Will Power and Work by Jules Payot

Will Power and Work

RATING: 8/10…READ: September 30, 2012

Jules Payot’s follow up to the Education of the Will. Will Power and Work lays out more precise strategies for developing will power and productivity techniques. From Time Management to What to Read and How to Study, it is a productivity book from a much deeper angle.

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The art of learning is the art of knowing how to obey the laws of the mind and of the body.

When the organism produces more power than it consumes there is fullness.

Aristotle, who was not a recluse, as are some modern philosophers, and who led the life of outdoors, saw clearly the nature of pleasure. Pleasure is a superaddition to action and each action has its own pleasure, which intensifies such action.

To realize this aim attention must be paid to the needs, desires, inclinations and natural endowment of the student, so that his tasks be suitable to his latent energies and calculated to expand them.

One, for example, will acquire a taste for geometry, if he is made to understand that by means of geometry he can fabricate some object he craves, measure the cubic air of his room, the area of the garden, the contents of a pooh the height of a tree, of a house, of a hill and, later, with equal ease, the distance of a planet

The idle person is a deserter. A parasite on the toil of others, he leads a stagnant life, void of value, of dignity, of happiness.

A social call to be paid, an evening in society, a tactful letter to be written, a minor errand, are towering responsibilities to a person of enfeebled will.

Coupled with the feeling of increased power are the intense joys of discovery. The real worker may be compared to the Alpine mountain climber who scales a difficult height to find himself facing a vast new horizon. The brain-worker experiences this same sensation after toilful effort, when he discovers a mass of confused facts suddenly falling into an order that illuminates his mind. The chaos of contradictory ideas that seemed crude as the patches of color in a painting seen at too close range, suddenly disclose themselves in simple and harmonious accord. Thereafter he sees these facts fit themselves smoothly into his theory, which little by little becomes more firmly rooted and grows as a mighty oak.

the hard-working student avoids the duplex prison of time and space — the time of the present and the environment. He shares in the liberating thought of men of genius of antiquity and of recent centuries and of all countries where thought is alive.

the majority of men, altho surrounded by the splendors of nature were so preoccupied with getting a livelihood, that they would have remained blind to such splendors if it had not been for the great poets and great painters, who, gifted with delicate sensibility and mighty imagination, discovered the beauties of nature and made them accessible to all.

Authors in particular, who form the real government of a country, not a government that keeps’ its subjects down, but one that appeals: to their souls, should I consider themselves as* missionaries of this I religion of the truth. They will not be ‘ possesed of an authority that’ strikes the eye, nor of an ephemeral brute strength, but of a lasting and fruitful influence.

Great men develop slowly and calmly. I They advance patiently. Mountaineers who know their mountains are prepared to see the hurrying tourists soon brought, to. a halt breathless and exhausted. They themselves move at a slow, regular pace. Superior minds move in like fashion. “If I have made discoveries,” said Newton, “it is because I have thought constantly of the subject under investigation and have examined it in all its aspects. If my researches have produced useful results, these results are due to work, to patient reflection and study.”

He who does not create is no more than a shadow, a simple nothing. To live is to create, therefore to work.

To mediocre minds a clearly stated fact has a scientific value. A fact may be likened to a chiselled stone which, an architect will use in a building. The stone itself is nothing. The great majority of facts have no scientific value. Only significant facts have such a value. The others encumber the mind and scatter the attention.

This sense of the realities is the substance of real intelligence. To be intelligent is to distinguish clearly what is and what is not, what can he done and what can not be done, what harmonizes with a fact and what does not.

We understand that to be able to. express the same idea in ten different ways, is no proof of intelligence.

Real intelligence is the intelligence wholly attentive to the realities and to that quintessence of reality which is reason.

Be witty when yon have a solid and substantial foundation of intelligence and then what yon say or write will have charm. If the superficial qualities do not rest on a granite base, your words are without value and your action will surely be perilous.


