How do you access your unstoppability? By consciously choosing your intent and strengthening your volition.

I’m fascinated by stories describing feats of seemingly impossible strength, such as a mother lifting a car to save her child from being crushed. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: hysterical strength. Many such cases are convincingly documented.

How do we explain hysterical strength? The fight or flight reaction is thought to be a major contributor. These events typically happen under emergency conditions, so it makes sense that fear would provide both energy and motivation.

Even accounting for the rapidity with which adrenaline floods the body, however, scientists have been at a loss to fully explain the sudden strength these people have shown. There must be some additional powerful force at work at these moments. I believe that force is volition.

Volition has two definitions:

  1. The power of choosing or determining; the will
  2. An act of making a choice or decision.

In other words, when we enter a volitional state, we evoke both our will, and our power to act on that will.

You might say, “Well, by those definitions, don’t we use our volition all the time? We say we’ll do something, then we do it.” True. But this deceptively simple act defines us as human beings. We alone among living creatures have free will.

Why our will matters so much

Free will means we can decide what we will—or won’t—do. However, not all choices are created equal. Inner Bonding clarifies the most important way we can use our free will: by choosing our intent, moment by moment.

If we don’t consciously choose the intent to learn, then we will end up by default in the intent to protect. That is, we try to control people, things, and situations in order to avoid pain.

When we choose the intent to protect, we go downhill fast. We become more isolated, more anxious and depressed, and more prone to turn to addictive behaviors to numb our feelings. The numbing, in turn, cuts us off from our spiritual intuition (our inner knowing.)

On the other hand, when we use our free will to choose to move into the intent to learn, we develop a compassionate inner relationship. We learn to make space for our feelings, which helps us connect more and more easily with our spiritual intuition.

This choice of intent is crucial for highly sensitive people. Why? Because we can otherwise end up feeling as if we are being run by our sensitive bodies and our intense emotions. Unless we choose to be with what we are feeling, we will try to protect against feeling it.

What does volition feel like?

Perhaps, like many HSPs, you struggle with chronic anxiety or depression. Or you may find yourself in a difficult living situation, a job that is draining you, or a painful relationship. Creating the change you want to see may require you to take determined action over many months or even years.

How can you possibly sustain that intensity of effort when you are already stressed and depleted? You need the same inner force that helps a mother lift a car off her child. You need a high level of volition.

To cultivate your volition, it helps to understand what volition feels like and how it is different from its weaker cousins—namely, wishing, desiring, and intending. The Indian yogi and guru Paramahansa Yogananda explained that a wish is weak. It is like “volition in embryo—helpless, unformed, lacking in power.”

Desire gives you more strength than wishing. When you desire something, you have more energy to take action. But you may still falter in the end because your efforts are fitful. Intention is even stronger than desire. However, intention cannot withstand the test of discouragement.

Only with volition can you overcome all obstacles. Yogananda describes volition as “ceaseless activity and determination of action until the result is achieved.” In other words, the volitional state implies unconditionally committed effort.

Volitional energy is unmistakably different from mere wishing. You can feel the difference for yourself. Say, “I wish I could go to Barcelona this summer.” Then say, “No matter what it takes, I will get myself to Barcelona this summer.” These two statements feel completely different, don’t they? And that difference would be even more pronounced if you were speaking of a goal you truly cared about.

Tracing the source of volition: what motivates you?

In 2000, I left my marriage of 13 years. I’ve often wondered how I survived that time. It left me emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually depleted. My hair began to turn silver from stress and chronic overarousal.

Yet somehow, I got through six moves, built the foundation for a new, sustainable work life, took care of my young child, and entered a new, healthier relationship. In effect, I lifted a car off myself. How on earth did I pull this off?

I was extremely lucky to have support from my family and friends. But there was an additional factor without which I would not have made it through. My volition was high. I was intensely motivated by an experience I had had several years earlier.

After a particularly desperate fight with my husband during an orchestra tour to Colorado, I had experienced a startling inner transformation. My rage and misery dropped away. My self-condemning inner voices went still. I felt a sensation of cool, fresh air filling my head.

I left our hotel and walked around Vail. When I ran into colleagues, I found myself interacting with them without any of my typical self-consciousness. I was utterly at ease.

This singular spaciousness lasted for only an hour or two. During that time, though, I experienced a transcendent peace like nothing I had ever felt before. For the first time, I knew it was possible to feel that way, instead of feeling horribly anxious. Now, I wanted that peace more than I’d ever wanted anything.

In his marvelous book, Peak Performance, Charles Garfield described the reaction of the world champion Russian weightlifter, Yuri Vlasov, upon experiencing such a moment in competition:

There is no more precious moment in life than this, the white moment, and you will work very hard for years just to taste it again.

Vlasov could lift astounding weights because he knew how to access the power of volition. I didn’t know it yet, but in Vail I too had accessed the power of volition.

How do you strengthen your volition?

We know that extreme stress can move us to perform exceptional feats. But an ecstatic experience like Vlasov’s “white moment”— or my episode of transcendent peace— can also motivate extraordinary achievements. When we feel the intense motivation of strong positive emotions, we become capable of effort beyond anything we had believed possible.

When a mother lifts a car off her toddler, her high volition appears spontaneously and instantaneously, triggered by an external event. But we can also deliberately summon the necessary emotional intensity to shift our energy into a volitional state. My own “white moment” in Vail sustained me through years of effort and stress. Like Vlasov, I had tasted that transcendent state once, and I worked very hard for years to taste it again.

Garfield’s book details a highly effective program—used by top athletes, astronauts, and other peak performers— designed to give you access at will to high levels of volition. However, you can get a taste right now of what it feels like to raise your volition, using these simple techniques:

  • Recall a “white moment” from your own life. Re-create the feeling as vividly as you can.
  • Recall an experience, performance, or athletic event that deeply moved you. Again, re-create that feeling as vividly as you can.
  • Listen to music that moves and inspires you. To observe firsthand the power of music to evoke strong emotion, try watching this iconic scene from the movie “Rocky” —but turn the volume all the way down. Then watch it again, with the music. What a difference, right?

With high volition, you access your unstoppability

If you want to make a change but your volition feels weak, ask yourself, “Is my energy divided? Does part of me want to make this change, but another part doesn’t?” Exploring these questions can help you move from lukewarm “wishing” to the burning determination of volition.

Ultimately, your volition gets stronger as you get more emotionally connected to the meaning and values that underlie your efforts. However, you need more than just emotional intensity. Think again of the mother pulling a car off her toddler. Yes, she is in a state of heightened emotion. But she is also utterly single-minded.

In an emergency, external circumstances force this level of focus upon you. But you obviously can’t use emergencies to sustain your self-motivation. To begin to learn how to summon single-mindedness at will, you must master specific skills. (The program Garfield lays out in Peak Performance takes many weeks to complete.)

When you tap into your volition, you enter a state of unstoppability. I learned that term from an electrician friend. He used it to describe his ironclad determination to deal with unexpected obstacles.

He’d drill into a wall to install an outlet and, inevitably, he’d hit something. But he wouldn’t give up. He’d invoke his unstoppability. Whatever it took, he’d find a way over, under, around, or through.

Whether your obstacles are physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual, volition gives you the strength, flexibility, and perseverance to access your unstoppability. Then you become as powerful as water flowing downhill.

Image: 2023 Duke Duchscherer. Thank you, Duke!
Note: This is a substantially updated version of the article first published on Mar 19, 2019