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Training Of The Will

( Originally Published 1907 )

THE great thing in all education is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.

" For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and as carefully guard against growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous.

"In the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible.

" Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life.

" 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."— Professor William James.

The power of person in Will may be trained and developed, as has been suggested. By this statement is meant, not only that it may be exercised and strengthened by the various agencies of command, encouragement, and instruction in the school-room, but that ability to originate a purposeful action, and to continue a series of actions with an end in view, may be cultivated and disciplined by personal attention thereto, and by specific exercises undertaken by the individual. The need of such development and training is evident from the following facts:

" Not unfrequently a strong volitional power originally exists, but lies dormant for want of being called into exercise, and here it is that judicious training can work its greatest wonders."

In many persons Will-power is confessedly weak, life being very largely, so to speak, automatic. And in multitudes the Will exhibits the disorders mentioned in the chapter on " Diseases of the Will."

It is singular that so little would seem to have been written on this important subject, and that the training of the Will should now receive, as it does, such scant attention in modern educational methods. In works on psychology and education, paragraphs may be found here and there indicating the importance of Will-training, but they are curiously deficient in suggestions of methods referring the matter to personal effort.

" The education of the Will is really of far greater importance, as shaping the destiny of the individual, than that of the intellect. Theory and doctrine, and inculcation of laws and propositions, will never of themselves lead to the uniform habit of right action. It is by doing, that we learn to do ; by overcoming, that we learn to overcome ; by obeying reason and con-science, that we learn to obey; and every right action which we cause to spring out of pure principles, whether by authority, precept or example, will have a greater weight in the formation of character than all the theory in the world."

Education of the mind's powers should not be left to hap-hazard methods. If the end of education is the evolution of these powers, methods of the direct gymnasium order are in demand. And, as all mental faculties are mutual in interaction, any scientific method which seeks, by specific gymnasium exercises, the development of one faculty, must result in cultivation of others, whether immediately or remotely related thereto.


1. Any direct effort to cultivate the perceptive powers must affect the growth of memory, imagination and reason.

2. Any direct effort to cultivate the memory must affect the growth of the perceptive powers, imagination and reason.

3. Any direct effort to cultivate the imagination must affect the growth of the perceptive powers, memory and reason.

4. Any direct effort to cultivate the reasoning powers must affect the perceptive powers, memory and imagination.

5. Any direct effort to cultivate the moral faculties must affect the growth of the perceptive powers, memory, imagination and reason.

6. And any direct effort to cultivate the perceptive powers, memory, imagination, reasoning or moral faculties must affect the growth of the Will.

Yet the application of definite and scientific methods to the discipline and growth of the perceptive powers, the imagination, the memory and the reason seems to be largely wanting in all the schools.

In what school to-day are classes formed for the education of the power of observation? Where is scientific attention given to the cultivation of the imagination? What college schedules any definite number of hours to the strengthening and training of the memory ? Probably nowhere in the world are there any specific efforts made to increase and train the power of the Will.

It is the claim of the present work that the Will may be made stronger by the employment of proper methods., And this, (a) as a static power through de-liberated and intelligent exercises ; (b) as a dynamic energy continuing through a series of acts by deliberate and intelligent determination that such shall be the case.


First, by systematic exercises which shall tend to strengthen it as a faculty.

Activity of the brain reacts upon the particular faculty engaged,— to speak more specially, upon the particular brain element engaged,— modifying it in some unknown way, and bringing about a subsequent " physiological disposition" to act in a particular manner.

Thus, musicians acquire enormous facility in the use of hands and fingers. So, people who have lost their sight are able to picture visible objects independently of external stimulation, having acquired " a disposition so to act through previous exercises under external stimulation."

As the seat of the Will is the whole person, so the exercise of willing brings about its own physiological disposition. "The different parts of the brain which are exercised together, acquire in some way a disposition to conjoint action along lines of 'least resistance,' that are gradually formed for nervous action by the repeated flow of nerve energy in certain definite directions."

"Lines of least resistance" may be formed by constant action of mind in willing, in certain ways and for certain ends.

"The Cerebrum of man grows to the modes of thought in which it is habitually exercised."

But the development of Will not only involves establishment of facility along easiest channels, but an increase in power within the person as determining to choose motives and to put forth Volitions. The willing-act becomes more facile, and it also becomes stronger. Increase of power is not relative alone; it is equally positive.

" The Will grows by exercise. Each form of its activity becomes more perfect by practice. And the lower forms of exercise in bodily movement prepare the way, to some extent at least, for the higher exercises."