For example my knowledge of the metric system will never have any reality until I have confronted it with facts. I have a theoretic idea, which is very precise, of the length of a kilometer. From the top of my native mountains I have often seen stretches of a hundred kilometers, which are very concrete and real to my mind. I know by frequent muscular experience what is a vertical height of six hundred meters, of twelve hundred meters, of three thousand meters, but for lack of actual experience, I do not know what is a height of twelve or fifteen meters and so I make errors in estimating the height of a monument, of a tree. Six hundred vertical meters are a realized knowledge, fifteen meters are a verbal, abstract knowledge.

For a stronger reason moral knowledge remains abstract and verbal when it is not confronted with personal experience. Also all learning is vain and all inquiry into the reflections of others, if it distracts us from the essential task which is, for example, to compare the statements of a great author with our own experience.

“Look within yourself,” says Marcus Aurelius, “for there lies the source of good, an inexhaustible source provided you draw, upon it continually.” Likewise within ourselves lies the source of all moral truth, provided we draw upon the realities of human nature and for this it is enough to feel one-self live and to meditate upon one’s personal experience.

To be intelligent is to be able to orientate oneself in the real through the habit of seeing calmly and lucidly that which is or exists.

If we have deep respect for time and its immeasurable value, we shall always have sufficient leisure to do what we wish to do if we really wish to do it.

An Athenian was annoyed because he had to make a journey to Olympia. Said Socrates: “What is there about the road that dismays you I Do you not spend most of the day walking in your house. “Well, then, you will be walking also when you leave here, you will stop for dinner, you will walk again and then have your supper and after that you will take your rest. Can’t you see that in putting together all the walking you do in five or six days that you will easily walk from Athens to Olympia.”

Because our energy is limited we must never squander Avoid unnecessary fatigue.

I myself have always made it a role to decide beforehand on what I would do, so that when I sit at my desk I begin work at once. Otherwise I would not get to work until after some time had elapsed in indecision and my effort would not be so rapid and energetic.

We should give thought this evening to the work to do tomorrow, just as musicians tune their instruments before beginning to play at a concert. We must prefigure it in all its intricate and precise detail. If we practice such a circumspect method of approach to anything we undertake, we shall enter upon the task with ease and decisiveness of mind.

If I begin to write a chapter in one of my books I never set out before I have planned that chapter. Often as I proceed I discover miscalculations in my plan which necessitate an entirely different beginning. This is unavoidable because only the actual working out of a plan discloses the imperfections of the preconceived ordering of our material. Therefore we must know what we want to do and nave in hand all memoranda, note-books, clippings and published works necessary to our work, so that all the effort of our writing is free from pernicious interruptions- that will overwhelm us if we must always be pausing to find some needed material.

We must be tranquil, make haste slowly, not try to do everything at one stroke—in a word, we must work “with an ease comparable to the flowing of oil which is noiseless.” Truth is the gain of patience and devotion rather than of genius.

“There is nothing easier, if one does only one thing at a time and one never puts off till tomorrow what can be done to-day.” Do what yon are doing, and do it deliberately without feverishness of mood or supersensitive nicety.” –Lord Chesterfield

This rule of doing only one thing at a time and of doing that one thing with all one’s soul is of capital importance in intellectual effort. By nature we are impulsive’, unstable, scattering. The vibrant complexity of life in cities tends to augment this agitated state of mind.

Devote only four hours a day to serious effort,” he wrote on another occasion, ” in a spirit of faithful, inflexible, single-minded devotion—and your success will greatly exceed your expectations.” My personal conviction is that few famous authors attain to this daily total of working hours. But we must not, on the other hand, attempt to exceed it. By working three hours a day we may produce an enormous output. Zola never worked more than three hours a day.

It is better to work in tranquil activity throughout a long life than to overwork oneself through the course of a few years.

If after a day’s work our sleep is restful and restorative, then our work has not eaten in upon our capital of energy, but has only expended that sum of it duly provided for such purpose each day by nourishment and rest. But if, on the other hand, our sleep is fretful and does not sufficiently serve to restore our strength completely, this is proof that we have exceeded the day’s limit of energy for working. We have drawn upon our capital and must replace what we have drawn upon by adequate rest.

