Thinking of “willpower” as an inner power that we either do or don’t have is misleading and counterproductive. The truth is that we do genuinely want to be slimmer, healthier or produce creative work, but we also want something else – be it pleasure, comfort or simply not having to make the effort to fight old habits. Our inclinations and desires can be at odds with each other, some aimed at securing what we want right now and others focused on our longer-term wellbeing. In the ensuing battles, the former often win.
An often-quoted example is that of Ulysses, who asked his sailors to tie him to the ship’s mast in order to avoid succumbing to the lure of the sirens. Ulysses knew he couldn’t do it just by gritting his teeth. His willpower consisted of enlisting outside help to stop him acting on what he realised he would feel like doing in the future.
If you want to give up, there has to be a last smoke, of course. The problem is that there is never a good reason why any particular cigarette should be it. So it seems that it’s never irrational to have just one more.
Hence, paradoxically, we find we do have good reasons to commit to a set of actions, even when we have no good reason to do so for each individual act.
The weak-willed are usually portrayed as irrational creatures who allow their hot desires to overrule what cooler reason tells them is in their best interests. This is somewhat unfair
Excellent points: again confirming to my notion that each person is an ecosystem; weak will is not necessarily irrational