Willpower vs. Motivation in creating change

In order to create changes in our habits, there needs to be starting point. The starting point is why do I need to change or create a new habit. What is the reason behind the change? Let’s assume that we have the reason for the desired change. How do we go about achieving this change?

There are basically 2 enablers of behaviour creation or modification and they are:

  1. Motivation: the reason or desire to do something
  2. Willpower: a combination of determination and self-discipline that enables someone to do something

What is the difference? The difference lies in “feeling” and “duration”.

Motivation is a feeling that comes up when we want to start something out of excitement but its duration to carry that “feeling” over a period of time is unreliable. For example, new year resolution, everyone who has ever created a new year resolution starts out extremely motivated. Each resolution is carried out with great excitement and anticipation and off they go. However, as time passes and when it gets hard or things get busy and distractions come along, the “feeling” of motivation subsides and passes away. There is no longevity with motivation.

Willpower on the other hand is about determination and self-discipline to not just start something but to complete it. In order to complete any difficult task or activity, there needs to be a determined decision to do it and the discipline to see it through. Without which nothing worthwhile will come out of it. Think of any successful person and the basic characteristic that they will have is sheer willpower to get something done.

For you and I, I think that we need both. We need motivation get us started and we need willpower to keep on going until the finish line. In order to change or create new habits, we need motivation (why we want to change) and then willpower (determination and self-discipline) to carry out the process of change over a period of time until it becomes automatic. In some cases it might take 30 days and with some changes even longer than that. The duration of change is all dependent on the degree of change that you are aiming for.

Motivation gets the ball rolling. When motivation is high, we require less willpower but when the motivation is low, we need more willpower to continue the process of change. It is therefore important to note the role that both motivation and willpower play and how to harness either one for the achievement of any change.

Think about:

  • What is your motivation for change?
  • What values is it aligned with?
  • What goals does it help you to accomplish?
  • What do you find hardest with previous endeavors to change?
  • What worked in the past in help you make behavioural changes?

Next, we will explore willpower as key to creating lasting change.


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