Motivation vs. Willpower: What’s Stronger?

Motivation vs. Willpower: What’s Stronger?

What pushes you to get from Point A to Point B?



I wasn’t one of those kids whose parents forced her to do homework; I just did them. Of course I needed help once in a while, but I was a pretty self-motivated student. Alternatively, I have a brother whose study habits were nothing short of admirable. He got through law school and passed the bar because he put in the time and effort, despite law never having been his passion or goal or dream. 


I got things done and he got things done. I had motivation; my brother had willpower. 


But in terms of goal actualization, is motivation better than willpower? 



Motivation increases your desire to take action.

Willpower is forcing yourself to take action.


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According to the American Psychological Association, willpower can be seen as a muscle, one that can be strengthened over time. However, it’s important to note that willpower, no matter how strong, is finite and does deplete when overworked. The group suggests to tap into motivation when you need to kick some reserves into gear. 


Furthermore, while it’s been understood for years that different factors, such as fatigue and an improper diet, can cause willpower to deplete, more recent research suggests that present experiences and current feelings must also be considered. Basically, the study adds attention, mindset and motivation as factors that affect one’s willpower. 


If we’re looking at how motivation specifically influences willpower, it is in how much and how often we’re enticed to act a certain way. Think of willpower like you would think of energy; once you exert yourself in the morning, you are less likely to want to (ie, you are less motivated to) exert the same amount in the afternoon.



When a smoker wants to quit, it is his willpower that stops him from lighting today’s first stick. But when the stress is on and the nerves come in, it will be motivation that keeps him away. It will be the thought of not being able to play with his son or her health problems that will bridge the gap when willpower starts to lack. 


When a morning meeting drains your willpower to focus, it will be the motivation you get from the project you’re working on that will keep you onboard throughout the afternoon. When a student is tired from reading and working out equations, it will be the motivation of a career that will push them. 


Willpower gets you from Point A to Point B, but motivation is what fuels the ride when the gaslight is on. The two are not opposing ideas; they complement each other. 



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All this said, motivation doesn’t just fall into someone’s lap; we all have tasks that need to get done whether or not we’re “feeling it.” So, no, all these new studies don’t actually mean we can lay around and just wait for inspiration to hit—it’s still willpower that keeps us moving. Point B, after all, is still Point B. And unlike motivation, you can actually work on willpower. 


Oddly enough, research suggests that seemingly menial activities, such as consciously correcting posture and writing with one’s non-dominant hand, can positively strengthen willpower. Other suggestions include carrying around something tempting (and resisting), being more mindful of “automatic decisions” and meditation. 


Motivation and willpower: both powerful, one more necessary. 



Art Alexandra Lara

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