Really? Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way?

Really? Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way?

How to muster the will you need lớn find your way

Posted September 18, 2013


The old English proverb asserts itself with complete assurance: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Like many time-worn sayings, this clalặng that mind always rules over matter rings true only some of the time. Sometimes we don’t have the will; sometimes we chiến bại our way. What should we vị then?

Etta James, the best blues singer ever, knew more than most people about not having the will & losing her way. Born khổng lồ a 14-year-old mother who wasn’t interested in children and a father who had long since disappeared, she once described her childhood as a series of one-night stands: she was continually passed from one relative lớn another. As an adult, she abused her toàn thân almost constantly. The men in her life—managers, singers, & family members alike—frequently took advantage of her: musically, financially, and sexually. After a withering battle with heroin addiction, Etta launched a comebaông xã with an album titled “The Seven Year Itch.” The most telling tuy nhiên on the album captures the power of her fierce spirit và the aimlessness of her fragile soul. In “I Got The Will,” she recalls that her mama told her the old saying—that if there’s a will, there’s got khổng lồ be a way. Etta found otherwise: “I got the will but I can’t find my way now.”


As Etta says, sometimes in life we have sầu the will, but we can’t find the way. At other times, presumably, we know the way, but we can’t seem to muster the will. In either case, getting from wherever we are to lớn some place better is our biggest challenge in life. How vì we get from here to lớn there? How do we find both the will and the way?


At the start of each New Year, the literary agent John Brockman poses a provocative question khổng lồ more than a hundred leading scientists và science writers, và asks them to respond. Brockman posts the results on his trang web, edge.org. In years past, he has asked: What bởi you believe sầu is true even though you cannot prove sầu it? What have sầu you changed your mind about? What is your dangerous idea?


Last year, Brockman asked: What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation? In other words, what deep puzzle in the universe or in human life has been unexpectedly solved by applying a simple and elegant principle?

The answers include some principles you would expect, such as relativity theory and quantum mechanics. Other responses seem almost too obvious to qualify. For example, everything is the way it is because it got that way. Oh, really? My dad—who’s not a scientist—would sometimes give sầu a similar answer to lớn my incessant questions about why this or why that. He’d say, “Just because.”


The most useful of last year’s crop of answers came from Richard Thaler, a professor of behavioral economics at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and co-author of the recent book Nudge. What’s his deep, elegant and beautiful explanation? Commitment. He says, “It is a fundamental principle of economics that a person is always better off if they have sầu more alternatives to lớn choose from. But this principle is wrong. There are cases when I can make myself better off by restricting my future choices and committing myself to lớn a specific course of action.”


Thaler explains that the idea of commitment as a strategy is an ancient one. “Odysseus famously had his crew tie hyên lớn the mast so he could listen to lớn the Sirens’ songs without falling into the temptation to steer the ship into the rocks. And he committed his crew khổng lồ not listening by filling their ears with wax. Another classic is Cortez’s decision to burn his ships upon arriving in South America, thereby removing retreat as an option his crew could consider.”


Thaler’s insight is that an exercise of will involves committing ourselves to lớn one course of action and—this may be the hardest part—setting aside all other possible courses of action. As 20th-century American poet Theodore Roethke says in the title poem from his Pulitzer Prize-winning volume The Waking, “I learn by going where I have khổng lồ go.” If you have sầu the will to lớn commit yourself, you can find your way in life.

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When you’re singing the blues about what to lớn bởi and how to bởi it, rethành viên Etta James. She sang trọng more truth than perhaps she realized. She may have sầu said in her song that she didn’t know the way, but she knew all along that she had the will—và eventually discovered in her life that she did know the way. But she had khổng lồ make a decision about which way lớn choose, which required her lớn mix aside other options. To have sầu the power is eventually to lớn see the path. We learn by going where we have lớn go.


So get going. Ask yourself where in your life you need khổng lồ stop waffling and make a commitment. Ask yourself where you need lớn start going and make progress. Things will get done in your life because you make a commitment to lớn bởi vì them. You learn by going where you have sầu khổng lồ go. Explanations don’t get any more elegant than this.

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Galen Guengerich, Ph.D., is a senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattung and the author of the book God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age.