I’m looking for the language of Willpower because I’m fat

by DRM

I don’t like sharing writing here that’s ill-considered and unformed. The excerpt below is an exception. It’s a recent note from my workbook. I’d seen a picture of T & me from Mother’s Day and was discouraged by how swollen and weighted down l looked. My physical reality had separated from my self-perception. That kind of disconnect is troubling, especially when you feel happy. The disconnect suggests that while you may be happy, you are also experiencing an imbalance.

The notes that follow tie together two threads of thought that I’ve been following the last couple of weeks. The first is that your personal language needs to resonate, that the vocabulary of self needs to be able to hold up under stress. And the second is that willpower, while a deceptive concept, is a very simple way to organize an approach to life.

The notes are choppy, but get at the key question.

I need to center myself around a lexicon that reinforces my goal of minimizing my ego in favor of increasing my experience and exploration of life.

This is captured in some of the buddhist koans I have seen. And it is captured in some of the language about Jesus.

This lexicon needs to be familiar, I am concluding. The need for familiarity is captured in the idea of willpower.

I mean the concept of “willpower” itself.

I am trying to stop looking like the swollen man I see in the photographs next to my wife. My physical manifestation is disconnected from my internal view of myself. I need to do some things regularly in order to bring them back together.

First, I guess, I need to shed the ways that I am seeing myself that are not consistent with the way that other people are seeing me. This is releasing vanity, shedding hubris, and becoming more humble and honest.

That language is consistent with my background: a strong Catholic faith that embraced the ritual power of the language.

Over the past several years, I have explored how to implement the tenets of behavioralism in my life. The premise is that we are a collection of physical impulses and intellectual adaptations that create positive or adverse affects in our behavior. Adverse behavior is driven by negative reactions and ultimately has a bad outcome for us, physically and emotionally.

This scientific approach has worked for me in terms of creating an emotional framework that helps me feel confident in the choices that I am making and the things that I am doing. It has had almost no value in terms of helping me control my physical urges, which, I expect, are a reaction to stress.

I’ve been thinking about that ineffectualness lately.

The language of behavioralism has no emotional resonance for me. It is pragmatic, sensible, logical, clearly applied. But it is distant from the romantic narrative of excellence, piety, heroism and achievement that was the structural framework of my childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

So I’ve been trying to recover the idea of willpower in terms that are emotionally rich for me.

At the same time, I want to keep hold of the emotional balance.

The story that I am telling myself now can’t require that I succeed completely because the cost of failure is the inability to exert my willpower over myself.

This personal story has to be more balanced and forgiving. It has to practice humility and understand my place in the world. My battle for willpower — the ability to say “I will do this” and then to follow through and do it — needs to be personal, compelling and forgiving.

Maybe that is achieved within a symbolic context that is familiar, that resonates.

The challenge is that I don’t believe in the central organizing premise that created the momentum in each of these narratives that I inserted myself into through the power of imagination.

I am not doing these things in service to God.

What I do is part of the great mystery and miracle of humankind.

And that sounds pretty pretentious and self-aggrandizing, when it is meant to be centering and humble.