It is of the utmost importance that the individual develop, cultivate, and train his will so as to bring it under the influence of the higher part of his mental and moral being. While the will is used most effectively in developing and training the intellect and building character, it itself must be trained by itself to habitually come under the guidance of the intellect and under the influence of that which we call character.
The influence of the trained will upon the several mental faculties is most marked. There are no faculties which may not be cultivated by the will. The first and great task of the will in this direction is the control and direction of the attention. The will determines the kind of interest that shall prevail at the moment, and the kind of interest largely determines the character of the man, his tastes, his feelings, his thoughts, his acts. Gordy says: “Coöperating with a pre-existing influence, the will can make a weaker one prevail over a stronger. * * * It determines which of pre-existing influences shall have control over the mind.”
Moreover, concentrated and continued attention depends entirely upon the exercise of the will. As Gordy says: “If the will relaxes its hold upon the activities of the mind, the attention is liable to be carried away by any one of the thousands of ideas that the laws of association are constantly bringing into our minds.”
Even in the matter of mental images the will asserts its sway, and the imagination may be trained to be the obedient servant of the developed will. Regarding the influence of the will upon character, Davidson says: “It is not enough for a man to understand correctly and love duly the conditions of moral life in his own time; he must, still further, be willing and able to fulfill these conditions. And he certainly cannot do this unless his will is trained to perfect freedom, so that it responds, with the utmost readiness, to the suggestions of his discriminating intelligence and the movements of his chastened affections.” Halleck says: “We gradually make our characters by separate acts of will, just as a blacksmith by repeated blows beats out a horseshoe or an anchor from a shapeless mass of iron. A finished anchor or horseshoe was never the product of a single blow.”
TRAINING THE WILL.
Perhaps the best way to train the will is to _use_ it intelligently, and with a purpose. The training of any faculty of the mind is at the same time a training of the will. The attention being so closely allied to the will, it follows that a careful training of attention will result in a strengthening of the will. The training of the emotional side of one’s nature also brings results in the strengthening of the will.
Halleck gives his students excellent advice regarding the training of the will. It would be hard to find anything better along these lines than the following from his pen: “Nothing schools the will, and renders it ready for effort in this complex world, better than accustoming it to face disagreeable things. Professor James advises all to do something occasionally for no other reason than that they would rather not do it, if it is nothing more than giving up a seat in a street car. He likens such effort to the insurance that a man pays on his house. He has something that he can fall back on in time of trouble. A will schooled in this way is always ready to respond, no matter how great the emergency. While another would be crying over spilled milk, the possessor of such a will has already found another cow. * * * The only way to secure such a will is to practice doing disagreeable things. There are daily opportunities. * * * A man who had declared his aversion to what he deemed the dry facts of political economy was one day found knitting his brow over a chapter of John Stuart Mill. When a friend expressed surprise, the man replied: ‘I am playing the schoolmaster with myself. I am reading this because I dislike it.’ Such a man has the elements of success in him. * * * On the other hand, the one who habitually avoids disagreeable action is training his will to be of no use to him at a time when supreme effort is demanded. Such a will can never elbow its way to the front in life.”
Habits are the beaten track over which the will travels. The beaten path of habit is the line of least resistance to the will. One who would train his will must needs pay attention to providing it with the proper mental paths over which to travel. The rule for the creation of habits is simply this: _Travel over the mental path as often as possible_. The rule for breaking undesirable habits is this: _Cultivate the opposite habit_. In these two rules is expressed the gist of what has been written on the subject.
Professor William James has left to the world some invaluable advice regarding the cultivation of right habits. He bases his rules upon those of Professor Bain, elaborates these, and adds some equally good ones. We herewith quote freely from both James and Bain on this subject; it is the best ever written regarding habit building.
I. “In the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, launch yourself with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of it not occurring at all.”–_James._
II. “Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Every lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up–a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again.”–_James._ “It is necessary, above all things, in such a situation, never to lose a battle. Every gain on the wrong side undoes the effect of many conquests on the right. The essential precaution is so to regulate the two opposing powers that the one may have a series of uninterrupted successes, until repetition has fortified it to such a degree as to enable it to cope with the opposition, under any circumstances.”–_Bain._
III. “Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing _motor effects_, that resolves and aspirations communicate their new ‘set’ to the brain.”–_James._ “The actual presence of the practical opportunity alone furnishes the fulcrum upon which the lever can rest, by which the moral will may multiply its strength and raise itself aloft. He who has no solid ground to press against will never get beyond the stage of empty gesture making.”–_Bain._
IV. “Keep the faculty alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little, unnecessary points; do every day something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. * * * The man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.”–_James._
In addition to the general rules for developing and training the will given in the preceding chapter, we ask you to tone up and strengthen the will by the inspiration to be derived from the words of some of the world’s great thinkers and doers. In these words there is such a vital statement of the recognition, realization, and manifestation of that something within, which we call “will,” that it is a dull soul, indeed, which is not inspired by the contagion of the idea. These expressions are the milestones on the Path of Attainment, placed by those who have preceded us on the journey. We submit these quotations without comment; they speak for themselves.
