The cultivation of the will, as we may call it, is most important. I have already mentioned how nervousness often makes it impossible for people to know what they should do. They do not know their desires, or even what they should desire. This may be regarded as a weakness of the will that is due to an insufficient control of the ego over the astral body. Some people do not know what they want and, if they do, they never manage to carry it out. Others, still, cannot bring themselves to will firmly what they should.
The way to strengthen one’s will is not necessarily to carry out something one wishes, provided, of course, it will do no harm to leave the wish unfulfilled. Just examine your life and you will find countless desires it would no doubt be nice to satisfy, but equally possible to leave unsatisfied. Fulfillment of them would give you pleasure, but you can quite well do without. If you set out to examine yourself systematically in this way, every restraint will signify additional strength of the will, that is, strength of the ego over the astral body. If we subject ourselves to this procedure in later life, it becomes possible to make good much that has been neglected in our earlier education.
Let me emphasize that it is not easy to apply what has just been described in the education of the child. If a father, for example, denies a wish of his son that he could fulfill, he is apt to awaken the boy’s antipathy. Since it is thus possible to arouse antipathy, you might say that the non- fulfillment of wishes in education is a doubtfully correct principle. What, then, is to be done? The answer is for the person guiding the child or pupil to deny himself the wishes in such a way that the child becomes aware of the denial. There is a strong imitative impulse at work here in the child, especially during the first seven years, and it will soon become evident that he will follow the example of his elders and also deny himself wishes. What is hereby achieved is of untold importance. When, through our interest in anthroposophy, our thoughts are directed in the right way, we come to know spiritual science not only as theory but as a wisdom of life that sustains and carries us forward.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 143 – Overcoming Nervousness – Munich, January 11, 1912
Translated from the German original by R.M. Querido and Gilbert Church