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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.