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Volitional Types

Several fairly well-marked volitional types may be discovered. It is, of
course, to be understood that these types all grade by insensible
degrees into each other, and that extreme types are the exception rather
than the rule.

THE IMPULSIVE TYPE.--The impulsive type of will goes along with a
nervous organism of the hair-trigger kind. The brain is in a state of
highly unstable equilibrium, and a relatively slight current serves to
set off the motor centers. Action follows before there is time for a
counteracting current to intervene. Putting it in mental terms, we act
on an idea which presents itself before an opposing one has opportunity
to enter the mind. Hence the action is largely or wholly ideo-motor and
but slightly or not at all deliberate. It is this type of will which
results in the hasty word or deed, or the rash act committed on the
impulse of the moment and repented of at leisure; which compels the
frequent, I didn't think, or I would not have done it! The impulsive
person may undoubtedly have credited up to him many kind words and noble
deeds. In addition, he usually carries with him an air of spontaneity
and whole-heartedness which goes far to atone for his faults. The fact
remains, however, that he is too little the master of his acts, that he
is guided too largely by external circumstances or inward caprice. He
lacks balance.

Impulsive action is not to be confused with quick decision and rapid
action. Many of the world's greatest and safest leaders have been noted
for quickness of decision and for rapidity of action in carrying out
their decisions. It must be remembered, however, that these men were
making decisions in fields well known to them. They were specialists in
this line of deliberation. The motives for and against certain lines of
action had often been dwelt upon. All possible contingencies had been
imaged many times over, and a valuation placed upon the different
decisions. The various concepts had long been associated with certain
definite lines of action. Deliberation under such conditions can be
carried on with lightning rapidity, each motive being checked off as
worth so much the instant it presents itself, and action can follow
immediately when attention settles on the proper motive to govern the
decision. This is not impulse, but abbreviated deliberation. These
facts suggest to us that we should think much and carefully over matters
in which we are required to make quick decisions.

Of course the remedy for the over-impulsive type is to cultivate
deliberative action. When the impulse comes to act without
consideration, pause to give the other side of the question an
opportunity to be heard. Check the motor response to ideas that suggest
action until you have reviewed the field to see whether there are
contrary reasons to be taken into account. Form the habit of waiting for
all evidence before deciding. Think twice before you act.

THE OBSTRUCTED WILL.--The opposite of the impulsive type of will is the
obstructed or balky will. In this type there is too much inhibition,
or else not enough impulsion. Images which should result in action are
checkmated by opposing images, or do not possess vitality enough as
motives to overcome the dead weight of inertia which clogs mental
action. The person knows well enough what he should do, but he cannot
get started. He cannot get the consent of his will. It may be the
student whose mind is tormented by thoughts of coming failure in
recitation or examination, but who yet cannot force himself to the
exertion necessary safely to meet the ordeal. It may be the dissolute
man who tortures himself in his sober moments with remorse and the
thought that he was intended for better things, but who, waking from his
meditations, goes on in the same old way. It may be the child undergoing
punishment, who is to be released from bondage as soon as he will
promise to be good, but who cannot bring himself to say the necessary
words. It not only may be, but is, man or woman anywhere who has ideals
which are known to be worthy and noble, but which fail to take hold. It
is anyone who is following a course of action which he knows is beneath

No one can doubt that the moral tragedies, the failures and the
shipwrecks in life come far more from the breaking of the bonds which
should bind right ideals to action than from a failure to perceive the
truth. Men differ far more in their deeds than in their standards of

The remedy for this diseased type of will is much easier to prescribe
than to apply. It is simply to refuse to attend to the contrary thoughts
which are blocking action, and to cultivate and encourage those which
lead to action of the right kind. It is seeking to vitalize our good
impulses and render them effective by acting on them whenever
opportunity offers. Nothing can be accomplished by moodily dwelling on
the disgrace of harboring the obstructing ideas. Thus brooding over them
only encourages them. What we need is to get entirely away from the line
of thought in which we have met our obstruction, and approach the matter
from a different direction. The child who is in a fit of sulks does not
so much need a lecture on the disagreeable habit he is forming as to
have his thoughts led into lines not connected with the grievance which
is causing him the trouble. The stubborn child does not need to have his
will broken, but rather to have it strengthened. He may be compelled
to do what he does not want to do; but if this is accomplished through
physical force instead of by leading to thoughts connected with the
performance of the act, it may be doubted whether the will has in any
degree been strengthened. Indeed it may rather be depended upon that the
will has been weakened; for an opportunity for self-control, through
which alone the will develops, has been lost. The ultimate remedy for
rebellion often lies in greater freedom at the proper time. This does
not mean that the child should not obey rightful authority promptly and
explicitly, but that just as little external authority as possible
should intervene to take from the child the opportunity for

THE NORMAL WILL.--The golden mean between these two abnormal types of
will may be called the normal or balanced will. Here there is a
proper ratio between impulsion and inhibition. Ideas are not acted upon
the instant they enter the mind without giving time for a survey of the
field of motives, neither is action sicklied o'er with the pale cast of
thought to such an extent that it becomes impossible. The evidence is
all considered and each motive fully weighed. But this once done,
decision follows. No dilatory and obstructive tactics are allowed. The
fleeting impulse is not enough to persuade to action, neither is action
unduly delayed after the decision is made.

Next: Training The Will

Previous: Strong And Weak Wills

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