Will Power and Character Building

The greater the degree of faith or confident expectation that one carries with him in this task of character building, the greater will be his success. And this because of well established psychological laws. Faith or confident expectation clears away the mental path and renders the work easier, while doubt or lack of faith retards the work, and acts as obstacles and stumbling blocks. Strong Desire, and Faith, or confident expectation are the first two steps. The third is Will-power.

By Will-power we do not mean that strenuous, clenching-of-fist-and-frowning-brow thing that many think of when they say “Will.” Will is not manifested in this way. The true Will is called into play by one realizing the “I” part of himself and speaking the word of command from that center of power and strength. It is the voice of the “I.” And it is needed in this work of character building.

So now you are ready for work, being possessed of (1) Strong Desire; (2) Faith or Confident Expectation; and (3) Will-power. With such a triple-weapon nothing but Success is possible.

Then comes the actual work. The first thing to do is to lay the track for a new Character Habit. “Habit?” you may ask in surprise. Yes, Habit! For that word gives the secret of the whole thing. Our characters are made up of inherited or acquired habits. Think over this a little and you will see the truth of it. You do certain things without a thought, because you have gotten into the habit of doing them. You act in certain ways because you have established the habit. You are in the habit of being truthful, honest, virtuous, because you have established the habit of being so. Do you doubt this? Then look around you–or look within your own heart, and you will see that you have lost some of your old habits of action, and have acquired new ones. The building up of Character is the building up of Habits. And the changing of Character is the changing of Habits. It will be well for you to settle this fact in your own mind, for it will give you the secret of many things connected with the subject.

And, remember this, that Habit is almost entirely a matter of the sub-conscious mentality. It is true that Habits originate in the conscious mind, but as they are established they sink down into the depths of the sub-conscious mentality, and thereafter become “second nature,” which, by the way, is often more powerful than the original nature of the person. The Duke of Wellington said that habit was as strong as ten natures, and he proceeded to drill habits into his army until they found it natural to act in accordance with the habits pounded into them during the drills. Darwin relates an interesting instance of the force of habit over the reason. He found that his habit of starting back at the sudden approach of danger was so firmly established that no will-power could enable him to keep his face pressed up against the cage of the cobra in the Zoological Gardens when the snake struck at him, although he knew the glass was so thick that there could be no danger, and although he exerted the full force of his will. But we venture to say that one could overcome even this strongly ingrained habit, by gradually training the sub-conscious mentality and establishing a new habit of thought and action.

It is not only during the actual process of “willing” the new habit that the work of making the new mental path goes on. In fact, the Yogis believe that the principal part of the work goes on sub-consciously between the intervals of commend, and that the real progress is made in that way, just as the real work of solving the problem is performed sub-consciously, as related in our last lesson. As an example, we may call your attention to some instances of the cultivation of physical habits. A physical task learned in the evening is much easier to perform the following-morning than it was the night before, and still easier the following Monday morning than it was on the Saturday afternoon previous. The Germans have a saying that “we learn to skate in summer, and to swim in winter,” meaning that the impression passed on to the subconscious mentality deepens and broadens during the interval of rest. The best plan is to make frequent, sharp impressions, and then to allow reasonable periods of rest in order to give the sub-conscious mentality the opportunity to do its work. By “sharp” impressions we mean impressions given under strong attention, as we have mentioned in some of the earlier lessons of this series.

A writer has well said: “Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,” thus recognizing habit as the source of character. We recognize this truth in our training of children, forming goods habits of character by constant repetition, by watchfulness, etc. Habit acts as a motive when established, so that while we think we are acting without motive we may be acting under the strong motive power of some well established habit. Herbert Spencer has well said: “The habitually honest man does what is right, not consciously because he ‘ought’ but with simple satisfaction; and is ill at ease till it is done.” Some may object that this idea of Habit as a basis of Character may do away with the idea of a developed moral conscientiousness, as for instance, Josiah Royce who says: “The establishment of organized habit is never in itself enough to ensure the growth of an enlightened moral conscientiousness” but to such we would say that one must “want to” cultivate a high character before he will create the habits usual to the same, and the “want to” is the sign of the “moral conscientiousness,” rather than the habit. And the same is true of the “ought to” side of the subject. The “ought to” arises in the conscious mind in the beginning, and inspires the cultivation of the habit, although the latter after a while becomes automatic, a matter of the sub-conscious mentality, without any “ought to” attachment. It then becomes a matter of “like to.”

Thus we see that the moulding, modifying, changing, and building of Character is largely a matter of the establishing of Habits. And what is the best way to establish Habits? becomes our next question. The answer of the Yogi is: “Establish a Mental Image, and then build your Habit around it.” And in that sentence he has condensed a whole system.

Everything we see having a form is built around a mental image–either the mental image of some man, some animal, or of the Absolute. This is the rule of the universe, and in the matter of character-building we but follow a well established rule. When we wish to build a house, we first think of “house” in a general way. Then we begin to think of “what kind” of a house. Then we go into details. Then we consult an architect, and he makes us a plan, which plan is his mental image, suggested by our mental image. Then, the plan once decided upon, we consult the builder, and at last the house stands completed–an objectified Mental Image. And so it is with every created thing–all manifestation of a Mental Image.

And so, when we wish to establish a trait of Character, we must form a clear, distinct Mental Image of what we wish to be. This is an important step. Make your picture clear and distinct, and fasten it in your mind. Then begin to build around it. Let your thoughts dwell upon the mental picture. Let your imagination see yourself as possessed of the desired trait, and acting it out. Act it out in your imagination, over and over again, as often as possible, persevering, and continuously, seeing yourself manifesting the trait under a variety of circumstances and conditions. As you continue to do this you will find that you will gradually begin to express the thought in action–to objectify the subjective mental image. It will become “natural” for you to act more and more in accordance with your mental image, until at last the new habit will become firmly fixed in your mind, and will become your natural mode of action and expression.

This is no vague, visionary theory. It is a well known and proven psychological fact, and thousands have worked marvelous changes in their character by its means.

Not only may one elevate his moral character in this way, but he may mould his “work-a-day” self to better conform to the needs of his environment and occupation. If one lacks Perseverance, he may attain it; if one is filled with Fear, he may supplant it with Fearlessness; if one lacks Self-confidence, he may gain it. In fact, there is no trait that may not be developed in this way. People have literally “made themselves over” by following this method of character-building. The great trouble with the race has been that persons have not realized that they could do these things. They have thought that they were doomed to remain just the creatures that they found themselves to be. They did not realize that the work of creation was not ended, and that they had within themselves a creative power adapted to the needs of their case. When man first realizes this truth, and proves it by practice, he becomes another being. He finds himself superior to environment, and training–he finds that he may ride over these things. He makes his own environment, and he trains himself.

In some of the larger schools in England and the United States, certain scholars who have developed and manifested the ability to control themselves and their actions are placed on the roll of a grade called the “Self-governed grade.” Those in this grade act as if they had memorized the following words of Herbert Spencer: “In the supremacy of self-control consists one of the perfections of the ideal man. Not to be impulsive–not to be spurred hither and thither by each desire–but to be self-restrained, self-balanced, governed by the just decision of the feelings in council assembled that it is which moral education strives to produce.” And this is the desire of the writer of this lesson–to place each student in the “Self-governed class.”