Book Review: The Way To Willpower

My Top 3 Quotes

  • “We may think his ethical ideas mistaken, and mistaken they may be; but we cannot but admire the strength of character which leads him to act them out in spite of social opposition.”
  • “If your ability to refuse to yield to this particular impulse becomes in your mind a challenge to and a test of your entire character, you have thrown into the scale a mighty force to ensure your taking the right action.”
  • “Sad is the day for any man when he becomes absolutely satisfied with the life that he is living, the thoughts that he is thinking and the deeds that he is doing; when there ceases to be forever beating at the doors of his soul a desire to do something larger, which he feels and knows he was meant and intended to do.”

How The Book Changed Me

You would think that a goal of reading the book is to improve your will-power, and that’s definitely an effect that it had on me. I find that even just having the words to conceptualize will-power as the desire to be a certain character helps me resist “temptation”. I also find the “rules of will-power” to be very helpful:

  1. Whatever our ideals, whatever our resolutions, we should, before adopting those resolutions, calmly and coldly count the price of carrying them out. Think not alone of the benefits of keeping the resolve, but of the disadvantages.
  2. Once you have made your decision, having coldly decided that that is what you want and that you are willing to pay the price, your decision is forever beyond dispute. You should never ask yourself again whether the other course it possible.

Here i’ll list some ways my mindset changed after reading the book:

  • More value for the importance of habits
  • An appreciation for “Whichever your belief you tend to make your belief true”
  • Opened my mind to the perspective that sexual desire can be conquered. I rarely see that point made.
  • I related to the example of a person who decides to devote some evenings to studying and the difficulty of telling friends. Previously I would tell myself that I would make up for it by becoming more efficient. But now I’m more inclined to say “No” sometimes. I still see a need for occasional “play to keep from going stale”.
  • I like the idea of a daily challenge. I already take cold showers, but I’ll be introducing some more daily challenges.
  • Cool to read the idea of using sheer effort to overcome physical and mental fatigue.
  • I have a stronger desire for moral courage than before.
  • Just do it.

How I Discovered It

I discovered the book through Vasili who very kindly gifted it to me. Thank you!

Summary and Notes (By Chapter)

A Revelation

Introduces the idea that the will does not exist as another faculty alongside the memory, imagination, and a way to reason.

The Intellect as a Valet

Claims that the intellect is responsible for choosing between desires.

The Price One Pays

There is a price to be payed for valuing remote desires over present ones.

Old Bottles for the New Wine

The will may be defined as our desire to be a certain sort of character. If this desire is strong enough, it can assist your intellect to make decisions that value the future. Will-power may be defined as the ability to keep a remote desire so vividly in mind that immediate desires which interfere with it are not gratified.

Resolutions Made and Resolutions Kept

It’s problematic that people make too many resolutions and then don’t keep them. Instead people should think long and hard about the prices associated with a resolution, and then only make them when they are confident that they can keep them. This helps avoid the demoralizing act of breaking one.

Success and the Capital S

Decide for yourself what “success” means; Don’t make the mistake of continually trying to obtain the things that the people around us want or profess to want, rather than what you want yourself, because you have never really tried to examine whether there is any difference between the two. After reflecting on success, decide if you are willing to pay the price to get there.

The Scale of Values

Material values are not the way to go. A man’s goal ought to be (beyond the mere duty of making himself happy) to increase social well-being to confer the greatest benefits he can upon humanity. So long as fame and money are the ends sought, the benefits conferred upon humanity are mere by-products; whereas, in any civilization worthy of the name, the ends sought by individuals ought to be social well-being, and fame and money the by-products.

Controlling One’s Thoughts

Tips for carrrying out resolutions:

  • Whatever our ideals, whatever our resolutions, we should, before adopting those resolutions, calmly and coldly count the price of carrying them out. Think not alone of the benefits of keeping the resolve, but of the disadvantages.
  • Once you have made your decision, having coldly decided that that is what you want and that you are willing to pay the price, your decision is forever beyond dispute. You should never ask yourself again whether the other course it possible.
  • Dwell on the benefits of carrying your resolove out, not on the evils of failing. Fill the mind with the positive idea of your resolve.
  • When combating insomnia, don’t say to oneself “I shall sleep”. Instead say “I sleep”.
  • Don’t defy temptation, instead evade it. Don’t do things that trigger desires you don’t want.
  • After mastering evading temptation, you can start to add it back in. “It breeds great perfection if the practice be harder than the use”.