So it is that habits may be voluntarily or unconsciously formed, and old habits may be voluntarily abandoned. All such results involve the Will. Their attainment does not weaken Will, but rather strengthens its application to general conduct. " It is well for our actions to grow habituated to a considerable extent. ... In this way nerve-energy is economized and the powers of the mind are left free for other matters. ... At the same time . . . much of our life consists in modifying our movements and adapting them to new circumstances. The growth of Will implies thus a two-fold process: (a) the deepening of particular aptitudes and tendencies, that is, the fixing of oft-repeated action in a definite and unvarying form; (b) the widening of these active capabilities by a constant variation of old actions, by new adaptations, or special combinations suited to the particular circumstances of the time."

Secondly, the Will may be cultivated by general improvement of the mind as a whole, giving it greater force while putting forth Volitions, and larger continuity in a series of Volitions having an end in view, because of increased mental power and wiser treatment of various motives; and this especially if, in all intellectual growth, the purpose of stronger Will-power be kept constantly in mind.

" The Will can never originate any form of mental activity." But it can select among the objects of consciousness, and in thus utilizing the powers of mind can improve the latter. Its efforts to do so will in-variably improve itself : by cultivating attention, by shutting out subjects of thought, by developing natural gifts, by instituting correct habits of thinking and of living.

Exercises for a general development of mind must present a variety of motives for consideration with a view to the act of willing, both for the formation of aptitudes, and for the symmetrical development of the Will as a function. This involves:

1. The perceptive faculties, which may be quickened, thus increasing the vividness of motives and inducing Volitions ;

2. The emotions, the intelligent cultivation of which widens the range of motivés and imparts to the mind facility and force in selection of reasons for action ;

3. The imagination, which represents, according to its strength and scope, various remote and contingent, as well as immediate, reasons for choice of motives, and adherence to the same ;

4. The deliberative faculty, which requires cultivation in order adequately to weigh the force and value of motives ;

5. The intuitive faculty, which, without being able to furnish its reasons, frequently impels or prohibits choice, and may wisely be cultivated by intelligent obedience, but needs strict and constant attention to prevent the reign of impulse. Thus, women are wont to follow intuitions of expediency, and business men are often guided by a similar " feeling" or " judgment." So, also, Socrates possessed what he called his " Daimonion," an inner voice which forbade certain actions, but never affirmatively advised an act or a course of conduct. Such "intuitions" may be searched out and examined for the underlying reasons, and this effort will usually bring to light some hidden cause for the impulse to act or refrain from action.

Thirdly, the Will may be cultivated by development of the moral character.

" The greatest man," said Seneca, "is he who chooses right with the most invincible determination."

Self-development involves the moral quality and symmetry of the soul as sustaining relations to its fellows and to Deity. The cultivation of Will in its highest values, therefore, depends upon its exercise in a moral sense. This involves every conscious mental function in action with reference to a moral end. A developed moral consciousness modifies consideration of motives through perception, memory, imagination, reason and " intuition," and increases the force and continuity of that act of the mind by which it constitutes any motive a Sufficient Reason.

Moral development cultivates the Will: -

1st, by bringing to the fore truest motives and goals in the conduct of life;

2dly, by presenting in mind for its consideration new motives, and motives of an unfamiliar nature;

3dly, by enabling self to deliberate with greater clearness, forethought and wisdom among all possible motives for action;

4thly, by prohibiting certain acts or lines of conduct, and by destroying injurious habits;

5thly, by instituting self control of the highest order; 6thly, by inspiring a constant search for truth, and obedience thereto;

7thly, by inciting to noblest planes of being and holding before consciousness the great alternatives of human destiny for ultimate good or evil.

Luther said to Erasmus : " You desire to walk upon eggs without crushing them." The latter replied : " I will not be unfaithful to the cause of Christ, at least so far as the age will permit me." An untruthful Will in a scholar's brain.

"I will go to Worms," shouted Luther, "though devils were combined against me as thick as the tiles upon the housetops!" A Will which might have be-come disordered or illy-developed but for the mighty moral character of the reformer.

All human powers are interdependent and inter-active. What has righteousness to do with Will-power? Answer: What has Will-power to do with righteousness? Will makes for righteousness; righteousness makes for Will.

A morally growing life establishes "lines of least resistance," with consequent aptitudes and habits which more or less react upon personal power to will. Above all, at least in this connection, it widens the field of active capabilities and develops new adaptations and tendencies by presenting larger and more varied worlds of motive and conduct, with an ultimate end having reference to the individual and his relations to others, which end always appeals to the Will, calling it into activity, and so adding to its power.

The same truth may be reached from a material starting-point.

The basis of human life is physical. The original ground of impulse in the volitional nature deals with sense-impressions. In a healthy body these impressions are normal, that is, true. When both body and mind are in a healthy condition, that is to say, are normal and true, they will invariably co-operate, the one with the other.

Instinct co-ordinates with vital chemistry in normal animal life. Such life is true; it is a full realization of itself ; it exhibits truth; hence the instincts are right, because the physical basis is right and co-operates with animal intelligence. Instinct and animal intelligence in turn co-operate with the physical nature to maintain its normality or truth.

