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The Battle of the Generation - Day 77

Our weekly excerpt from the book "The Battle of the Generation"

Chapter 28- Why We Need Willpower

Developing strong willpower is an important part of our battle plan. Being excited to serve Hashem is not enough. To win the battle against the yetzer hara, we need clear knowledge of what we cannot do and a firm commitment not to give in no matter what.

Undoubtedly, our most essential weapon is excitement about accomplishing and attaining greatness. If a person thinks he only prevents a loss but doesn’t gain by not giving in, even if he stops himself from giving in out of obligation and fear of punishment, he is fighting a losing battle. He tries to hang on against his will while his strength weakens and his desires grow progressively stronger. This misconception is draining and depressing. The person feels forced to do what he doesn’t want to without gaining anything. Eventually, his willpower cracks and he gives in. For this reason, willpower doesn’t work so well when it is a person’s primary “motivator.” A person can only hold out against himself for so long, especially if he is unhappy.

Furthermore, Hashem gave us the mitzvos as opportunities. They are not burdens. Hashem loves it much more when we do appreciate them and do them happily. Obviously, a person who wishes there were no Torah so he could pursue his desires, even if he controls himself using willpower, does not do the mitzvos happily. He doesn’t really want to serve Hashem, even if he avoids such thoughts because he knows they are improper. This is another reason it is so important that we realize the great opportunity the mitzvos truly are.

In addition, if we are excited to do the mitzvos, we won’t look for excuses no matter how strong our impulses are because we will want to win the battle. We will appreciate that we are acquiring eternity by overcoming our urges, which will energize us to fight. In contrast, a person who only feels obligated will look for ways to convince himself that self-control is optional or impossible in order to permit himself to succumb.

Another weakness of relying too much on willpower is that it takes tremendous exertion. When a person is challenged, his desires activate and he wants to give in. Fighting this with force is strenuous because the person is fighting against himself. The person quickly weakens and is drained of energy. A person in such a state is fighting a “losing battle,” trying to hang on until he can’t while his desires keep getting stronger. If the battle prolongs, he might eventually run out of willpower and crack. Thus, relying solely on willpower, especially for battles that last long, is dangerous, though of course willpower is vital.

Another limitation of willpower is that it is hard to use if one is struggling. It lacks effectiveness because it is undermined by the person’s inconsistent behavior. It is difficult for a struggling person to say, “I don’t do that!” when he knows he does.

Even worse, a struggling person will probably find willpower painful because working on it will highlight all he has been doing wrong. A struggling person rarely escapes in one shot, and doesn’t feel completely removed from his mistakes. Thinking about how bad his sins are could debilitate him and make him give up. It takes great wisdom to find the right balance so he can use willpower to control himself without beating himself up over his sins. He must proceed cautiously to ensure that he doesn’t damage himself while trying to improve.

Ironically, beating oneself up does way more damage than good, both in this battle and in general. We must proceed carefully with the proper guidance as we develop willpower. As always, we must primarily focus on the exciting feats we can achieve by overcoming our challenges. A positive outlook is vital for success in every area of our lives.