What, then, is the practical application of the Conative Domain in one’s life? Why does it matter that psychologists have been interested in this energy-related phenomenon of human behavior for centuries?

    In the classic science-fiction book for young readers, A Wind in the Door, Charles Wallace’s mitochondria are dying because the Farandolae won’t “deepen.”  Most young readers have no idea what mitochondria are, but in this gripping tale of the struggle between good and evil, there is no doubt that without his mitochondria, Charles Wallace will die.


    Mitochondria is not a weird idea dreamed up by science fiction writers. You can even check it out on Wikipedia. According to Carter (2009), a mitochondrion can be called the cell’s “power station” since one of its functions is to produce chemical energy from the processing of sugar or fat molecules for our bodies to use on an on-going basis. The role of mitochondria in the support of human life cannot be overstated.


    But, how do we help young people appreciate the amazing phenomenon of their own human energy? It is easy to take our energy for granted, and we don’t necessarily consider our own energy needs until something goes wrong – physically, mentally or emotionally. “Machine maintenance” is not something that appears to come naturally to many of us even though we know that embracing a healthy life-style will serve us well as we age.


    Conative capacity is a concept that describes the strength of an individual’s striving process.  A person with a weak striving process rarely sets goals and does not follow through on plans that he/she makes. In contract, an individual with a strong conative capacity usually makes plans to reach clear goals and works intentionally to finish his/her work by the deadline. Striving is the process of well-focused personal energy utilization.


    If middle and high school students are to grasp something called “personal energy utilization,” “conative capacity” or even this multi-faceted thing we call “life,” they could benefit from an explicit model that conveys the relationship between striving and life.  “Conative Capacity in Action” (see Figure 3) can help them understand the place of striving in the world as they experience it.

    Figure 3

    The model begins by distinguishing between the External World of things and personal relationships and the Internal World of concepts, ideas and self-understanding.


    Both the External and the Internal Worlds can be characterized by Structure and Synergy. The result of linking Structure and Synergy with both the External and Internal Worlds produces four areas: the External World of Structure, the External World of Synergy, the Internal World of structure and the Internal World of Synergy. On the structure side of the model are listed specific skills that can help a person organize and manage both things and concept/ideas.  On the Synergy side of the model are listed skills that can help a person deal more effectively with interpersonal relationships and the daunting task of managing oneself. The four life skill areas have been labeled:

    1) Organization and Management Skills (Planning and Follow-through);

    2) Interpersonal Skills (Social Sensitivity);

    3) Metacognitive Skills (Intellectual Capability); and

    4) Intrapersonal Skills (Emotional Stability).


    To understand, students examine their own striving process as it is enacted in each of the four areas. They consider the levels of their own conative capacity in each area and are asked to reflect on how additional skill development in these areas might help them become  more successful at school and in other areas of their lives. Students consider how they handle situations where competence in creating structure and/or synergy is called for and how proficient they are in making use of appropriate skills that can lead to success in those situations. Specific skills are noted in each of the four skill areas identified in Figure 3, and students can be encouraged to self-monitor their use of any of the specific skills as needed.


    Capitalizing on one of the definitions of Conation: e.g. “…trying, striving, endeavoring, paying keen attention, making an effort, working hard, doing our utmost, exerting ourselves, concentrating all our energies, in technical terms, we are manifesting conation.” (McDougall, 1932), students can be taught the intentional processes of setting goals and monitoring their own behavior in order to reach their goals.


    Success in this kind of endeavor will develop pride in work accomplished and a willingness to risk to do and learn more. That self-actualizing process certainly is part of what education is supposed to be all about!


    Learning how to strive through managing their own behavior will enable students to become successful in their classroom experiences (work and social interactions).  In addition, self-regulation skill development should enhance their potential for success as they journey through their own maturational development life-process. Conative Capacity “counts” and is an essential contributor to success in both school and life.


    Copyright © 2014 Kathryn S. Atman, Ph. D.

    Last Updated (Monday, 19 May 2014 12:29)