The Omnipresence of Habit

Desires and fears are not the sole determinants of action; there is also habit. Habit is the doing of a thing without conscious attention and often without thought of the purpose of doing it.

The Alteration of Habit

When you first set about to abolish a bad habit and establish a good one, it is going to take all the effort, all the “will-power”, at your command. But habit begins soon to take the place of will-power; it will require less and less effort. You make your nervous system your ally instead of your enemy.

Tips for altering habits:

  • In acquisition of a new habit or the leaving off an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. This helps give momentum and postpones a potential breakdown.
  • Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rotted in your life.
  • Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain.
  • When temptations arise, instead of telling yourself “I will begin to reform the next time”, tell yourself that “the last time was the last”.

Will and The Psychoanalysts

This chapter focuses on discussing how psychoanalysts have it wrong. Points:

  • “Whichever your belief you tend to make your belief true”.
  • There is a difference between a desire and a craving. We have a desire for food, but a craving for cigarettes, whiskey, morphine.
  • Oscar Wilde said: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”. Like all good epigrams, it is at least true in a special sense. It is true in that if you yield to a temptation, you will get rid of it “for the moment”. But everytime you yield you do two things: increase the intensity of the desire and lessen the power of resistance.
  • You develop and strengthen the craving by use, just as you develop a muscle by use. Everytime you resist a desire you strengthen your power to resist.
  • Makes a point that sexual craving can be fought, that it can be lived down, that it can be conquered, that the conquest of it would immensly strengthen the character, and make most other moral victories comparatively easy. This differs from psychoanalysts who believe “it is not only impossible to conquer the sexual passion, but highly dangerous to try”.


Discusses what to do with your will-power once you have it. Points:

  • Minute-to-minute concentration is the ability to keep your mind upon a certain subject for a given period, say for ten minutes, one half hour or two hours without interruption.
  • Night-after-night concentration is the ability to specialize in a certain subject or in a certain branch of that subject until you have mastered it thoroughly, before advancing to other subjects.
  • Concentration is primarily an act of will (desire of character). It need not necessarily by so. If you enjoy working, getting up early, remaining home nights, staying sober, you will do so without effort. If you are interested in a book or in a particular subject, you will read it or meditate upon it without effort. But you need will-power in action precisely because you do not enjoy doing these commendable things, and you need will-power in reading, thought or writing precisely because your mind will otherwise be distracted by lack of lapses of interest in the subject at hand or by greater interest in something else.
  • The act of will involved in concentration is the same in principle as any other act of will
    • We must be certain in your own mind that the end is worth while.
    • There is a price attached to concentration. We will have less time for other things. We must be content to remain somewhat ignorant of the other things, at least for a time.
    • This applies particuarly to night-after-night concentration. If you keep switching subjects, you won’t be able to specialize adequately. By trying to know something about everything, you may miss really knowing anything about anything.
    • One needs one’s play to keep from going stale, but there are limits to this principle. No man will become an savant from an evening a week. “Most careers are made or marred in the hours after supper”.
    • When our mind wanders, we do so because of a half-conscious belief that the new idea, problem or fact needs attending to is important. If it were to truely be important, it would be so only by accident. Nine times out of ten we should find that they are not.
    • Forms of involuntary concentration of which you were not conscious, were possible because the interest in the subject was intense enough. An example is when you are asked a question and don’t even notice.
    • When a person is left alone for a short time, he often takes pleasant but uneducative roamings. The only way a man can put a stop to this is to snap off his train of day-dreaming the first moment he becomes aware of it, and to address his mind to some serious subject. If he has never done this, he will find the effort great. But “just do it”.

A Program of Work

There are some tasks that we don’t even see as anything requiring will-power at all, simply because they do not come in the teeth-gritting class, but that we continue to put off anyways. The reasons for this are not being as efficient as we might be, and procrastination from lack of will-power.

Makes an example of a person who decides to devote evenings to the study of money and banking. They could learn it just as well at home as by going to night-school, but the rigidity of night-school means it requires less will-power. Another element is that it is much easier to say to a friend: “I’m sorry I’d like to go, but I have to go to night-school” then it is to say “I’m sorry but I have to stay home and study”. Your friend is likely to be skeptical. He may be unable to see than an obligation to yourself is quite as sacred as an obligation to others. But you have to commit anyways and stick to your self-study schedule. Note that it is much easier for the discipline of will-power to plan modestly and to carry out your schedule than to plan greatly and fail. The first builds self-confidence; the second destroys it.

