The one thing that would probably fix most of our problems if we just had more of it.
Religions are dedicated to it, the self-help sections of book stores promise it, motivational speakers tell you how to get it. The Stoics praised it, mindfulness both requires it and strengthens it.
Think about it.
How much time would you save if you could do what you were supposed to do, when you were supposed to do it?
How many relationships could be saved if one or both partners made better choices?
What would your dreams and projects and plans and future look like if you could just do what you were supposed to do?
It’s an odd thing.
We have these desires to do certain things and accomplish goals, but we also have something inside of us that makes it really hard.
There’s no real debate on what is better for us most of the time, yet we choose what is more pleasurable over it constantly. We even do this knowing we will feel terrible afterward.
So what can we do about this?
Shockingly, I think there is something of a solution in mindfulness.
When we can step back from the things we want, when we can observe our desires instead of letting them control us, we can make different decisions. Oftentimes, when we really learn to pay attention to the things that drive and compel us, we learn that they are really about other things.
These things drive us to do things that are not healthy, and our self-control slips because we are already worn down by resisting these things without understanding them. We have already expended our energy on self-judgment and self-criticism and fake debate over what we are going to do. This all changes when we can offer ourselves a little compassion in our suffering, when we can see these things that drive us for what they are.
We can also learn that there is tremendous power is simply accepting them as they are.
It turns out a lot of the things we are driven and compelled by lose their power when we stop wishing they were different.
This is cool because it turns out that willpower and self-control work like a muscle, and they can be trained. The more we use them, the easier it is to use them, and this creates a helpful feedback loop for us.
The next time your self-control falters, take a second and explore it.
What are you experiencing at that moment?
What would it be like to experience it without judgment?
What would happen if you simply accepted that you are feeling a certain way, without trying to change that feeling by making unhealthy/unskillful choices?
Can you learn to be content with being discontent?