I’ve been thinking about language lately – a weird little hobby of mine. Spiritual direction training, dreamwork, and coach training all taught me to pay attention to how words are tossed about or turned in phrases. The unconscious frequently spits out what we actually mean before we realize we mean it. But my fascination was there long before – I’ve always been able to totally geek out with a dictionary or thesaurus.

Take the word force, for example. So many directions you can take with it. It can be a noun (like a labor force) or a verb (like force to admit). It can conjure connections to physics or visions of violence. Poetic (”She’s a force of nature!”) or legalistic (”force majeure”). And, of course, no proper discussion of it would be complete without “May the Force be with you.”

Its origins are either from the Latin, fortis or the Old Norse, fors, meaning “strong” or “powerful.” Ultimately, it comes from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰerǵʰ- (“to rise, high, hill”). See how much fun this is, y’all?

OK, I’ll hush and get to my point.

The way I hear it used most often these days is in that white-knuckle, frustration-induced way, “I just have to force myself to do it!” aligning with yet another definition:

to make something happen or make someone do something difficult, unpleasantor unusual, especially by threatening or not offering the possibility of choice.”

Which begs the question, why would anyone want to do that to themselves?

Weirdly, while we would likely criticize (even find abhorrent) someone forcing someone else to do a thing, culturally, we seem to celebrate it in the individual:

  • “Look at Fergus go; he’s forced himself to get to the gym every day this week – what willpower!” or
  • “I’m forcing myself to get to bed by ten every night.” (implied desired response, ”You go, girl!”)

The trouble is, force of any stripe has limitations (rumor has it even Yoda lost his connection to it).

Aside: I fell down a curious combination of a Reddit rabbit hole and a conversation with my son* about how all the Jedi disconnected from their spirituality and, in turn, weakened their ability to deploy the Force. It’s theory, and a little fan conjecture, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider that when we lose touch with the Bigger Meaning of our actions (however that loss may occur), we decrease the ability to deploy our strengths in the ways we wish. It’s all archetypal, a reason the whole Star Wars canon resonates with so many people.


A GIF of Yoda looking down to the ground.
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Difficult, consistency is.


But back to our story – forcing a habit or task only gets one so far. It’s not sustainable. And if we go back to the earlier definition, there is, in fact, a possibility of choice with things we want to accomplish. Do or do not, and all that jazz.

People come to me because they’re choosing the latter more than they would like, and we’re back to our old decision-making conundrum. Maybe what’s not being said is, “I don’t trust myself to decide to do this thing and follow through, so please force me. Hold my feet to the fire.” Let’s dress it up and call it accountability.

But is there any other way to consider getting the seemingly out-of-reach habits and consistency in place? I think there are many, but since I’m sticking with this particular word, let’s return to that old Latin stuff: “strong.” Being strong implies strength. What are your strengths? Even older – “to rise.” I wonder if we considered force in the sense of rising up, looking from a higher perspective, and using our strengths, we might be able to approach what we want with a different context?

It might play out like this – say you want to establish a daily meditation habit, but every morning, you (consciously or unconsciously) think, “Ugh, I have to get out of bed and sit still!” So of course, you hit snooze. Once or twice, you do manage to drag yourself out and sit with your app for a few minutes, but overall results are disappointing. You decide to use more force and willpower, put the alarm clock across the room, and tell your spouse to harass you if you don’t move. These tactics result in one or two more tries, but the situation feels irritating and defeating. The more you focus on force, the less willing you are to make a move.

Why do you even want to meditate? Because someone (Oprah? the world? ) told you you should? Or because you suspect it might help your stress levels, your ability to pause, and give you greater access to present-moment awareness? Or maybe even because you’d like to be less stressed and more present for your kids? Or maybe, maybe…because you once kept a habit of it before (pre-kids, pre-mortgage, pre-Guinea Pigs) and you know how it felt. It was good – you’d sort of forgotten how good.

You also know you have a strength of perseverance – it shows up all the time when you’re playing corn hole, or doing research for things like blog posts. It’s within you, and now it has the potential to be channeled towards a different sort of force. You return to some old handouts you got at a mindfulness workshop, and you remember some things. Pulling all of this stuff together, the next time the alarm goes off it’s a little easier. You can get up less reluctantly and appreciate your follow-through without the added guilt.

Easier written than done, I acknowledge. My meanderings here may be an oversimplified version of the old Dale Carnegie “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive,” idea. But wouldn’t it be worth exploring some different shades of meaning with whatever you’re hoping to do? What if you could turn brute force into an encouraging** force for good?

May your Strengths be with you.


*Special thanks to Wyatt Skillen and his expert knowledge of things like midichlorians, the Jedi genocide, and Order 66.

**Another cool word – “en-courage” – to hearten, make strong, to give courage (which comes from the French, “corage” or Latin, “cor,” meaning heart).