In man, mind ought to co-ordinate similarly with his physical life. Conversely, the physical life ought to co-ordinate with mind. Physical health signifies right, that is, truthful, physical sensations. And truthful, that is, normal, physical sensations tend always to pro-duce right or normal action of mind, just as normal or right action of mind tends to produce good health — truthful physical sensations. When sound mind co-operates with correct sense-impressions, the result is health, normality, truth in the whole man.

Mind is sensation plus perception, plus Will, plus memory, plus imagination, plus reason, plus consciousness self consciousness, subconsciousness, moral consciousness.

If mind is deficient in any of these respects the personality is not normal. The end of each function is nothing more nor less than exhibition of truth; perception of things as they are, memory of facts as they have existed, imagination of reality in true relations, conclusions correctly deduced from correct premises and correct observation, convictions based in the actual moral nature of things, sane ideas of self, vigorous action of sub-consciousness, habituating in activities conducive to self-interest, working of objective consciousness for mental freedom. Then there is a perfect co-ordination among all the elements of human nature and character. This co-ordination produces, and it is, health, normality, truth.

Out of such a truth-condition of being comes always the highest form of Will-power. The Will is an exhibition of the character, the individual constitution. Righteousness which is right wiseness toward all powers and all realities becomes, then, the sole true developer and trainer of the human Will. The unrighteous mind is sure to exhibit disease or disorder of the Will, because the act of Will, as already seen, involves presentation of motives, deliberation among the same, constitution of Sufficient Reason, putting forth of the volitional act, and mental or bodily obedience thereto; and the mind which lacks in rightwiseness cannot properly deliberate among motives, will miss from its field the best motives, and thus cannot wisely constitute Sufficient Reason. Hence, such inability continuing, exercise of Will must surely establish habits of weak or disordered Volition, as well as Volitions put forth in wrong directions, so that in time all disorders must become chronic and settle into types of Will that fail to manifest normality and truth.

Observe : The law-abiding physical life is absolutely best; all below weakens Will. The truth-showing mental life is absolutely best; all below disorganizes the Will. The righteous moral life is absolutely best; all below destroys the dynamic power of Will.

Will-power issuing from good physical, mental and moral health, wherein right co-ordination obtains, gives to life's endeavors resistless force, and finds training in all intelligent activity. The more it toils, the more it resolves. No obstacle can deter it, no defeat dismay.

Said John Ledyard, the Explorer : " My distresses have been greater than I have owned, or will own, to any man. I have known hunger and nakedness to the utmost extremity of human suffering; I have known what it is to have food given me as charity to a mad-man; and I have at times been obliged to shelter my-self under the miseries of that character to avoid a heavier calamity. Such evils are terrible to bear, but they have never yet had the power to turn me from my purpose." But observe:

" He is spoken of as a man of iron Will, sure to make his way, to carry his point, and he thinks himself a man of strong Will. He is only an egotist, morally unable to resist, or even to hesitate at, any evil whereby his selfish aim is assured."

" Energy, without integrity and a soul of goodness, may only represent the embodied principle of evil. It is observed by Novalis, in his ` Thoughts on Morals,' that the ideal of moral perfection has no more dangerous rival to contend with than the ideal of the highest strength and the most energetic life, the maximum of the barbarian —which needs only a due admixture of pride, ambition, and selfishness, to be a perfect ideal of the devil."

Nothing schools the will, and renders it ready for effort in this complex world, better than accustoming it to face disagreeable things. Professor James ad-vises 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 a man pays on his house. He has something he can fall back upon in time of trouble., A will schooled in this way is always ready to respond, no matter how great the emergency. Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, George Washington, and all other world famous men have been the possessors of wills that acted in the line of the greatest resistance, with as much seeming ease as if the action were agreeable."

You should resolve to secure such a grade of will by doing disagreeable things, or things of apparent insignificance which ordinarily you shirk doing. Every lifting of a weight by the biceps is adding muscular power to your arms; every little act of will deliberately carried to completion is adding to your power of will.

"The powers of the human intellect," says Professor E. S. Creasy in Fifteen Decisive Battles," " are rarely more strongly displayed than they are in the commander who regulates, arrays, and wields at his Will these masses of armed disputants (in battle) who, cool, yet daring in the midst of peril, reflects on all and provides for all, ever ready with fresh resources and designs, as the vicissitudes of the storm of slaughter require." But these qualities, however high they may appear, are to be found in the basest as well as the noblest of mankind. Catiline was as brave a soldier as Leonidas, and a much better officer. Alva surpassed the Prince of Orange in the field; and Suwarrow was the military superior of Kosciusco. To adopt the emphatic words of Byron :

"'T is the cause makes all, Degrades or hallows courage in its fall."

The law of the right Will is the law of the all-round symmetrical character.

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