Who knows how to make love stay
Help before it gets away
That’s the question of the day
Who knows how to make love stay…
– Doug and the Slugs, “Who Knows How to Make Love Stay” from Music for the Hard of Hearing, 1983
In 1983, a dignified gentleman by the name of Doug, who consorted with slugs, lyrically pondered one of life’s grand questions: how do we make love stay?
I think the answer to this question parallels the answer to my big question of the day/week/month/lifetime: how do we make will power last?
Ah will power, my frenemy. You get me all excited and hopped up on plans and potential and then desert me me when I am faced with dessert.
The way we think about will power sets us up for failure. We wonder how to make will power last because we think that will power will help us achieve our goals. Will power is not an end, but a means to an end.
We think that the answer to a problem that requires personal discipline to solve (weight loss, smoking, overspending) is to simply muster up our will power and muscle through it. Then, when our weak, underdeveloped will power muscle fails to lift the elephant in the room, or wanders off into the bushes to pee long before the race is over, we feel like failures. We blame ourselves. We blame will power. We blame our mothers. And none of those things are to blame (well, except maybe your mother. I’m so sorry).
Yet will power is compelling. We’ve all had those moments when we are absolutely lit from within, on fire for a project, passion, or cause. There is magic and force in that moment when desire, motivation and action collide.
Will power is a lightning flash. It is fleeting. Temporary. Evanescent. Damn it.
Now, cursing aside, let’s not bemoan the fleeting nature of will power, but simply accept it and embrace it. If humans can turn rushing water into electricity, you and I can transform the momentary thunder and clash of will power into a sustainable source of productive action.
Embrace the energy of will power and launch yourself into a flurry of action.
Make your action plan, make a list of all the resources and tools you need to execute the plan, and gather each and every one of them. Now. While you’re still motivated.
Make a list of the risks to your plan and figure out how to contain each and every one of them.
Failure-proof your environment. If you want to write a novel but TV owns your ass, for example, haul it out to the curb. Or call the cable company, wait your requisite fourteen minutes on hold, and cancel all the channels you actually like (I did this and that’s why you’re reading this blog post!).
When you’re in the grip of will power, it does not hurt as much to do hard things and by the time you will power wanes, your TV will be bathing your neighbour’s basement in blue light.
(Do not stand outside the window and weep. That is just bad form.)
On the upside, you won’t whine about your lack of will power anymore. If anything, you’ll be kvetching that you have too much will power and that it makes you take radical, transformative action. Crap.
In essence: use will power as the inspiration to build a little lifestyle machine that will keep functioning long after will power has gone for a nap. Be mercenary. Use will power when it presents itself but do not depend on it to fuel your success.
For that, you don’t need will power. You just need a boring system that works whether you are inspired to tend it or not.
So, back to Doug and his 1983 question, “who knows how to make love stay”?
We all do.
If we want something in our lives, we create the environmental conditions necessary to sustain it.
Sunflowers need sun. Children need love. Success does not require will power, it needs boring systems of small habits performed every day. Love needs happy people.
And dear reader, if all of that fails, novelist Tom Robbins knows how to make love stay:
Tell love you are going to the Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if love stays, it can have half. It will stay.
It might work for will power too. If not, at least there’s cake.
This post was the first of a series on will power. Here are the two that followed: