What constitutes a strong will depends on what time frame we consider:
- Stubbornness. In the short term, a strong-willed man does everything in his power to win the current fight, even at the cost of losing the battle, let alone the war. This is the person who resists the truth because he can never be wrong, who mistreats and diminishes others in petty displays of power, and who never changes course even when it’s obvious that his plan is stupid.
- Goal fixation. In the medium term, a strong-willed man does everything in his power to achieve his goals. This includes the gold medalist who sacrifices his health for glory, the opportunist who corrupts his character for profit or popularity, and the workaholic who neglects his body and family for economic success.
- Life maximization. In the long term, a strong-willed man does everything in his power to win at life itself. This is the person who balances all areas of his life with determination after due deliberation, who places growth, awareness, and well-being above his ego’s coping mechanisms, and who compromises neither his values nor his cheerful serenity just to fulfill culturally dictated duties while chasing socially glamorized ends, for he understands that dying is the only real duty and death the ultimate end.
We can easily detect stubborn myopia at the point where learning stops and where relationships break or become abusive. But when does high-achieving enthusiasm—one’s will to greatness—deteriorate into goal-fixated fanaticism? This happens when a goal becomes obsessive, when it constrains one’s freedom, when it limits one’s behavioral flexibility such that one pursues the goal not out of a conscious decision on what is good, but out of deep-seated insecurities and unreflected desires. Although obsessions may indeed reflect volitional strength, their underlying will is misdirected like that of the anorexic who used her willpower to develop an eating disorder. Goals are a great way to help structure one’s life, but they must not be mistaken for life’s substance.