Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The notion that willpower is neccessary for success in sport, as in life in general, is pretty much taken for granted. It is typically assumed that one must exert much willpower to progress, one must take active control of oneself in order to develop one's skills, and one must continue to motivate oneself through self talk and mental rehearsal. In fact, this is an oversimplified account of willpower, and following it alone may stunt one's progress.     

Kabbalah speaks of two types of will, higher will and lower will. Lower will involves the conscious cultivation and application of will. This is the typical conceptualization of 'willpower'. Higher will is a subconscious form of will which suddenly envelops a person's entire being and bolsters his performance. One may not even realize that higher will is active within him.

An apt metaphor for these types of will is that of a person travelling in a one-man sailboat. There are two ways he can travel. The first is to use ores and row the boat manually - akin to lower will. This requires much effort and strength. The second is to raise the sails and allow the wind, when available, to propel the boat - akin to higher will. This allows for a smooth and effortless cruise.     

Each will type has its advantages and disadvantages. Lower will involves immense exertion, is less powerful than higher will, and is also less pervasive in its affect on one's overall being. However, it offers the individual voluntary control over his actions, and allows him to continue progressing even when he lacks spontaneous motivation. Higher will comes without one's effort, is more forceful, and all pervasive, but is also irrational and blind to danger or the specifics of a trick. The ideal is to harmonize both types. One should exert conscious willpower while remaining relaxed and open enough to the influence of the higher will. For if one fixates on his own (conscious) will to achieve his goals, he'll probably obstruct the flow of higher will. On the other hand, if one abandons control when sensing the influence of higher will he may behave recklessly. Lower will must regulate the flow of higher will.

Let's return to the sailboat metaphor to illustrate this point. If one becomes hung up with his own ability to row the boat, he may impede the wind's effect on his boat when it blows. On the other hand, if upon sensing a strong wind he stops steering the boat and submits to the wind's power, he might get lost, or worse, shipwrecked. The sailor must learn to harmonize the two complementary modes of travel.

However, the boat metaphor falls short. For while the two modes of travel are not interdependent, higher and lower wills are. Lower will really stems from higher will. It is merely the conscious mind drawing on a 'portion' of the subconscious reservoir of will and using it as it deems fit. Conversely, lower will is capable of arousing and directing higher will. Thus, by focusing on an activity and applying conscious will to improve in it, one arouses the higher will to emerge in that context and to enhance one's performance.

In summary, when skating one should be aware of both types of will power, remembering that, often, trying too hard is self defeating because it impedes the powerful flow of higher will. It's often more effective to relax, open up and allow the higher will to propel you - but continue to retain mild control even then...         

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