I was talking with my colleague Dr. Susan Walsh, creator of the Scientific Recovery program for alcohol overuse. She was making an interesting distinction between wanting to do something and being willing to do it. While this is an important distinction in people trying to alter habits, it seems significant for other people as well. Dr. Walsh was saying that people may not want to do what is necessary to become healthier, but they may be willing to do it. Intuitively, it seems that wanting to do something implies it is a motivation that arises within us: We own it. Being willing to do something means that, while we would rather not, we acknowledge it is a healthier choice and we are willing to do it.
I am thinking of exercise particularly. There are definitely mornings that I wake up and do not want to get up early and exercise, but when I think about the benefits, I often decide I am willing to do it. While it seems like a semantic distinction, it is a way of respecting our genuine wishes while making an effort to make the healthiest choices. Perhaps it is a distinction between our self-indulgent motives and our self-caretaking motives, which are sometimes one and the same and sometimes different.
What helps in distinguishing between what we are wanting and what we are willing to do is taking the time to be reflective, or in other words, raising our awareness of the many motives and emotions that are being generated inside of us at any one time. When we allow ourselves to know what we feel and want and why we feel and want those things, we can make the choices we want to make rather than automatically following some inner direction without understanding it.