Will Erosion

Here is how it works.

You are at point A. At point A you’ve made a decision to do something. For example: you say to yourself: I will take those gloves back to the shop and get them changed. It is important because they belong to your partner and she asked you to do it while she is at work and there’s snow on the way. You decide to do it that day, as you are going out, into town. You put them in your backpack and head into town.

On the way into town you bump into an old friend who invites you for a coffee. OK, great”! you say and head with them to a cafe. You then add: I only have an hour as I have to get to a shop before it shuts to change something.

You catch up with your friend and time just flies by in enjoyable banter and chat. Before you know it the cafe is closing. It is 6pm. The glove shop is now closed too.

You head home with the gloves still in your bag.

Point B would have been the point where you had changed the gloves – where your will impulse had been REAL-ised.

Now that will impulse remains UNREAL-ised.

Looking back, your will impulse at point A is now an UNREAL one in terms of REALisation. It only remains real as a memory of something intended. But that intention did not become physically real.

Point C is the new place you are now at of UNREALisation.

And Point D is the place of distraction where you made a decision or drifted along a path that led not to REALisation but to UNREALisation.

Most people get distracted like this and it usually makes common sense to build it into our day as slack. Timing our day down to the last second requires tight time planning and a lot of self discipline. We can avert wandering into the place of distraction if we are able to strengthen our will by prioritising things and holding true to our priorities. Easily distracted people find this nigh on impossible. It can also be averted by clearly choosing which of other people’s will impulses we want to take on and unite our own will with. And which we don’t ! For example, we might have said no to changing the gloves for our partner.

The success of reaching point B – the point of REALisation of a will impulse is therefore influenced and even determined by the strength of our will impulse set at point A. If we will something strongly, the force of it may help us carry it through to realisation. Halfway through our coffee with the friend our will impulse might have given us a gift of REMEMBERING and conscience awakens in us. We  might even feel suddenly guilty that we haven’t done what we set out to do. We remember our RESPONSIBILITY and we have a possibility then to respond by saying to our friend. I really have to go in a few minutes. Let’s meet up again next week. Then a few minutes later we leave and go change the gloves.

So, how strong is your will force when you will something? One test of its strength will be if it survives the test of distraction on its journey towards realisation.

Now, lets move our attention to mobile phones and the world of calling, text messaging and checking in to status messages on social media platforms. Here, the test of distraction presents itself to us from literally minute to minute, especially if we have set the hardware to being “always on” – in the form of alterts – vibrated, sounded or flashing. We have given the device permission to attempt to distract our current will impulses with the will impulses of other people and organisations.

Now, if our will force is strong, and we are currently on the journey to REALising a will impulse of our own, then it will probably survive these tests of distraction. We can ignore the alert and carry on, or briefly look at it and then put it aside. If our will force is weak, then we may well lay aside our will impulse and allow the will impulse behind the alert to take precedence. Distraction kicks in and soon we head along a path of UNREALISATION of our own current will impulse.

Often later, when (and this doesn’t always happen) we remember that our will impulse is now UNREALISED, we can feel that our will failed us and this can be –  though sometimes hardly perceptible to us – a bit demotivating. There is often a certain loss of energy in us when we REALISE we have failed to REALISE what we had willed. This can reach a tipping point where this realisation of unrealisation is so strong, that we simply surrender to the failure, give up, and then allow the other, smaller will impulses from other people, now stronger than our own, to carry us,. We drift along on them.

In the case of social media, the content is often fun, humorous, it takes us into the apparently stronger, more confident will impulses of other individuals and groups and we become a happy bystander, an onlooker to the will of others. We become an audience member where will is now, not inside of us, but on a stage in front of us. And it is a performance that we can occasionally heckle, even be invited onto the stage, but it isn’t our script, they aren’t our main characters, and it isn’t our stage. When this is really fun, we allow our own will impulses to dissipate,  we surrender, and the surrender is soon forgotten and we go into a place of wretched contentment where the distraction is a kind of time-passing soothing balm. Why wretched? Because we are now unfreely drifting and were we more aware, we wouldn’t be happy with this state at all.

We poke, we reply, we react, we post, we add a friend, we tag a friend, we watch a film clip, we say maybe to attending an event we probably won’t attend. In fact, all of these little acts feel a bit like little will impulses of their own, and each one gives us a micro-sized buzz of energy that slowly (but only while we are doing it) appears to be recharging our batteries of energy lost when we REALISED our own will impulse had been UNREALISED. An hour passes and then we look up from the phone screen, slightly disorientated. Now, what was I supposed to be doing?

You have every intention of finishing that chapter. The notebook likes open at an empty page. Your hand reaches for your smartphone and you have a picture message. What harm would it do look at it? It makes you laugh and click a link to the rest of the album. You’ve been tagged in several photos. One you approve of, and you comment. One you don’t and you try to remove the tag but it isn’t straightforward. So you click the ‘help’ link. This reminds you to check your email as you’d sent an inquiry for technical support about your new camera you are having trouble with. Twenty minutes rush by.

Now, here you are back in the place of distraction. There’s an opportunity to create a new will impulse – to genuinely tell yourself you have decided to prioritise these actions over your original point A action to finish the chapter. I am going to check these photos and find out how to untag. And I will work on the chapter at 4pm tomorrow. Here you can renew your will consciously and make the distraction a more conscious, willed new point A. But so very few people do, and then the will starts to leak away down the plug hole of good intentions.

