Banging On About ‘Will’.

Written by Tony BroadbentProductivity

There’s something happens to us all, now and then. You hear a new word or come across an idea. You duly take note of it; tell yourself it’s well worth remembering; then, seemingly, whichever you turn, you can’t but fail to hear the word or see the ‘new’ idea being referenced in some newsfeed or blog post. Which, of course, immediately brings to mind the old ‘boxing’ axiom:

If you’re not there, it can’t hit you.

That ‘instance’ about stumbling across something ‘new’ and then coming across it, again and again, ad nauseamis such a well-known occurrence it’s been given a name. Frequency illusion. Which, in turn, is defined as the on-going cognitive bias that results when your mind, in its continuing effort to serve you, deviates from rational thought and starts seeing patterns where none exist.

Frequency illusion

According to the illustrious Stanford linguist, with the truly marvellous A-Z encompassing moniker, Arnold Zwicky, the result of two separate thought processes overlapping one another:

Selective attention and confirmation bias.

A heady mix, by any standard.

All of which must come as welcome reassurance to those of us forever afflicted by frequency illusion, as it seems to indicate:

Nil desperandum

As to your underlying state of mind, you are not alone and, very likely, never will be.

My most recent case of frequency illusion has all been to do with the idea of ‘will’, but in a very particular instance:

How ‘will’ is severely overrated and how people continue to have wrong notions about it.

Post after post after post, and not all from the same source. And a whole slate of newly minted books that aim to disparage the effectiveness of ‘will’. (‘Springes to catch woodcocks’ as the great Will, himself, indeed, once said.) Each proclaiming, in so many words, how having ‘will’ or attempting to practice ‘will’, or even helping to inspire ‘will’ in others can prove severely detrimental to one and all.

What a lot of old codswallop… or, rather, newly minted pigswill.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Has to be or there’s no evolution, no way forward for any of us.

And if there’s no way forward, given that every single person and /or thing on the planet wants to grow, one’s obviously gone about things the wrong way, and needs must look further. The very same thinking at the core of every post-modern entrepreneur’s favourite maxim:

Fail often; fail fast.

The one irreducible:

The ‘will’ to do… and to keep on doing.

Quick one for you:

Much time equals little will. Little time equals much will.

Or how about:

I will.

The statement of intent, in the marriage ceremony, recognised, lauded and applauded the world over; an affirmation that has the same standing in law as an oath. As in:

Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you God. I do

'I will' and 'I do' both say ‘Yes’. Whereas ‘will’, in almost every instance, is what you say ‘No’ to; what you will not have; will not do; will not accept.

Two, quick stories I hope will inspire further thought, both of which concern examples of the enlightened ‘will’ of a man I was once lucky enough to call my ‘teacher’. Please make of them what you will:

It was a dark and stormy night…

It was raining cats and dogs, and his car broke down on a deserted country road, out in the middle of nowhere, right in the middle of England, and not a telephone box, or AA or RAC call box (AAA in the US), anywhere, in sight. (Long before PDAs or mobile/cell phones). And so he had no other choice, but to walk home; a matter of some miles and a good two hours, at least; trudging through the pouring rain. At long last his house came into view, a little light shining in the window, as happens in all the best stories, and when he finally got to his garden gate; fully imagining the warm welcome waiting for him inside, the crackling fire in the hearth, his dinner still warming in the oven; he pushed open the gate, paused; the rain still coming down in torrents, let alone buckets; and he closed it and continued walking up the road for another mile or so, before turned around and walked back home again. Only, this time, it had been his decision to do so. He’d gone ‘the extra mile’ because he wanted to and not because he had to. A simple demonstration of ‘will’ witnessed by no one else, but himself, and all the more important, for that, in the matter of his own ‘personal development’.

Same bloke. Different ‘Will-o’-The-Wisp’ story.

So there he was, driving home from a meeting in London; long drive ahead of him, and again late at night; and there was this knotty, new problem he had to solve; a problem he’d determined to have resolved by the time he got home. Only, when he did finally arrive home, he still didn’t have any sort of workable solution. So, even as late as it was, he turned the motorcar around and hit the road again; and again and again; each time driving the same circular route, around the same tangle of country lanes, that would have him arriving home again in ten or so minutes. Each time, driving into the driveway, right up to the garage. Each and every time, fully expecting his brain to have delivered the answer to his problem by the time he turned off the motorcar’s engine. Not so much forcing his brain to do so, but rather giving it permission to resolve the problem and the continued opportunity to deliver up the required ‘solution’. (And, incidentally, the solution he finally came up with that night went on to pay huge dividends.)

Akin, in so many ways, to the simple, but very useful practice of ‘sleeping on a problem’; the trouble being, of course, that most people forget to remember to even ask their brain to please come up with a solution, come morning. A little habit; that if you ever do remember to remember to practice; may well surprise and delight you. Especially when you see just how often your exceptionally clever little brain delivers a truly excellent solution and drops it right into your lap, as it were; but, again, only if you’re consciously prepared to receive it.

As for the practice of ‘driving into a problem’ it became so effective that if ever my old ‘teacher’ was faced with some seemingly insurmountable problem, even if comfortably ensconced in his study, he’d get the car out of the garage and drive around the country lanes, as many times as was necessary; determined as ever to have a solution to whatever new problem he had by the time he arrived home again. As ever, working as closely as possible with the most magnificent tool in his toolbox — his very own brainbox.

And, again, all purely to demonstrate to himself, his ever present ‘will’ to succeed.

Not against: With.

All of which, on reflection, brings to mind one of the other ‘great teachers’* in my life, the American poet, Robert Frost, and his wondrous couplet:

We dance round in a ring and suppose, But the secret sits in the middle and knows.

And also something he said later:

My aim in life has always been to hold my own with whatever’s going. Not against: with.

And, then, of course:

The only way out is through.

To which, in this particular instance, one might add: and the ‘will’ to do.

So now a two-part question for you:

Do you have the ‘will’ to do?

Do you have the ‘will’ not to do?

Either way, I promise you, you’ll find a little ‘will’ goes a very long way.

Now about that asterisk: From William Carlos Williams’s Asphodel, That Greeny Flower: It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.

Written by
Tony Broadbent
Writer. Author. Designer. Illustrator. Idea-tor. ReThinker. BABE (Bay Area Beatles Expert). Tony Broadbent was an art student in London in the late Sixties. He then worked as a copywriter and creative director at some of the best advertising agencies in London, New York, and San Francisco, before opening his own agency. He's now a consulting brand strategist, planner, and ideator for clients in the U.S. and Europe.

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