If people tell you they work ten or fifteen hours a day ask them to show the results of their effort. You will discover that, as in the case of so many office-holders, their time is spent in handling innumerable insignificant trifles and that the sum of real accomplishment is very small. What they call work is only too often inaction laboriously occupied.

A tentative schedule of the small number of hours needed for intellectual work may be set down as follows : For those of abundant energy, four or five hours per day; for those of energetic force estimated below the average, two or three hours per day; for those of ordinary energetic force, one or two hours per day.

Nietzsche estimates that the average philologist consults about 200 volumes a day. Naturally this unfortunate person loses all capacity to think for himself. Weak and aimless toilers confuse such indolent sort of effort with real work. They imagine that in gathering a multitude of notes they are working. They are not working, but idling in fancied preparation. Such effort is so far from being real work that the facts they collect, out of which so many books are compounded, are wholly useless, because the majority of their facts have no value.

The problem whether it is better to work in the morning or in the evening is of no importance. He who wishes to learn, provided he can choose his own time, will select for his work the interval when his bodily energy is habitually less sluggish.

Yet there is one role which all must observe. As soon as yon have experienced a sleepless night, quit your work and take some exercise in the open air. When insomnia is not caused by excessive indulgence in stimulants or defective digestion, it is the sign of the beginning of nervous exhaustion. When sleep goes from us, everything goes from us.

Nietzsche writes: “Spend as little time as possible seated. Do not trust an idea unless it has come to you in the open air when one is in free motion.”

We should work only a few hours each day, and the rest of the time we should enjoy the open air, the sunlight and the conversation and company of friends, while our brain automatically grasps every passing idea and impression of service to our purpose.

His [DARWIN] time was all his own, and he worked, first, from eight till half-past nine in the morning, then from half -past ten till noon or a quarter-past twelve. This he considered enough, and he would Bay with satisfaction: “I’ve done a good day’s work.” Some days he worked again in the afternoon from half-past four till half -past five, but not every day.

Victor Hugo used to rise very early and write for five hours. The rest of the time he enjoyed himself in walking. He never worked at night. Yet his production is enormous.

Emile Zola, a novelist of unusual fertility, spent only three hours each day in writing. His voluntary attention was intense, when fret on persons or things he wished to describe. But this intensity lasted only while he worked, and he would go walking in the street and fail to recognize his very friends in passing.

He [Zola] “never busied himself with gathering, facts about some undetermined subject for a novel. When he was writing ‘La Terre,’ he was thoroughly interested in peasants and peasant life, but no observation about military life or the financial world would have caught his attention.

According to the Buddhists there are five obstacles to attention, namely: brutal desire; hatred and malice; sloth of mind; disquiet and regrets; perplexity and indecision.

It is the duty of each one of us to learn through personal experience what agencies usually bring on that victorious irruption in our consciousness by which we are freed from tyrannical associations of ideas.

Nothing is so helpful to continuity of thought as- to be able to summarize it in a few succinct phrases.

Often, just before I sit down to work, repeat the admirable counsel of Marcus Aurelius: “At every hour, remember earnestly, as a Roman and as a man, that yon are to perform the task in hand, in strict and simple seriousness, “with heart, with freedom, with justice; and that you are to rid yourself meanwhile of all thoughts foreign to this task. And you will be able to rid yourself of all such, thoughts if you perform each task as if it were the last of your life.”

In order to husband the precious powers of attention and to render perception easy, it is useful to prepare sedulously the object of one’s study or treatment. For example, before I undertook to write this chapter I went over all my notes and re- called all my personal experiences on the subject of the powers of attention. Then I considered what was worth retaining in this mass of evidence and by a process of elimination secured a residue of essential information on the subject. Then setting myself to work, I “attacked” my subject with all the vigor of my mind, which moved forward to meet the truth half-way, with a pre-imagined outline of the whole question.

No idea should be allowed to lodge in the memory which is tainted with vanity, hatred, jealousy, fear, covetousness or prejudice. Ideas of mere ungoverned impulse, incapable of sustained examination, and ideas of frivolity also should be barred.

