A Tuesday Ramble on Willpower

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

As we move towards the end of the year and the seasonal self-reflection it is wont to bring, I’ve been meditating on what I hope has been some personal growth in 2018. I’ll do a deep dive into this at some point later in the month. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about certain personality quirks that I’ve grown to recognize and understand about myself better over the past 12 months. I’ve learned a lot of personal lessons about resilience lately, where my reservoirs of it lie and where I could do with a little more…irrigation? I’m losing myself in the metaphor a bit, but work with me!

I’ve come to think that one of the most useful and simultaneously detrimental aspects of my personality is the fact that I tend to be an “all or nothing” type. I don’t exist comfortably or gracefully within certain shades of gray. This informs my work life, my politics, my passions, and most of the things I choose to spend my time and attention on.

An all or nothing mentality has served me well. When I’m motivated and dedicated, I absolutely get shit done. When I have a goal or an ambition, I can throw myself into the work that supports it and stay pretty well on track for a very long period of time.

The trouble comes with The Wobble. The off day, the slip up, the mistake, the crack in willpower. Because when your brain is in all-or-nothing mode and you’ve just failed at the “all” part…well. That way wanton self-indulgence and self-flagellation lies.

Willpower has carried me through depressive episodes, health downturns, crippling anxiety and self doubt, cosmic worldview shifts, and just plain sad circumstances. It is the grit that has allowed me to have a life of multiple moves, to function in a country where my kith and kin are thousands of miles and an ocean away. It enabled me to make it as a freelancer for several years, and to work in one of the best but toughest cities on earth.

But willpower has also caused or enabled me to stay in bad jobs, failing relationships, toxic friendships, and unsustainable circumstances long past the point I should have known to exit. It has caused me to grit my teeth and endure what in hindsight I realize I should have flipped the bird at, or at the very least firmly shown the door.

Giving up and saying “enough” are not the same things and it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I realize how often and how badly I have conflated the two. While much less bad about this than I used to be, it’s an issue that raised its head several times in 2018, and it’s something that I want to really get a firmer grasp on in 2019.

I’m curious, is there a part of your personality or mindset that acts as both your personal superpower and Achilles heel? How have you harnessed this balance, or is something you are still working on?

2 thoughts on “A Tuesday Ramble on Willpower”

  1. I’m exactly this way. Sometimes it’s quite advantageous, but the more divided my responsibilities have become, the more challenging it has been to adapt this attitude for the type of success if like to see, and it can leave me dancing on the edge of burnout if one of my projects isn’t going as well as hoped. Sounds silly, but when I know I’m not going to accomplish everything I want across all of the domains, I find myself using a timer and trying to be completely focused and “all in” for X amount of time before moving on the the next task. I haven’t mastered half-in and perhaps never will, but I’ve gotten pretty good at managing by switching through timed sets of focused effort before I mentally clock out for the day.

  2. Oh hell yes. I have always soldiered on/through. You can’t do that very effectively with breast cancer so I am having to find entirely new ways to behave and react and think. It’s exhausting, even if necessary.

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