something bigger and the sense of ourselves takes on another dimension, so do our mental dialogues and our concerns. At the same time, the desire to connect and achieve something increases. People who experience will and wonder also report higher levels of satisfaction and overall well-being with life.
Strategic will exercises have glorious effects on stress and resilience. It is logical when we understand that to achieve something, we have to give something, we enter a virtuous circle: I insist and I do not complain. I get closer and that gives me joy and satisfaction. I look at the long term and take care of what I have to do today.