Volition

icaniwillAs assessments loom, motivation is important, but is motivation alone enough to achieve success? Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified that volition is even more important. Sumantra Ghoshal and Heike Bruch’s research, although conducted in a management context, has relevance for students. Volition is the psychological term for willpower. Motivation is the desire to do something, but volition is the absolute commitment to achieve something and implies deep personal commitment to an outcome.

Ghoshal and Bruch 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 is required in order to translate the desire into the action that is needed to achieve the goal.

6 Personality traitsMany students are motivated. They have a desire for academic success. But do they also have the volition required for academic achievement? Will they commit and take the necessary action? Three critical stages of volition have been identified: forming the intention, resolution and protecting the intention.

So how is volition developed? First, visualize the intention or goal. Make this a vivid picture of the goal. Bruch and Ghoshal have identified that this will activate emotion, establish commitment, protect intention and support action towards the goal. It is important at this stage to confront ambivalence. Does the student really want to achieve the goal? Incentives are not useful to tip the balance; rather the ‘downside’ of not achieving a goal should be considered. It is important to determine if the goal is desirable and if so, to make the commitment.

DeterminationStudents should be prepared for obstacles and setbacks. Don’t pretend that attaining the goal will be easy; there are personal costs involved. Some may not be willing to undertake the necessary action because of the costs (study, hard work, loss of leisure time etc.) involved. These students may opt out because it all seems 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.”

Ghoshal and Bruch include a cautionary note. It is important to build in ‘stopping rules’ because volition, once activated, is difficult to stop. Students who have perfectionistic or obsessive tendencies find it difficult to stop the action that they see as critical to achieving a goal. Students must understand that structured breaks are essential for sustaining energy needed when working toward a goal.

© Michele Juratowitch
michele@clearingskies.com.au