Motivation and Volition


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Emeritus Professor Françoys Gagné's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT) refers to motivation and volition as part of the Intrapersonal Catalyst that impacts on the systematic development of skills.  Motivation is the desire to achieve something, but volition is related to personal values, interests and self-efficacy.  The Medieval Latin term 'volitionem', meaning will, is believed to be the origin of the term volition, which has come to mean the belief that one can achieve something specific and implies deep personal commitment to an outcome.

Research undertaken by Heike Bruch, from the University of St Gallan, Switzerland, and Sumantra Ghoshal, from the London Business School, claim that motivation falls far short of volition in producing purposeful action that is required in order for goals to be achieved. Aristotle maintained that the most effective individual is the one who acts from volition. First comes motivation – the desire to achieve.  Then volition or commitment is required to translate desire into the action needed to achieve a specific goal.  Volition is sometimes used as a synonym for willpower.  Volition is understood to be part of an individual's central executive processes, regulating their thoughts, feelings, and critically, their actions.

Many students are motivated. They have a desire for academic success.  But do they also have the volition required for academic achievement?  Motivation is an emotion, related to hopes, expectation and goals; whereas volition is a conscious act of willpower, a personality trait developed through the establishment of habit, that is related to personal action and control. It is important for students to confront ambivalence.  Does the student really want to achieve a goal?  Incentives are not useful to tip the balance; rather the 'downside' of not achieving a goal should be considered. It is important for students to determine if the goal is desirable and if so, to make the commitment. The question that needs to be asked is whether students will commit and take the action that is necessary to achieve the goal?


Three critical stages of volition have been identified: forming the intention, resolution and protecting the intention. To achieve, Bruch and Ghoshal have identified that it is important to activate emotion, establish commitment, protect intention and support action towards a specific goal. 

Students should be prepared for obstacles and setbacks.  It is important that students understand there are personal costs involved.  Some students may not be willing to undertake the necessary action because they realise the costs (study, hard work, loss of leisure time etc.) that are involved.  These students may opt out because they perceive it is too hard.  Students need to understand that there are choices and that they are making choices – even through inaction.  Freedom to choose is critical to commitment.  Those who choose to commit to attaining a goal understand that it is their personal commitment and their action that has the greatest impact. These students will not be deterred by setbacks or obstacles in their path: “Volition is inspired by obstacles.  Abandoning the task is not an option," maintain Bruch and Ghoshal.

Students, especially those who have perfectionistic or obsessive tendencies, might find it difficult to stop an action that they see as critical to achieving a goal.  Students who succeed understand that structured breaks are essential for sustaining energy and are needed when working toward a specific goal. 

© Michele Juratowitch 

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Last reviewed 04 June 2021
Last updated 04 June 2021