“The difference between what we are doing and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Like many Gandhi quotes, this one is very thought provoking. It does beg the question as to why we are not doing what we are capable of. One reason is lack of volition. Volition wasn’t a word in my vocabulary until recently, and it may be new to you too. Darren Hardy was talking about volition when he said, “Commitment is doing the thing you said you would do, long after the mood you said it in has left you”.
I my latest book on Learning Transfer I talk about how important both motivation and volition are as factors. If either is missing, learning transfer is unlikely. As a concept, volition used to be lumped in together with motivation, but it is more useful to separate these two ideas.
• Motivation is a state, an emotion, and is largely unconscious whereas volition refers to a conscious act of free will that is more like a trait
• Motivation drives the process of goal selection whereas volition concerns how we self-regulate in the pursuit of that goal
• Think of it as the difference between ‘I want’ and ‘I MUST’
• Motivation is more ephemeral than volition
Motivation is often triggered by external stimuli or the expectation of a reward, but such motivation is susceptible to change. More attractive opportunities may emerge, or obstacles may appear that make the reward seem too small. We also use temporal discounting so that a big reward in the future can seem smaller than a small, immediate reward, and we get seduced by the more immediate benefit, which may be the comfort of lapsing back into old habits.
Volition, however, implies deep personal attachment to an intention, which leads to a determination to achieve it. Learning transfer needs both motivation and volition from all the stakeholders, not just the learner. How can you bake intention protection into your learning programme?
Once, when I was in a class at the gym the instructor urged us to use slightly heavier weights than we would normally use. He said, “There is no change without challenge”. This philosophy doesn’t extend to all areas of life, but it does apply well beyond the gym and is a factor in learning transfer.
The problem is that challenge usually brings with it some form of discomfort, and we naturally shy away from discomfort. The discomfort of the pain of exercising at your limits; the discomfort of feeling hungry on a diet; the discomfort of withdrawal from something we have grown used to but want to stop; the discomfort of a difficult conversation with a team member the discomfort of saying you don’t know in front of peers; or the discomfort of trying and failing.
All too often we give up on our goal when the discomfort kicks in. When the going gets tough, getting tough to handle it requires volition.