Defining the Qualities Of Will

I have tried to break down the components of the will, and take a look at each. This is just a beginning of what is possible when studying the will, and I am learning – painfully – more all the time. I have been working on the development of my will for my entire adult life, mostly out of need and lack, and also out of desire to master something that will enable me to fulfill every bit of my potential. I want that for you too.

Discipline

It isn’t quantity that defines discipline, its quality. I recently coached a young violinist practicing a Mozart concerto for a performance who was having trouble with his playing, and he discovered that it is possible to practice a piece of music for months and still not be able to play it through without making mistakes, even though it isn’t a difficult piece for the player. The difference between concert-readiness and not-readiness, is HOW the piece is practiced. It is very easy to practice in the mistakes rather than fixing them. The key is in breaking it down into pieces, separating out the different elements – rhythm, fingerings, bowing difficulties, intonation, co-ordination – and addressing them separately and thoughtfully. How does this analogy apply? That working mindlessly is useless. Are you thinking about your work, and being intelligent with your efforts?

Meaning And Practice

Why are you doing this? What is it giving you? What are your motives and are they clear to you? What needs are you meeting by doing this work?

Will is a fiery thing, that needs warmth. You will have noticed, of course, how when you move your body you get warmed up. When practicing an instrument or before doing any exercise, it is always important to warm up the muscles. If you want to easily engage your will to a task, then the soul warmth of enthusiasm needs to be present. What brings warmth and enthusiasm to the will? Meaning. When the work has meaning and purpose, then the will is warmed, and then you have a fighting chance of finishing the task even when the initial enthusiasm for what you are doing has waned, which it always does.

Something that all of us will have experienced is the waning of interest when an action is repetitive. This indicates the connection that the will has with enthusiasm. If we are doing an action that we have had to develop through practice, then the will invested in the action will have purpose, meaning. When we practice in order to develop a new skill – like keeping the house tidier, or cooking more home meals, or playing an instrument – we must break through the disinterest and find ways to invest the most repetitive activities with enthusiasm.

When I was a young violinist studying in university, I would spend an hour every day doing nothing but scales, up and down. Scales provide a necessary training in intonation, speed and agility and every classical and jazz musician practices them, but they are very boring to play and to do them exclusively for an hour can be very challenging. I tried to use that time to slip into the “zone”, a meditative-like space where I focused completely on the intonation and the quality of sound my violin produced when the intonation was pitch perfect. I grew to love this discipline, and spent that hour in loving intimacy with my instrument, diving into the guts of it’s wood and resonance. And I experienced the timeless, spiritual quality of the single note, each pitch with it’s own nuance, something I didn’t get to do when practicing a complicated piece of music with a deadline. Every day I strove to find meaning and enthusiasm in the repetitive, boring trial of scale practice, and could never, ever have sustained it without this.

Are you tired yet of hearing about practice? You can do anything you put your mind to, if you truly understand this principle of the physical world and the will. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing that makes you good.” — Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers)

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