(Estimated reading time: 4 minutes)
Have you ever heard about willpower being a finite resource? The idea was first construed by a group of psychologists led by Roy F. Baumeister. It became a very popular theory published in 1998, cited almost 3,000 times. But it has since been debunked, read this in-depth article on Slate if you would like to learn more. In fact, some even say that willpower is actually infinite if you believe it is. It sounds crazy, I know.
However, I’m not going to debate about whether willpower is a finite resource or not. I want to talk about willpower versus willingness, something that I thought might actually shift our perspective of completing tasks, goals and even our purpose in life. Before we proceed on, let us define willpower and willingness and differentiate them from each other.
In my view, willpower is somewhat a resource – it is something like a fuel to a car. But one thing’s for sure, willpower is psychological and it is a renewable resource. As to whether it is finite or infinite, I would prefer not to tread on those grounds because I’m not exactly the most qualified to do so. So let’s just look at willpower being some sort of fuel our minds produce to keep our bodies moving. “I can do it because I need to do it to survive.”
Willingness on the other hand, is not a resource but rather an ability, simply because it is not easily determined on a simple scale of 1 to 10. So, what do I mean by that? In a situation where you are trying to complete a task, as long as you have the slightest feeling of unwillingness, it will be evident through your attitude and efforts. No matter how much willpower you have, the task will always seem to have some sort of difficulty. If you are willing to do something, it doesn’t matter how daunting the task is, you want to do it. “I want to do it because I believe in it.”
The difference between willpower and willingness
Take for example a car, its fuel tank is filled to the brim so that should mean that it can easily travel a far distance, right? But the roads are not always straight and flat like the highway, there are bumps and slopes and obstacles. Willingness is our ability to manoeuvre the obstacles on the journey, making the decisions to turn or drive up a slope.
Without the driver’s conscious decision (willingness) to turn the steering wheel or to step on the accelerator pedal, no amount of fuel will move the car. Any person with a huge amount of willpower, whether it is finite or infinite, would not be able to work towards his or her purpose in life without the conscious decision (willingness) to move towards it or a certain direction.
Willpower is a renewable resource, as I’ve mentioned earlier. And our minds – with ample rest or positive events and feelings – are able to constantly pump out the willpower required for us to go through the day. Willingness, on the other hand, is not a renewable resource but rather, a desire. Willingness is only present if the mind wishes. Willpower helps the body survive; willingness is what makes the person thrive. Willpower is like “I can do it” while willingness is like “I want to do it”.
Travel far, don’t travel a long distance (unnecessarily)
Willingness is a person wanting to achieve a certain purpose while willpower keeps the person going. If you are willing, you will eventually reach your end goal or purpose – the willpower comes naturally with willingness. Whereas if you are not willing to achieve it, no amount of willpower will point you in the right direction. You need to be willing to put in the hours of hard work and pain to inch slowly towards your goal and purpose.
A fully-filled car can certainly travel a longer distance than a half-filled car but that doesn’t mean a half-filled car can’t travel a farther distance than a fully-filled car. The key here is to travel towards your goal and purpose, which is undoubtedly far away, instead of travelling on the road aimlessly for long periods of time to nowhere. Of course, above all, you have to establish a specific goal and purpose. Hint: if you don’t even know why you are doing what you are doing, that’s probably not your purpose. So find your goal and purpose in life, work towards it and achieve it. It’s never too late to start but now is the time.