How can I become what I want

“I can because I want what I have to”: Why doesn't that always apply?

In this quote, Immanuel Kant took the position that motivation is sufficient to achieve goals. However, this does not apply to all situations - especially not when professional goals compete with private goals. This lightning bolt shows why you can't always do what you have to, even if you want to.

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Immanuel Kant's quote describes an ideal: Motivation alone is enough to achieve goals. So you just have to want to, then the ability will work all by itself. But everyone knows that this is not always so easy: There is an important professional goal - be it a lecture at a conference or participation in an interesting training course - and you want (that is, want to) do the job really well. But suddenly the professional goal is in competition with alternatives from private life: Exactly on this weekend your best friend is getting married or your children have been promised to go hiking with them. What happens in the event of such conflicts?

Motivational conflicts of action

The theory of motivational action conflicts (Hofer, 2004) describes precisely such situations. Triggered by the change in values, people in our society no longer only strive for performance goals such as prosperity, but also for well-being, satisfaction and leisure. A conflict of action arises when people pursue performance goals on the one hand and the pursuit of wellbeing on the other to the same extent. In certain situations (such as the conference that takes place in parallel with the wedding), striving for a performance goal can hinder the achievement of a goal of wellbeing.

Consequences of Conflicts of Action

There are different consequences when there are goals that are incompatible:

Consequences of Conflicts of Action

  • Postpone: One of the destinations is postponed (e.g. the excursion does not take place until after the conference)
  • Jumping: There is a constant change in the pursuit of goals (e.g. during the preparation for a presentation, friends are repeatedly chatting)
  • Distraction: Thoughts about the non-carried out action lead to a negative mood and reduced attention (e.g. on the way to the wedding you get annoyed about the missed opportunity to advance professionally through further training)

On the one hand, these consequences serve as strategies to regulate conflicts. On the other hand, they are not very functional for the achievement of the performance goals: They can be accompanied by a lack of time, a loss of performance, a negative mood or reduced attention. Therefore, ways must be found how conflicts of action can either be avoided or at least minimized.

possible solutions

It is important for employees to achieve performance goals despite the pursuit of wellbeing; Accordingly, in today's working world, the pursuit of well-being is often reduced in favor of performance goals. This can increase performance in the short term; In the long term, however, well-being and a successful work-life balance are relevant for the satisfaction and health of employees. The following strategies can help balance performance and wellbeing goals:

Create structures to find space for the neglected goal.

You also have to make time for family and leisure activities. With clear work schedules and time frames, routines can enable both goals to be pursued one after the other.

Establish strategies and measures for your own monitoring.

Controlling the achievement of your own goals leads to more efficient work. In addition, if-then rules can be used to reward yourself with leisure activities after achieving a goal.

Make decisions for one of the goals more consciously.

By consistently pursuing the chosen goal, negative consequences of the decision-making situation (e.g. bad mood) are reduced.


Sometimes we want more than we can do (at the same time). In order to reduce the negative consequences of these conflicts of action, it is important not to neglect performance or leisure goals.



Hofer, M. (2004). Students want to learn for school, but they also want to do other things. Journal of Educational Psychology, 18, 79-92.

Hofer, M., Reinders, H., Fries, S., Clausen, M., Schmid, S., & Dietz, F. (2005). The theory of motivational conflicts of action. Journal of Education, 51, 326-341.

Photo credits: © Karl-Ernst Wodzicki

Quote as: Schwind, C. (2012). “I can because I want what I have to”: Why doesn't that always apply? knowledge.blitz (68).