WORDS OF THE WISE.
“They can who think they can. Character is a perfectly educated will.”
“Nothing can resist the will of a man who knows what is true and wills what is good.”
“In all difficulties advance and will, for within you is a power, a living force, which the more you trust and learn to use will annihilate the opposition of matter.”
“The star of the unconquered will,
It rises in my breast, Serene and resolute and still,
And calm and self-possessed.
“So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When duty whispers low, ‘Thou must!’
The youth replies, ‘I can!'”
“The longer I live, the more certain I am that the great difference between men, between the feeble and the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is energy,–invincible determination,–a purpose once fixed, and then death or victory. That quality will do anything that can be done in this world, and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make a two-legged creature a man without it.”–_Buxton._
“The human will, that force unseen,
The offspring of a deathless soul,
Can hew a way to any goal,
Though walls of granite intervene.
“You will be what you will to be;
Let failure find its false content
In that poor word environment,
But spirit scorns it and is free.
“It masters time, it conquers space,
It cows that boastful trickster, chance,
And bids the tyrant circumstance
Uncrown and fill a servant’s place.”
“Resolve is what makes a man manifest; not puny resolve, not crude determinations, not errant purpose, but that strong and indefatigable will which treads down difficulties and danger as a boy treads down the heaving frost lands of winter, which kindles his eye and brain with a proud pulse beat toward the unattainable. Will makes men giants.”–_Donald G. Mitchell._
“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate
Can circumvent, or hinder, or control
The firm resolve of a determined soul.
Gifts count for nothing, will alone is great;
All things give way before it soon or late.
What obstacle can stay the mighty force
Of the sea-seeking river in its course,
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?
Each well-born soul must win what it deserves.
Let the fools prate of luck. The fortunate
Is he whose earnest purpose never swerves,
Whose slightest action, or inaction,
Serves the one great aim. Why, even death itself
Stands still and waits an hour sometimes
For such a will.”
–_Ella Wheeler Wilcox._
“I have brought myself by long meditation to the conviction that a human being with a settled purpose must accomplish it, and that nothing can resist a will which will stake even existence upon its fulfillment.” –_Lord Beaconsfield._
“A passionate desire and an unwearied will can perform impossibilities, or what may seem to be such to the cold and feeble.”–_Sir John Simpson._
“It is wonderful how even the casualties of life seem to bow to a spirit that will not bow to them, and yield to subserve a design which they may, in their first apparent tendency, threaten to frustrate. When a firm, decisive spirit is recognized, it is curious to see how the space clears around a man and leaves him room and freedom.”–_John Foster._
“The great thing about General Grant is cool persistency of purpose. He is not easily excited, and he has got the grip of a bulldog. When he once gets his teeth in, nothing can shake him off.”–_Abraham Lincoln._
“I am bigger than anything that can happen to me. All these things are outside my door, _and I’ve got the key_. * * * Man was meant to be, and ought to be, stronger and more than anything that can happen to him. Circumstances, ‘Fate,’ ‘Luck,’ are all outside; and if he cannot change them, he can always _beat_ them.”–_Charles F. Lummis._
“The truest wisdom is a resolute determination.”
“Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.”
“Circumstances! I _make_ circumstances!”–_Napoleon._
“He who fails only half wills.”–_Suwarrow._
“That which the easiest becomes a habit in us is the will. Learn, then, to will strongly and decisively; thus fix your floating life, and leave it no longer to be carried hither and thither, like a withered leaf, by every wind that blows.”
“Man owes his growth chiefly to that active striving of the will,–that encounter which we call effort,–and it is astonishing to find how often results apparently impracticable are thus made possible. * * * It is will–force of purpose–that enables a man to do or be whatever he sets his mind upon being or doing.”
“A strong, defiant purpose is many-handed and lays hold of whatever is near that can serve it; it has a magnetic purpose that draws to itself whatever is kindred. * * * Let it be your first study to teach the world that you are not wood and straw; that there is some iron in you.”–_Munger._
“It’s _dogged_ as does it.”–_Yorkshire Proverb._
“One talent with a will behind it will accomplish more than ten without it, as a thimbleful of powder in a rifle, the bore of whose barrel will give it direction, will do greater execution than a carload burned in the open air.”–_O.S. Marden._
“Will may not endow man with talents or capacities; but it does one very important matter–it enables him to make the best, the very best, of his powers.”–_Fothergill._
“Tender-handed stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as down remains.”
“Don’t flinch; don’t foul; but hit the line hard.”–_Roosevelt._
“The more difficulties one has to encounter, within and without, the more significant and the higher in inspiration his life will be.”