A while ago, I read Christopher Isherwood's memoir, My Guru and His Disciple. It's an account of Isherwood's relationship with Swami Prabhavananda, the Hindu monk who was his spiritual mentor and friend for more than thirty years.
I was surprised to learn that Christopher Isherwood—who's perhaps best known for The Berlin Stories, which was the basis for the musical and movie Cabaret—lived for years in Swami Prabhavananda's monastery in Los Angeles, and considered becoming a monk himself.
The book is interesting for many reasons, but I was particularly struck by Isherwood's passing remark, of his cigarette smoking: "I had given up the habit with difficulty in 1941, because I was upset about my parting from Vernon and wanted to raise my morale by asserting my willpower."
I was fascinated by this brief remark. He wanted to raise his morale by asserting his willpower.
We usually think of an effort like quitting smoking as something that's demanding, draining, a big drag. And it is, of course.
But it's also interesting to see that an effort like that is also a morale-booster. And it's true: whenever we ask something of ourselves, and follow through, we get a big boost in our sense of "self-efficacy," our sense of control over ourselves.
One thing that has surprised me, in my work life, is that sometimes, when I'm feeling very overloaded, I feel better when I tackle something big and new. There's an energy and excitement that comes from a new challenge.
It's often tempting to think, "I'm doing too much, I'm so stressed out, I can't ask this of myself, I need to cut back." But it may be that asking more of ourselves will actually make us feel more competent, more energized, and less stressed.
Surprising, but true. Sometimes we can raise morale by asserting our willpower.
In the photo, Swami Prabhavananda is on the left, Isherwood is on the right, and Aldous Huxley sits between them.