The dictionary definition of the term ‘will power’ describes it as being “control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control”.
Diligent use and controlled direction of our will power therefore has a huge bearing on the management of our time. The reason being that the biggest stealers of our time aren’t external factors like interruption, email or social media.
The biggest time thief by far is Us.
The reason for this is that the normal human mind is only capable of having one thought at a time. Just think about what you are thinking right now and notice how the thought gets replaced by the thought about the thought. David Bohm famously postulated that when we focus on the content of a thought, we lose its direction and that when we track the direction of a thought, we lose grip on its content.
You may want to read this paragraph again to make your own mind up on this matter. Note to that there is nothing ‘normal’ about the mind. A shaman taught me how to hold on to multiple thought streams concurrently. With a little training, we can all do this which actually is a great way of getting more done with less time.
The normal singular of our thoughts has an implication on our productivity. When we are directing our will power and our attention towards a creative task, if our mind wanders off topic, our efficiency will naturally drop.
Our mind has a tendency to wander all on its own. We might wonder what we are having for supper or mull over a conversation that didn’t go so well the day before. While we are writing that sales proposal, we might want to check our emails or see what our friends are up to on Facebook.
Not All Thoughts Are Your Own
This propensity for our minds to go off course under their own volition is actually a ‘fantabulous’ ability when trained properly. Unlike any computer yet built, our mind has an amazing ability to free associate. If you say “dog”, I could say “cat” or “collar”. If I chose the former, you may say “litter” or “caterpillar” – and so forth. The direction of mind travel will be modulated by our experience, our memories, our vocabulary and our language. It is from such perambulations of the mind, we create our dreams, produce works of art and fly people to the Moon.
So how do we harness this marvelous ability? The key lies in recognising that not all thoughts emanate solely from our brain. While our brain is the cogniscent, self-aware aspect of our neurology, our mind is distributed around our whole body. Neurologists have discovered significant awareness and neurological activity in our gut and heart centers. Incidentally, MRI scanners have revealed these mind centers operate a few seconds ahead of our conscious awareness. This is why it pays dividends to trust your gut intuition.
At the same time, our big toe and ear lobes also have awareness too. The fingers I am using to type this article ‘know’ the relative position of the QWERTY keyboard. There is no time for a virtuoso violinist or pianist to control their digits. The knowledge of the music is distributed across their neurology.
This means our will is distributed too and can be directed to any part of our body. Ask your gut right now if this all makes sense and you will momentarily have moved your consciousness there. Think about your left elbow and you get transported there.
So how can we use this innate ability to help us better manage our time?
The first key lies in becoming an observer of our thoughts and noticing where they are coming from. The tendency to check emails for example might have a root in not wanting to miss out on something or because we are looking for an excuse not to do what we are currently working on. By understanding such urges, we can begin to control. Simply asking such a ‘thought’ to go away because you are busy allows the distraction to subside. Tell your email demon that you will check in when you’ve finished the current task.
The second key to mind mastery and controlling our will power involves us entering the meditative state with our eyes open. If you haven’t meditated or think it’s impossible to make your mind go quiet, just try this for a minute.
Get a spot on the wall about four feet away and stare at it for ten to twenty seconds. Then, still looking right at it, allow your attention to stray from it either side and up and down. Notice how your inner dialogue goes quiet or gets drawn down a new thread. Then after 40 or 50 seconds or so, switch to the task you have in hand and stick on it until completed, or until when the creative flow stops.
When we make our inner dialogue go quiet our will power can be fully directed at the task in hand.
When you practice this daily, you will notice two changes in your management of time. First you will start to get more done in less time. Second, external interruptions have the tendency to reduce and almost ‘wait’ until you are finished.
As it’s free to try, what’s not to like?
Originally published in Time Management Magazine – subscribe for iPad or for Android