Developing will

One thing you’ll see come up over and over again is the idea that you need to develop your will in order to do effective magic – and many forms of effective ritual. Doing it, however, is not always easy.

Doing: spiral on a golden background

What does it mean?

Developing your will means that you need to increase your ability to:

  • decide what you’re going to do.
  • decide how you’re going to do it.
  • do it.
  • and remain focused on your goal while doing it.

This is both very simple in some ways, and very complicated.

We can think that it’s simple to take a particular action – but does that action actually get us closer to what we really want? Or sometimes, we know what we should do, but have some roadblocks in our way. Sometimes those are practical, sometimes they’re related to health issues or other things in our lives of that kind.

Sometimes they’re even roadblocks we subconsciously put up for ourselves. Change is uncomfortable, and parts of our minds (and our bodies, and our souls) can resent the push to make a change, even when it’s one we consciously really want and need in our lives.  (You might check out the links here, for some more ideas.)

The good news is that you can develop your will in all sorts of ways, many of which can fit right into other tasks you need to do anyway.

Build a habit:

Each time you reinforce what you’re going to do by doing it, day after day, it reinforces the power of your will. And many different kinds of habit work, as long as they’re something you choose to spend your time and energy on. Picking a day (or two or three) when you go to the gym before or after work, establishing a routine for cleaning your home or updating your finances, or any other habit you want to build – and then make note of it when you do (which reinforces the act of will.)

One of the reasons many groups start their training with breathing exercises is that they’re a great way to build this kind of habit. The exercises themselves are pretty simple, and many can be done in a quick break at work, or while commuting. But remembering to do them every day builds a habit, and develops our will.

Focus and work with intention:

Perhaps you turn washing your dishes from a task you have to do to a way to care for the spirit of your home, making it a restful and beautiful place to live. Maybe you decide to spend ten minutes a day breathing with attention, noticing where you hold your breath or

Do something really well:

For example, for a week, you might focus on not sending out any emails (or posts online) with any typos or missed words or netspeak. Or you might decide never to let dishes pile up in your sink. Or that you’re going to make your bed properly each morning. Whatever you pick, focusing on doing it especially well strengthens your will.

Make sure you can define what ‘doing it really well’ looks like: these kinds of goals are easiest when they’re measurable. “No typos” is something you can count. “Be really persuasive” isn’t.

Obviously, the best things to pick here are things where doing the thing well has benefits beyond just building your will.

One great example here is that if you’ve let yourself slide into the habit of using netspeak in longer online writing (hey r u thre?) you might take some time (a week, two weeks, a month) when you commit to not doing that unless you actually need to (like sending a text message, or saving a few characters on Twitter.)

Learning to type quickly and accurately can have a lot of benefits in other areas of your life (like work and school), so you get a lot out of the time you spend.

Give something up:

Consider giving up doing something – at least for a little while.

One of the classic exercises for developing will in older esoteric texts is to give up using a common word for a period of time, like “Me” or “I” or “and”. Each time you accidentally said the word, you’d make note of it and try to do better. That can still be a good exercise, but it can also be hard to do if you have a variety of other commitments.

Other examples might be giving up TV or reading or playing a computer game – or smoking or soda or some other physical habit – for a week. Yes, it’s hard, but it will both really hone your willpower (if you pick something you’d normally do every day, or multiple times a day), and it may open up some great new ideas for you in places you’d rather spend your time.

Growth, not perfection:

When you first start doing this, you might find that it’s really hard, or that you fight against whatever your goal is. That’s pretty normal. But if you break it down into small chunks (say, 10 minutes at a time, or just doing this one thing, and then you can go back to whatever you’d rather do…) it will get easier. And after all, the point of the exercise is to learn how you can work through that lack of interest or willingness, and still do what you commit to doing.

It especially gets easier if you remind your brain that you’re improving – you could make a little chart with gold sticker stars for each time you do whatever your goal is. Or you could get an app on your phone or computer that does the same thing.

Keys and triggers:

One final way to build up your will is to use keys and triggers. This means that you pick a particular action (one you do regularly) and each time you do that thing, you pause for just a moment, and return your attention to whatever it is you’re focusing on.

For example: say you’re trying to be aware of how much tension you’re holding in your shoulders and neck. You decide that each time you reach out to open a door, you’ll take a quick moment to check in with your body and be aware of that tension, and release what you can. Then you go on with what you were doing.

Another example might be that each time you get up to do something, you take a moment to take one really deep breath before you move on.

Many common actions work well for triggers. You can choose ones you do very frequently (maybe standing up or sitting down), or ones you do less often (but still regularly) like typing in a password on the computer.

You can also use these triggers as part of a religious devotional practice. Perhaps you pause for a quick moment of recognition every time you pass a shrine or altar at home. Perhaps you pick a particular focus and think about it each time you enter your computer passwords. You can choose whatever trigger – and whatever focus – makes sense for you.

You can also use a trigger for a long time (weeks, months) or you might choose to pay attention to one for a short time (a day or two) to help you get a grip on a particular issue. You might also choose to reinforce a magical working by using a trigger to help you remember your goals and intentions, and do it regularly until your magical work manifests.

Title card: Developing will

Last edited December 24, 2016. Reformatted November 2020.

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