On Will Power

On Will Power

Written by
Gautam Bakshi
Date published
November 18, 2022

Photo by Edgar Chaparro / Unsplash


Willpower is not action! It’s understanding. An understanding of the trade-off you are making for short and long-term goals.

Regardless if you are choosing to spend your money on new clothes you don’t need or saving to start that business you wanted, you’re still making your selection of preference. A person with no willpower wants to appear fashionable to impress others and enhance their reputation. On the other hand, a person with self-control wishes to preserve their money to save for more important or necessary goods.

The option with less willpower and socially driven is actually less valuable socially and personally because it requires almost no willpower. This is why I believe fashion is always in motion since it inherently cannot settle on anything like a junkie getting the next hit. We don’t value the simple because it’s so common — if you want to find short term decisions being made with no willpower you don’t have to look very far. These short term decisions aren’t bad, just not character building, when was the last time you were impressed that someone brushed their teeth or tied their shoes? But we admire people who have the discipline to exercise and stay fit unless everyone is in shape when it isn’t a question of willpower anymore because it’s part of society.

Willpower is constantly changing, just as society makes things simpler to accomplish/obtain. This is why self-control is so tricky. It will always be challenging since you will continue to level up.



Photo by kaouther djouada on Unsplash

The conventional scenario is as follows: Nala is given a cake. Nala is on a diet, but she takes the cake since she wants to eat it. Zuri was offered a birthday cake. Zuri was on a diet and refused the cake because she wanted to keep to her diet.

Let’s take this a little further. Imagine Food Corp now invents a low-calorie, sugar-free and carb cake.

Now both Zuri & Nala can enjoy cake. Zuri is no longer aware of the trade-off for the cake, and she loses a bit of that awareness. For a single event, I suspect it’s not a big deal. Still, in aggregate, this awareness starts to break down her ability to know when to engage her willpower.

The trade-off previously built willpower while the lack of trade-off and awareness reduced it. We love the easy because we want outcomes but easy outcomes do not grow us.

To grow we have to move away from outcomes to processes and journeys. The act of going on the adventure is what makes the hero, not the outcome. If Luke lost against Darth Vader, would be any less of a hero?


Stoicism has an interesting perspective on this. If you look at stoics, they will try to control themselves and be in tune with reality, but they would level up to the next challenge once they obtained it. This is why you see many stoics in history make wildly varied things — politics, business, writing, music, etc.…They exposed themselves to challenges and learned from each other until they could grow to the next.

The two parts of the solution are:

  1. Incrementally more challenging goals
  2. Mindfulness/awareness

These are easy and hard at the same time.

Seek out challenges.


Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

You have to be levelling up constantly, see progress in life as a journey, not a single point(I had a goal of a six-pack, once I got it, I didn’t know what to do and quickly lost it along with other gains, now I have a journey that I keep pushing myself up towards). The constraints of life can make simple goals very challenging. For example, running a 10k might be accessible when you are 20 but difficult later in life with work and family responsibilities; that’s where the growth is(not in the running but overcoming your constraints).

Sometimes life throws challenges at you, other times you seek them. Either way, find your mountain that you will have to rise up to climb and, I promise, you will come down different.

Think of any of your heroes, they choose goals bigger than themselves. Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, Jay-z, Tom Brady, 2pac, etc. The goal you want to work on is your first step.


Through mindfulness, we can become more aware of our actions and their consequences.


Photo by Varun Gaba on Unsplash

Every action we take is the result of our will. We can’t control our will, but we can build the skill of critical thinking. With mindfulness, our will aligns with our critical thoughts more than our impulses.

I’m lucky to be surrounded by some great athletes who are very focused on levelling up. I’ve noticed they are very mindful of their thoughts. Lennox Lewis once told me that he checks his mind every day. He knows if his mind isn’t right, then he won’t train right and won’t achieve his goals. He also reminded me that family and friends could also provide a barometer of how we are. If we are snapping at our family/friends more, it might be time to self-reflect.

Muhammed Ali prayed multiple times a day(as per his book), and Mike Tyson used affirmations(from his book Iron Ambition).

Try to meditate or reflect. Write down what comes up. Please think of how to address it to overcome the lofty goal that you set.

My personal story

My mentor passed away then my father passed away. I felt alone. I felt scared. One day, I was at my gym, wondering why I was on this planet filled with sadness and fear?

Then a guy sits beside me in the locker room. He sighed from exhaustion, and I noticed he had boxing gloves. I asked him about boxing, and we talked.

A few minutes later, I asked him, “Are you scared when fighting?”. He said, “Yes.” I then asked how he overcame his fear, he said, “You never overcome it, just learn to control it. It never goes away.”

It’s been over 12 years since that conversation, but I remember it very well. He grew up poor and a minority, but he was the SVP of sales of a major investment management shop, had an amazing girlfriend, seemed happy. I noticed this trend with other boxers. Regardless of their background, they had control of their fear, but it wasn’t gone.

One day to prepare for my first fight, they suggested I make a list of what a boxer is then become it. I wrote that list over 2 weeks, and one of the hardest things I did until then. After my conversations, I could not think of a boxer in physical terms. Still, I only thought of them in values/behaviours.

My list was, a boxer is kind, opens doors for others, treats people society has forgotten as humans, isn’t scared to be hurt, lives with love, fills others people’s cups before their own, never lets others leave without knowing how much they matter to them. My list is a bit longer and is still with me for me to reflect on. I’m not always there, but I try to work towards my big goal/journey.

My most significant achievement was not the fight(which I lost). It was giving it my all and walking in/out with no shirt on. I had been embarrassed by my body since a kid. You cannot find any picture of me on a beach without a shirt on. Even when I went swimming, I’d throw my shirt and then run as fast as I can go to the water because I felt I was so heavy. I started training for boxing at 240 lbs, and on fight night, I was 157 lbs.


This is me after my fight. I couldn’t have been more happier. After in the locker room, my opponent who is also a friend of mine said “I’m so happy we got to go through the journey together”, then proceeding to discuss how deformed we would be after beating each other up. Also, the person who gave me the above boxing advice is in this pic also. Like many, he saw me through this journey.

To this day, when I see a boxing bout, I recall the road that these fights have taken outside the cage. When I view Elon Musk videos, I’m reminded of his tremendous bravery in rising and cleaning off after his many failures (he nearly died and was hospitalized for many weeks; he was dismissed from Paypal during a meeting they had scheduled while he was on the flight for his honeymoon, he landed to discover he’d be terminated).

These challenges make us human. The awareness makes us see the long-term goals we set for ourselves to become bigger than we are.

Sometimes saying no thank you to cake is a tremendous act of awareness, courage and willpower.

I hope this helps someone struggling to change their life. Start with being aware of what you want and the choices you have to make to get there. You got this!

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