We must learn to limit oar scope of knowledge so that we do not bury our minds in a mass of acquired recollections. “We must aspire to learn the essential things and to retain only such thoughts as have bearing on the profound substantiality of things.

Any single impression is always insufficient. We must frequently recall our acute attention to the fact or the chapter of a book which we wish to keep fixt in our memory … As it is necessary that we recall frequently the impressions of facts, so it is of equal necessity that we confine our attention to essential facts, and that we make record of them in plainly readable notes which may be referred to often in our moments of solitude.

The introduction of the controlling factor of words into vagrant associations of ideas leads the spirit to fortify itself’ little by little with, meanings suggested by words, and so our thoughts find themselves, despite themselves, guided along the right path. Likewise words’ afford’ us an almost infallible medium to re-evoke our recollections and stabilize them.

We keep in mind, to say it briefly, only the things that interest us.

If my memory of sight is rich I shall have brilliant recollections of color, and, as a painter, would no doubt be able to produce autumn landscapes of delicate shadings. If my muscular memory is strong I should reveal abundant variety of line and action. A musician of great aural memory should be able to remember whole symphonies of Berlioz or of Beethoven. A sensuous poet, like Alfred de Musset, will have a brain dominated by the imagery of love. A lover of nature will have a mind stored with plenteous variety of beautiful landscapes. A Comeille, heroic and sincere, will nourish his mind on the lives of the heroes of antiquity, while La Fontaine, who is so fond of animals, knows and remembers all their traits and habits. A person of religions spirit, like Bossuet, will have an imagination overflowing with Biblical images.

A happy life has been defined as the ideal of youth realized in mature years.

Those persons may indeed be said to be happy who at about their twenty-seventh year have discovered that idea of great fertility which thirty years of toil will transform into a work of lasting influence.

We are subject to the limitations of time and of our nervous energy. The question to be decided is what course we purpose to follow in life. We must choose between dazzling the uninformed by our ability to write and talk about everything, with- out knowing anything; or, we mast decide to attain to real achievement.

But we shall not take rank of this character unless we are intelligent enough to understand that our strength is subject to strict limitations, and that if we waste it, we shall have only a mediocre knowledge about everything, a kind of encyclopedic memory for superficial conversation.

We shall acquire such a memory as we will and deserve to possess. At birth we are possest only of possibilities; and most people die without having realized their possibilities. They have the appearance of being real persons, but if we examine them closely we find that they are merely a motley bundle of sensations, perceptions, feelings and contradictory tendencies. A photographic proof of their character would be neither positive nor negative, but indistinct, vague and nebulous.

We must sincerely record what we like to do, what we study with pleasure and what we are interested in keenly. Little by little we shall discover our tastes with cetainty, and we shall know the work of which we are capable, for there is no surer moans of failing in life than by going counter to one’s tendencies.

History is an intensified projection of our soul. It is only by going back to our feelings of childhood that we can understand ancient civilization.

A chemist has presentiments of the reaction of two chemicals upon each other. A physician, through a kind of divination, hears the history of a life in the revelations of the heart-heats of a patient. A lawyer, in a quarter of an hour, has a better understanding than you have of the problem on which you are thinking day and night.

Rapid reading causes the mind to scatter and weakens the intelligence. It dulls our personality through the excess of disorder and unassimilable stimulation. It can never in any sense be considered as real work.

Now, as it is of great importance not to scatter our energy, it will be found prudent at first to attach oneself to one author and follow him obediently in order to have a line of solidified ideas.

If you read as yon should read a great work, that is in understanding it, and to understand it means to compare the ideas of this work with your own experience, you will gradually come into possession of your own mind and think your own thoughts.

A book creates nothing in us. If I do not know-what a glacier is, or what the sea is, no description of either one or the other can supply the lack of direct experience of such objects.

Moreover—and this is a severe condemnation of our encyclopedic method of education—every book and every educational course -which aims to instruct one without direct experience of that of which it treats, merely instructs in parrot fashion.

