AN act of will is an act of choice, but few realize that our choices are made almost completely in line with our fundamental character. Except in the rare case of conversion or some other dynamic mental stress, we make our choices only in line with the sum-total of our mental habits, customs, ideas, and ideals. We are rarely able to muster will enough to act contrary to that which is usual with us. If we have always taken coffee for breakfast and have looked upon it as the natural thing to do, we find it almost impossible to give it up completely and instantly simply because we suddenly find it would be better to do so. The same is true of sweets, fattening foods, alcohol, tobacco, late-sleeping, or any other habit. We may have a very strong “will” to change, but we find that this sudden determination or concept is no match for the acquired habit. Our tendency to think and act in a contrary direction is stronger than the new idea. As Coué has shown, the imagination has cultivated the expectancy of these things, and is stronger than the will. “Whenever the will and the imagination come into conflict,” he says in substance, “the imagination always wins.” We cannot force the subconscious by an act of will for it is moved upon by mental pictures. We can control it only by controlling the imagination. He illustrates by saying
that a man can easily walk a narrow plank when it is on the ground because his will to do so and his imagination that he can are in harmony. But let the plank be elevated in the air between two buildings and ask the man to cross, and though it is his will to do so, his imagination pictures him as falling off, and in the vast majority of cases he either gives up the attempt, or gets down and crawls.
A short time ago one of our “human spiders” was advertised to give an exhibition of climbing one of our high buildings. On the morning of the performance he awoke with the feeling that he could not do it. He told his wife, much to her surprise, as he had given many such exhibitions and had never shown the least fear.
She therefore encouraged him to go on as the people would be disappointed as well as those for whose benefit it was being done. He went with reluctance. As he was climbing by the window of one of the upper stories a lady heard him say to himself, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it,” and she laughed because she thought it merely a bit of humor. But before he had reached the top, he was seen suddenly to falter, his hand slipped, there was a gasp, a cry from the crowd, and he fell to his death on the pavement below.
In this instance we see the result of the conflict between the will and the imagination. While he had previously acquired the habit of thinking of himself as able to
make such a climb, in this case he had lost the subconscious impression, and the new but ruling idea that he could not climb dominated his movements and brought on his failure and death.
It can be seen from this just what the method of procedure must be for the cultivation of will control. It lies in nothing else than in the formation of habits along the line of the desired attainment. It means cultivation of the imagination of one’s self in the ascendancy as we found in the foregoing chapter, and in the habit which follows upon a consistently cultivated imagination.
We all have in us the potential Dr. Jekyll and also the potential Mr. Hyde and each acts in consonance with his character. But finally the strongest concept rules and either we become all Dr. Jekyll or we become, as in the story, all Mr. Hyde. The subconscious mind is thus graphically represented, and we can see the necessity of the cultivation of those ideas, concepts and imaginations that lead to a character which tends in the direction toward those higher choices we shall be called upon to make.
It is largely therefore a matter of the acquisition of right habits. The primary factors in the change of habits and therefore of character are the following:
- Sincere desire for a change.
- The devotion of the necessary time to meditation and practice.
- The selection or choice of what we want to do or become, or the habit to be acquired.
- The making of a resolution and who will accomplish it.
- The practice of imagination, picturing, or visualizing ourselves as acting now along the line desired.
- Definite rejection of contrary pictures or dwelling upon the negative side.
- Cultivation of the “habit” of self-control and willpower in small ways, such as the voluntary surrender of little things over which the imagination of ourselves as in control can be easily conceived.
- Insistence with one’s self not to yield even once to the mental habit from which we wish to be free, or to the old ideas which are opposed to the new.
- Meditation upon the higher self and the cultivation of the spiritualized consciousness as noted in the foregoing chapter.22
22 Much help can be gained from a study of the chapter on Habit in “Psychology” by William James.