Losing hope? Find Waypower & Willpower

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Let’s talk about Hope.

Hope is a motivational feeling that allows a person to progress and expect oneself to reach a goal. Hope is made up of Waypower and Willpower.[1]

  • Willpower: Willpower lets people commit to realistic goals and focus on achieving them.
  • Waypower: Waypower lets people plan and see how they can reach a goal even if their efforts are going to waste.

Hope = Realistic problem-solving + a belief of having infinite willpower

Willpower hope

Willpower is generally what everyone talks about in the context of hope – it’s intuitive, it’s a common idea, and it’s what people struggle with. Willpower is a theoretical concept and many researchers have tried defining what it really represents.

One point of view is that willpower is about glucose metabolism[2]. If glucose is not readily available for the brain to use, willpower to resist impulses goes down. So being low on glucose can effectively mean one doesn’t have the energy to persevere and make strong commitments while being patient. Restoring blood glucose can then increase willpower to exert some form of self-control – like showing discipline.

Hopelessness is a typical symptom of depression. And that too[3] is linked to glucose metabolism in a diverse range of brain areas. Insulin also affects willpower directly via glucose. If insulin is low, the brain uses glucose inefficiently.

People make assumptions about willpower – that it is a limited or unlimited resource. In the case of glucose, it literally is limited. However, even without glucose limitations, willpower can be a “subjective theory” where one makes assumptions about how much willpower they have. This is typically seen in a gym routine. Many trainers find that their clients give up too quickly and stop pushing because the client believes they have reached their limit. Encouragement and motivational words help to deal with the pain and push physical boundaries. So if willpower is a mental concept and not a real resource, people can have a million reasons to rationalize they have no hope.

Your belief about willpower being limited or unlimited actually gives you limited or unlimited willpower.

Aditya Shukla

Research shows this[4] – people have different beliefs about how their willpower depends on fatigue or mental work, and that eventually affects their performance in a way they can justify. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So – if I believe my willpower is over because I had a huge workload, I will behave in a way that shows my willpower is lost and I won’t be able to handle another difficult task. But If I believe my willpower is unlimited, like the green lantern’s, I can persevere, have hope, and adjust to any difficulty. In the end, my belief about my willpower affects how I manage everyday life.

Waypower hope

Waypower hope, on the other hand, is a little easier to manage than willpower.

Waypower is seeing a clear, realistic path to positive outcomes; it is not just an expectation like optimism. It depends on indicators that suggest something can actually work out.

If a person has a goal and can’t reach it, there is no hope. If the same person has the capability to find alternative paths to reach that goal, when the default path is blocked, that person has “waypower”. Sometimes called “pathway hope”.

From the bird’s eye view, waypower now requires 2 things: Observing that there is a possibility of a “path” to achieve a goal and evidence that one can take the path. For hope to occur, there is waypower from some hint somewhere that shows there is a realistic possibility of succeeding.

  • When you feel hopeless, you just need one win. Any win. Even the smallest win.
  • A hopeless one pursuing lost friends struggling with loneliness just needs 1 good interaction to start with to build a social circle.
  • A hopeless engineer writing 100 lines of code feeling incompetent and ready to quit just needs one instance of some code working, to continue progressing on other modules.
  • A hopeless musician writing songs no one listens to just needs 1 listener who enjoys it to reach the goal of 100 listeners.
  • A hopeless entrepreneur needs a plan that at least sounds ok to persuade others to help them achieve the goal.
  • A hopeless student needs a simple way to at least begin difficult topics so the student is on a path to completion.

Metaphors like “seeing a glimmer of hope,” “light at the end of a tunnel” or “luck finally working in my favor” are all descriptions of waypower.

Someone succeeding at doing a task correctly for the first time is waypower too. That success is proof there is hope.

Willpower is a mental commitment to do and act constructively when things are difficult. And people feel genuinely hopeful when they have waypower along with willpower.

Related: How people make sense of the world

When hope is lost

In doomy scenario where one has lost hope about society or the earth’s health, waypower is a way to regain that hope. That means one has to see some actions being taken to improve society/earth to induce that hope. Without that waypower, one goes back to feeling hopeless.