Books are comparable to the microscope or the telescope. Thus an author is able to show us the relations, consequences, and antecedents of facts which might escape minds that are less rather than more vigorous, penetrating, logical, or prepared. But the source of knowledge lies in external and internal realties—that is to say, in life, in experience, in thought.

Reading should not be a servile acceptance of affirmations or denials by the author, but should be a comparison of them with reality, with experience, and with reason, which is the condensation of the experiences of the human race. We should not endeavor to learn so much what the author has thought, but whether what he has thought is true. Again we most scrutinize, even more carefully than his affirmations or denials, the motives which impel him to make them.

Now we must never begin with complementary reading. Thus, for example, if I am resolved to study the question of character I will begin by a thorough examination of the classification of Ribot, the most eminent of modern psychologists. With each one of his remarks I shall compare myself and the character of people whom I know well. Such verification will require a great deal of time, but it is only when my conception of various characters has become definite, concrete, and vivid, that I will take up as complementary reading the studies of Ribera, Perez, Paulhan, Malapert, and others.

We shall never feel the need of frivolous reading if we like our work so well that it becomes the center of our intellectual life, and if we find in it the joy of constant new adventure which lies in the pursuit of truth.

Men who have constructed great works know how to manage the conquering energy of their intellect. Generally they will be found to have read little, but to have reflected much. They have had the courage to advance and look the problems of life in the face as did Descartes and PascaL They knew that they could understand truly only that which they themselves discovered or rediscovered through the employment of their own brain. They knew that learning can become positively deleterious if we read habitually without personal exercise of the mind.

I found that a few hours of personal effort spent in the actual study of a question led me much farther along the way of truth than did whole days of reading. What is more, I found that my reading was of greater illumination to my mind when it followed rather than preceded a personal analysis of any problem.

The cult of the fact is the cult of stuff and nonsense.

What is necessary to bring out in history is the struggle of the opprest in the effort to gain greater justice and a higher spiritual life.

You should decide to know the business which is your livelihood, to know it to the bottom so that yon can be an expert in your specialty. Do not allow any man in your specialty to know more than yon do. Study everything that has been done on earth in your specialty. The wise man puts all his eggs in one basket and watches that basket. If he is a coffee merchant his whole attention is given to coffee, if he is a sugar merchant his whole attention is given to sugar and he leaves coffee alone. The only relationship that he maintains between coffee and sugar is when he mixes them in his cup.

Leo XIII possest such a card index which he kept at hand. In this index he recorded, in a kind of shorthand, the conversations held during his audiences. The people whom he received on a second occasion were sometimes amazed when the Pope recalled to them the subject of their previous interview, which dated back perhaps ten years.

The one and only secret of talent and genius is to have confidence in the fruitfulnesa of order and of work and confidence in the collaboration of time. In ibis sense it is true to say that genius is only a long patience and perseverance.

Every professor and every civil service employee can find two or three hours of full intellectual spontaneity which enable him to create great works. Cicero was a lawyer and a politician; Bacon was a minister of state; Rabelais was a physician; Descartes was a soldier; Newton and Herschel were directors of the mint. John Stuart Mill was an employee in the bureau of Indian affairs, and Grote, the historian of Greece, was a banker.

It is rather annoying to recall that the real men of action, the revolutionaries who convince minds, who bring on reforms by making them desired of all and every one, are usually unknown. During the time of their activity the public scene is too noisily occupied by the theatrical type of politician, journalist and popular scribbler.

Each one of us by his example may give more wisdom, more strength, more happiness to others. The influence radiating from a healthy, well-balanced and noble mind is strong and beautiful on those within its contact. All we need in the service of the people is an honest man at the top to have all disloyal hearts stricken with con- science made fearful. Uprightness bears a magnetic influence.

If we look into the depths of things we shall find that the essential value of French genins is its love for work that is well done. Thus it happens that our builders of cathedrals brought scrupulous conscience to their task. They neglected nothing even to the least details, for, if perfection is made up of minor details, perfection itself is not a minor detail. They all worked with such happiness and unselfishness that they never even thought of graving their name in the stone and so their names are unknown to us.