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Being ourselves with skills and prayers Published: Sunday, June 22, 2003 By: Dr. Manuel A. Morales

The notion of will power implies some internal condition, something in your psychological makeup, something that allows you to do hard jobs, overcome temptations, and stick to your goals. But it sometimes refers to the way people deal with the huge challenges of self-direction. We should not overlook the fact that people are able to stick to their goals in some situations, but not in others. Most people find that in certain situations they have plenty of will power, but in others, not enough. People find that there are certain things they can do and that there are certain things they canít do.

Another way of thinking about these strengths and weakness is to realize that they are tied to certain situations. When face with particular situations that are possible to identify, I am able to do what has to be done, but when approaching other situations I donít easily do what has to be done. Thus, the concept of willpower has to be reconciling with important variations in our behavior from one situation to another.

A second issue with the idea of willpower is that it is not clear what we can do to get more of it. Some people speak as though willpower involves standing strongly in the face of temptation, fist clenched, jaws tight, refusing to do what one shouldnít do even if one wants to do it.

But most people with effective willpower avoid the kind of situation that may easily induce a given behavior. The point is that human beings can develop censoring skills by relying heavily on their instincts to know when to depend on strength or on a weakness. We call this good situation sensors, meaning that human beings can collect and interpret situational data. They can sniff out the signals in the environment and sense what is going on without having anything spelled out for them.

Not surprisingly there are people with very well refined sensors that allow them to use foresight, self-analysis, and prevention (planning) to avoid engaging in difficult situations. Here we also face the profound predicament that to avoid sin one should avoid the occasion for sin.

The equation is one of acting in advance to prevent the undesirable behavior. This is a strategy we used every night when we set an alarm clock. The crucial element is to make the desired choice when we are most likely to choose correctly. We choose to set the alarm before we are sleepy and not in the drowsy morning hours. We may even place the clock across the room to make sure we get up.

Self-direction is something more than willpower. It is a learned skill involving anticipation and cleverness, so that immediate and tempting rewards do not impede progress toward more fundamental long-range goals.

In Homerís Odyseey (800 BC) Odysseus planned to make sure that the temptations of the Sirens did not lead him away from long-range goal.

Of course, there is also the profound power of prayer, where you ask God with faith and conviction for strength to overcome difficult situations.


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