Let’s take an easy example. Suppose Mr. A is hopeless about improving his health. Can’t stick to the gym. Snacks too much. If Mr. A believes his willpower is limited, he will have some energy in the morning to eat healthily and work out. But as the day progresses, Mr. A starts snacking and does no exercise. This is exactly what researchers saw in a study[5] with 300+ participants. They were surveyed 5 times a day for 1 to 3 weeks asking them about their food intake and exercise. Those who believed their willpower was limited snacked more at night and had lesser physical activity compared to those who believed their willpower was unlimited.

When it comes to feeling hopeful about climate change, researchers identified that waypower leads to hope if there is waypower on 2 levels: Personal and collective. This means that for there to be real hope (for school children in the US, according to a study[6]), the children should see that they are themselves contributing but they also contribute collectively. Without both levels, it is possible to have thoughts like, “All hope is lost if no one else helps” or “There is no hope for us if we keep expecting others to solve problems if we ourselves don’t.”

One study[7] looked at waypower hope and creativity and found that waypower and willpower contribute to creativity in the workplace. Willpower can also lead to creativity such as thinking of new and useful ideas, particularly if it first induces happiness. Way power contributes to creativity, particularly the idea of “championing creativity,” which is taking risks for a creative solution and promoting it to others. Another theory in psychology called the broaden-and-build theory says something similar – positive emotions lead to broadening one’s perspectives, which leads to better performance and skills.

Waypower, in their study, correlated with creativity (about 0.2). One reason for this is that waypower is about finding new solutions to meet a goal so that the person is hopeful about meeting that goal. This is partly a creative process. However, it isn’t necessarily a creative process. For hope to emerge from waypower, there only needs to be faith that there is some real possibility of finding a solution, the actual solution isn’t necessary.

Waypower and willpower also help with work-life balance[8], especially when an employee is expected to do more at a job and the family is under stress (or difficult to deal with). Researchers say that waypower and willpower are mental resources that buffer against the damage caused by family stress and make it easier to manage high expectations at work.

Let’s take a step-by-step approach. Family difficulties such as rude behavior or unexpected stress can cause emotional exhaustion. This exhaustion reduces motivation to work well. Even if an employee does the bare minimum, they are informally expected to volunteer effort to perform at their best and help the organization in many ways. Since they are emotionally drained, they cannot meet high work standards. In this situation, willpower allows a person to commit to the company’s goals and help it. And waypower gives the mental bandwidth to think of many alternative solutions to problems at work and home.

Here, the researchers assume that every individual will have different levels of default willpower and waypower in a given context. That means it is possible to change mindsets to tap into those 2 resources.

Finding hope

Now let us look into how waypower and willpower resources increase or decrease.

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The first idea I want to discuss is conation. When we think of motivation, it occurs on 2 levels: Automatic and effortful. (Here’s a detailed description). Effortful motivation is called conation. Each human comes with a biology equipped with conation. Conation gives us goal-directed behavior. This ability is unused if there is no hope. So changing the focus to waypower can now use this default ability to find a path.

The confirmation bias is generally considered a bad thing. It says we are biased to look out for information that supports our view and reject information that contradicts it. Using this bias, we can build or break hope. For example, in a hopeless situation, actively seeking information that gives hope can help one change their mindset. Once that mindset changes, the brain will be more in tune to find hopeful information. Similarly, if the mindset remains without hope, one will continue seeking evidence for hopelessness.

This ties in with conation. The first effort to change mindset is conation. Consider that the goal itself is to find information that shows either waypower or willpower. Because willpower is about a mental commitment to effort, willpower is harder to find. However, waypower – seeking evidence to show there is a path – is merely observation and thinking. So hijacking waypower through just observation and thinking is a start.

Think…

A hopeless one pursuing lost friends struggling with loneliness just needs 1 good interaction to start with to build a social circle.

A hopeless engineer writing 100 lines of code feeling incompetent and ready to quit just needs one instance of some code working, to continue progressing on other modules.

A hopeless musician writing songs no one listens to just needs 1 listener who enjoys it to reach the goal of 100 listeners.

A hopeless entrepreneur needs a plan that at least sounds ok to persuade others to help them achieve the goal.

A hopeless student needs a simple way to at least begin difficult topics so the student is on a path to completion.

And then, you sustain this waypower with some willpower by believing you have unlimited willpower. Affirm that you have more willpower instead of assuming artificial limits. And if that’s possible, restore your glucose. That’s where hope comes from.

Related: How to form new, healthy habits

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