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April 29, 2009

“There is no magical stuff inside you called willpower that should somehow override nature.”  (James Rosen)


“Willpower as an independent cause of behavior is a myth.”  (Michael Love)


[Quoted in The Mind & The Brain:  Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force]


It is hard to believe that there are psychologists, as both of these men are, who do not believe that willpower exists – that every thought we have and action we take is deducible to neurological reactions to stimuli over which we exert no control whatsoever. 


How, then, would such psychologists explain the choice not to react to stimuli?  There are plenty of times when I feel an urge to do something but decide not to, such as grab a student’s pencil and say, “this is how you do it, remember?” after I’ve gone over a formula with him or her a dozen or more times.  I am not a patient person by nature, but through willpower – through focused reflection on the consequences of not being patient with students – I have become an extremely patient teacher.  It does not come naturally for me, it comes through consciously thinking to myself, “It is not this student’s fault that he or she doesn’t understand the formula; it is more likely my fault for not explaining it clearly, or a previous teacher’s fault for contributing to this student’s apprehension about math.”


The answer is that there is no scientific disproof of willpower, just as there is no scientific disproof for God (or gods). 


It would be easier to believe that all of our thoughts and actions are the consequence of genes and our environment because if that were the case, nobody would be responsible for his or her actions.  But it would also mean that nobody could redirect his or her path in life.


I, for one, sure don’t believe in biological determinism.  I believe that I determine my thoughts and actions.  Even if external stimuli prompt certain programmed reactions, I have the ability to choose to allow those reactions or to suppress them and supplant them with other actions of my choosing. 


Willpower.  The ability to follow through with the words “I will” is power.


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One Comment
  1. Amen to that! 🙂

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