Free will is defined as, the power to act without fate as a constraint. It can be argued that most animals do not have free will (or at least the contemplative free will that humans experience). Animals’ reactions to their environment are based, for the most part, on Darwinian survival instincts. This isn’t to say that animals are incapable of love. Anyone who’s looked deeply into the eyes of a dog, for example, can feel something beyond the dog’s survival instincts. But with respect to choosing one’s destiny, the free will of a dog falls short and is overridden by both internal and external forces (like those of the almighty doggie treat). And although we humans have our own internal and external forces to contend with (like those of the almighty hot, glazed donut), what distinguishes us from our animal kin is an aspect of self-awareness that draws us toward personal growth and conscious evolution.
It’s important to recognize that we, like all animals, have fight or flight survival instincts as well as need-fulfillment programs within us. These, however, can rob us of our free will. As long as we have unhealthy, unexamined desires that we’ve set on autopilot and fears that we choose to run from without confronting, we will at times be a slave to our inner animal. Without taking control of that animal, the potential exists for us to eat, drink, drug, or stress ourselves to death. In seeing this, we have a choice to evolve… but that evolution doesn’t come for free. The choice to climb toward a higher experience is a choice to leave a lower experience behind. And it’s here that our free will really shines. This involves trading short-term gratification for long-term benefit. That choice - and the realization of its benefits - is what separates us from the mouse who uncontrollably rushes to the mouse trap that’s loaded with cheese. When we spot the trap, we increase our capacity to choose; and when we increase our capacity, we increase our power.
The tipping point of accessing the power of free will is self-analysis. Focusing on how, in the past, we’ve let our inner animal lead us astray is key. Examining that dynamic… learning from it… seeing how and why we acted unconsciously, we’re then able to set ourselves up for success the next time we encounter a similar, tempting force. The willpower it takes to exercise free will and make a higher choice isn’t won in the moment of choosing; it’s won in the homework of self-reflection that’s done before the moment even arrives.
At times, this can feel like a futile endeavor. Taking command of one’s unhealthy cravings and limiting fears is a journey rife with failure. But despite repeated failures, the choice to keep trying is the choice that makes your free will endure. All you can do is the best you know how to do. And when that falls short, you begin the next day with a new and improved, ‘best you can do.’ Every time you fall - as long as you don’t give up - you get up stronger and that much closer to sustained success.
Start small. Pick an undesired habit, and study it. Make it your focus. Ask why you do it. Don’t settle for the topical, pleasure-centered reason; rather, drill down to the real reason... the subconscious reason. And don’t stop drilling until you get an answer that rocks your world. When you throw yourself at this effort in such a way, life will rise to meet you, and help will come to you in so many subtle and unexpected ways.
It is said that fortune favors the bold. You must be bold to engage the endeavor of knowing yourself, seeing your unconscious acts, and countering your unhealthy habits. But there is no greater fortune than the freedom gained from your ever-expanding free will… and your free will is the spark that ignites the engine of your personal evolution.
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