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Understanding Willingness

by Robert G. Waldvogel


Two adages come to mind about the concept of willingness, whether a person wishes to harness it for recovery and self-improvement in twelve-step programs or for a multitude of other life endeavors—namely, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” and “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Willingness, especially in the former case, implies—like the proverbial horse—that a person is not forced to walk into fellowship venues, but instead does so out of his own volition and desire, wholeheartedly submitting to and extracting the most he can out of the process. This seems valid in light of yet another adage: “You only get out of something what you put into it.”

The dynamic at play here is that how much of yourself—which includes your will—you invest in something—again, recovery or otherwise—will be outcome-determinant.

Willingness can be equated to self-submission. It underscores the difference between active and passive states. The more you invest yourself in something, the greater will be the reward.

Twelve-step meeting attendees who just sit and observe are less likely to gain and grow than those who share and occasionally assume other service positions, such as meeting chair.

“The Al-Anon program works to the extent that I am open, honest, and willing, each of which is an important component for a humble state of learning,” a member wrote in Al-Anon’s Hope for Today text (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 2002, p. 16). “Being teachable means that I admit that I don’t know it all.”

Motivation can be measured by the extend that a person puts his “heart-and-soul” into whatever he does.

Recovery, particularly, can consist of a three-part process.

1. Physically attending meetings.

2. Investing your will and effort while in them.

3. Aligning that will with your Higher Power’s so that you can create a seamless, collaborative connection.

The latter is tantamount to gradual improvement and ultimate success.

After a concerted effort to cultivate a garden, which eventually produced a bountiful crop, another Hope for Today share stated (ibid, p. 202), “An admiring neighbor commented on what a glorious harvest God had provided. The man replied dryly that he should see the garden when God is the only one doing any of the work.’

“The story,” the testimonial continues, “tells me that I need to want to get well, and then I need to be willing to take some action…before I can make progress in my recovery.”

In the end, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” means that God is that way and when He is harnessed, improvement results.

Robert G. Waldvogel has earned the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Behavioral Health for Late Adolescence and the Emerging Adult and a Postgraduate Certificate in the Fundamentals of Cognitive Behavioral Treatment at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work. He has led Twelve-Step support groups on Long Island for the past decade, and created the Adult Child Recovery-through-Writing, and the Strengthening Our Spirituality Programs taught at the Thrive Recovery Community and Outreach Center in Westbury. He is a frequent contributor to Wisdom Magazine.


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Elizabeth Joyce
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