Of course some people love this distraction and see it as part of their creative flow. We should go with the whatever. If that suits you, then go with that whatever, whenever, however and with whoever. It can be good to decide to have a more emergent, flowing and spontaneous day. In my view, that is best done as a willed impulse at point A. Today I will go with the flow. It works less well as an excuse, often lazy, to surrender to distraction.

Realised willed impulses are akin to inner muscle toning. They are an investment in the times when we really need our will to be consistent and strong, when the big decisions come and where we succeed or fail on our perseverance and our ability to “stay in there”. This is when our skilled and strong responsibility to ourselves let’s us really grow and develop in the world and become better human beings reaching aged 90 and looking back with what is always the result of a good store of realised will impulses (whether successful or not in outcomes) – a satisfied mind.

Let’s go back to our chapter again…

I’m at point A. I’m supposed to be finishing this chapter. It’s urgent to do my tax return. I had a letter from Auntie Grace and I want to write her a nice reply. The lap top is out. The will impulse made. Thirty minutes later, the will impulse remains UNREALISED, the coffee is a bit cold, and I have completed 40 tasks on facebook or twitter that I hadn’t planned to do at all. Most seem to be my RESPONSES to the will impulses of other people. Stuff they have put there hoping for response. There’s fifteen minutes left before I have to leave. I sigh. I’ll have to do the letter another time. I order another coffee. The phone lights up. Someone has replied to my jokey reply to that Youtube clip. And someone has retweeted my retweet. Somewhere in Canberra, Auntie Grace is sitting and she just happens to be thinking of me. She strokes the persian cat on her lap. I wonder if he got my letter?

What often goes unrealised is this: When we reach point B – a place of REALISATION of a significantly willed impulse – an action that is important to us – we always strengthen our will in the process. It’s like strengthen physical muscles through use. Will REALISATION strengthens will. And will is what you’ll need for the big steps in your life, the big decisions.

When we lose the ability to respond to our will impulses through REALISATION then we lose responsibility. Distraction and the moments of REALISATION that our will impulse has again been UNREALISED weakens our will. The problem of social media and mobile phones being used as a regular, always-on distraction is that little by little, we lose the energy that is available to our will for physical world willed actions. Our will, little by little, under the radar of our awareness, gets weaker. Then the process of weakening can multiply and soon we find there’s a kind of drag, a tiredness sitting at the base of ANYTHING we try to will in the physical world. We become unreliable to others, and to ourselves. We become more and more drawn to, even addicted to the vicarious will associated with the tiny, little by little, fingertip responses to the will impulses of others. It becomes compulsive because it is easy, in small bite size chunks. It sits more attractively with our ever weakening will. The bigger will impulses of the day can easily get traded for a hundred smaller ones that require nothing more than we turn our eyes a little and reach for our thumbs. Why, we don’t even have to get up out of our chair! Soon,  point D, the place of distraction becomes magnetic, a new place for us to go to. The distance to it is shorter and easier than physical world journeys. And the will force required is less so a survival instinct also kicks in as we favour an SMS over a phone call, and a phone call over a face to face meeting, as they use up less of our quickly diminishing will energy. And then the circle is closed because we actually justify UNREALISATION as a necessary means of coping with the effects of distraction. We forget the start of this story – that we were at point A where much stronger will impulses, truly REALISABLE were once available to us. So now, instead of a novel, we write an occasional blog, instead of a long letter to Auntie Grace, we find out she has an email address and she gets a short, almost bulletpointed note with plenty of compensating and guilty Xs at the bottom. As for flying to visit her, something we once promised to do, that is now in the realms not only of UNREALISATION but also of fantasy!

So, one of the problems of mobile technology and social media is that it offers distraction in the form of much smaller, less challenging calls to your will force. It can even make you feel as if you’ve been MORE active, and busy as you’ve carried out maybe 100 actions in the time it was going to take you to change those shoes. But the deeper problem remains; changing those shoes were rooted in a will impulse that was yours, it was born of your RESPONSE-ability. It was something you’d said yes to and something that, because it involved an act of will, would have taken you from A to B in a way that would have added energy to your will. The path of distraction thwarted that journey and replaced it with a much more diluted form of responsibility made of this clever brew: reactivity – where all you do is become a heckler or cameo in someone else’s show, wandering – where you drift onto the roads of others’ will impulses ending up either lost, or with a long route back, arriving home in the dark; and finally – surrender – where you have to lay aside your own original will impulse and let it be replaced by other will impulses, smaller, often less conscious ones, either your own or belonging to others, and this surrender weakens your will. Over the longer run, most, if not all of your goals and intentions, fade away. Is that what you really want?


About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on January 29, 2012, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. And the aspect of living that never changes is the time duration of our lives. All the little 20 minute interludes add up. Does this comment matter or is it just a waste of minutes of my own life? For me it depends on who I am while I am writing. If I give my will to you and want to “join” your party then I am wasting not just my time but other precious parts of myself. If, as this comment feels to me right now, I am expressing something about myself that matters, then it is time spent in a decent way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: