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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

Recovering the value of willpower

In today's society there is an aversion to effort that is already infecting even young children.

Thu, 12 Nov 2015 12:07:00 +0000 Published in El Diario Montañés

Until the middle of the 20th century it was generally believed that the Education is, essentially, Education of the will. This thesis is based on Aristotle, for whom the natural object of the will is the good. The philosopher Nicolas Grimaldi has been faithful to the Aristotelian tradition. He maintains that the will, more than reason, is what is proper to man; he adds that what is most specific to the will constitutes what is most specific to man: "If we will, it is because we verify in our impatience and disappointments that we are not what we ought to be. We experience our being as that of a promise that is not fulfilled. The will testifies to the originally desiderative essence of our being and to the lack of reconciliation of nature with the instantaneous".

The disproportion between the importance traditionally given to the will and its almost complete oblivion in modern educational internship is surprising. The notion of 'will', which had served to explain human behavior for 2,000 years, was lost, being replaced by that of 'motivation'. This meant going from "doing something good even if you don't feel like it" to not doing it if you don't feel like it (if you don't feel motivated). Since then many students have been easy victims of current exaggerations about the role of motivation in learning. It is said that a child, usually very manager, attended one day a lecture on motivation with this message: "It is dangerous to start studying if you don't feel like it". When he returned home, he had the following dialogue with his mother:

- Mom, I'm not going to do my homework today.
- It would be the first time. May I ask why?
- It's very simple: I don't feel motivated.
- Well, today you are going to do your homework unmotivated. You'll see how motivating it is to do your homework.

What are the main causes of this forgetfulness of the will? In my opinion, two. The first is the exaltation of spontaneity. The second is the passive and uncritical receptivity to the new information technologies. It should be added that in today's society there is an aversion to effort that is already infecting even young children. I recently had the following dialogue with one of them:

- Hey handsome, what do you want to be when you grow up (I was expecting the typical and cliché answer: explorer, sailor, airline pilot, etc.)?
- It's very clear to me, buddy. I want to be retired, like grandpa.

Jules Payot, in his work 'L'education de la volonté' (1894), affirms that the main error of the modern systems of Education is to sacrifice the culture of the will to intellectual culture. He adds that when students arrive at university they lack the willpower to take charge of their own training.

Along the same lines, Eugenio D¿Ors maintains that "there is neither Education nor humanism without the exaltation of effort, of tension in every hour and every minute". That is why he proposed "to rehabilitate the value of effort, of pain, of the discipline of the will, linked not to that which pleases, but to that which displeases".

In the 1960s, the American psychologist Walter Mischel devised the so-called 'treat test', with the purpose aim of demonstrating that the level of impulse self-control in children could be predictive of behavior in adulthood. The test was based on this experiment: 1. The researcher tells the child that, if he wants, he can eat a treat that is within reach. 2. The researcher leaves the enclosure after explaining to the child that if he has not eaten the treat when he returns, he will receive another treat (postponing gratification entailed receiving a award).

In his book of the same name degree scroll published in 2015 in Spain, Mischel concludes that people with greater self-control of their impulses are better able to achieve their goals, manage their emotions and be resilient (better able to withstand life's frustrations).

To prevent possible negative attitudes, it is advisable to present effort as something positive. For example: it is natural to make an effort; what is worthwhile is what it costs; life is a problem and struggle is the essential condition for success; the greatest satisfaction is a well-deserved rest.

Willpower is forged by overcoming difficulties. But it is not enough to improve in willpower (even effective gangsters have it); we must also progress in 'good will', which is based on the exercise of virtues.