The Daily Challenge

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. Do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire needs draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.

There is the practical example of asking for a raise. You know you are worth more money, but you don’t have the courage. A test of meeting the challenge is the way you feel at the end of the day. If you have met the challenge, you will be rewarded with a glow of soul; if you have evaded or postponed it, your lot will be a sense of guilt.

Emotion follows action, not the other way around. If you really mean to do it at all, insist upon fixing a definite deadline.

Another case is when you would like to give the answer “No”. Yet you fear to give offense; you fear friendship, you fear having to defend your position; you fear embarassment. A man cannot respect himself if he grants a request or gives money to a beggar not because he believes the request is fair, or to relieve the beggar’s distress, but simply because he cannot look his supplicant in the eye and tell him No.

There is always the infinitude of bad habits to be broken and good habits to be formed. One example is a cold shower every morning: it is an excellent will exercise, which more than pays for itself in its effects upon your health.

Second And Third Winds

There are times when physical and mental fatigue appear to make us quit a task. But eight times out of ten is it flagging interest, rather than real fatigue, which makes us quit. As long as interest is intense enough, physical and mental fatigue won’t really matter.

There are two main ways to get past this problem:

  1. Diversification. By turning from one subject to another, you sustain or increase your interest in the subjects.
  2. Sheer effort. Trusting that after a time either the interest will rise again or the fatigue will decrease. “Heroism is endurance for one moment more”.

This can be a dangerous doctrine that would leave to overwork, overstrain and nervous breakdown. It is possible to overdo it; but for overwhelming majority it is not the slightest danger. Most breakdowns attributed to overwork do not come from overwork, but from worry, dissipation and unhygienic living. Indolence will always find excuses for its own existence.

Moral Courage

Final notes before parting from the book:

  • Never boast to friends about will-power. They are apt to become cynical and facetious, especially when you have broken some major or minor resolution. You want your friends to know of your will-power, but the best way for them to discover it is through actions, not words.
  • Don’t be a prig, someone who has become vastly well satisfied with himself. His chief pastime is to talk about the shortcomings of over the people.
  • True willpower is perfectly compatible with true humility.
  • It is in general more profitable to reckon up our defects than to boast of our attainments. Sad is the day for any man when he becomes absolutely satisfied with the life that he is living, the thoughts that he is thinking and the deeds that he is doing; when there ceases to be forever beating at the doors of his soul a desire to do something larger, which he feels and knows he was meant and inteded to do.
  • Don’t be stubborn. Don’t fancy that will-power is incompatible with making yourself agreeable. A man who stands for principles in which you believe has backbone; a man who stands for principles in which you do not believe is stubborn.
  • The man with backbone will never give in because of mere lack of physical and moral courage. Moral courage is the rarest thing on earth. How many had the ecourage merely to make themselves unpopular.
  • How can it profit a man to be able to think if he does not dare to. You must have the courage to go where the mind leads, no matter how startling the conclusion. This may require the courage to stand against the whole world.
  • Great is the man who has that moral courage, for he indeed has achieved will-power.

Time Spent Reading

Total time: 3:48

CLOCK: [2020-11-10 Tue 17:16]--[2020-11-10 Tue 18:02] =>  0:46
CLOCK: [2020-11-10 Tue 16:34]--[2020-11-10 Tue 17:16] =>  0:42
CLOCK: [2020-11-09 Mon 11:10]--[2020-11-09 Mon 11:50] =>  0:40
CLOCK: [2020-11-09 Mon 10:28]--[2020-11-09 Mon 11:10] =>  0:42
CLOCK: [2020-11-07 Sat 08:03]--[2020-11-07 Sat 08:22] =>  0:19
CLOCK: [2020-11-06 Fri 15:43]--[2020-11-06 Fri 16:22] =>  0:39

Time Spent Reviewing/Writing

Total time: 3:19

CLOCK: [2020-12-01 Tue 13:25]--[2020-12-01 Tue 14:35] =>  1:10
CLOCK: [2020-12-01 Tue 11:06]--[2020-12-01 Tue 13:15] =>  2:09

Stay In Touch