The feeling when you know that you should do something that you do not feel like doing.

You feel reluctance when you have to do something that you don’t feel like doing. For instance, when you remember you still have to do the dishes, when you have to spend money on a necessary car repair, or when friends urge you to tell an embarrassing story. Although these examples are quite different, they follow the same principle: there is an activity that is unpleasant, but that you have to engage in for reasons that are more important than the displeasure. The opposite is also possible; sometimes we refrain from doing something that is pleasant, but we know we shouldn’t do, such as speeding, skipping the line, or eating a whole cake.

There are several ways in which both parts of this principle can play out. The activity can be unpleasant because it requires effort (e.g., getting up early in the morning), because it requires resources (e.g., spending money on repairs), because you expect it to become long and boring (e.g., having to go on a long drive alone), or because there may be negative emotions involved (e.g., having to ask your friend to lend you money).

There are also several possible reasons why the activity has to be done. You may be following certain rules (e.g., doing your taxes; having to wait in line) or social norms (e.g., cleaning up the house), you may be following the wishes of someone with authority (e.g., doing a chore for your boss), you may be pleasing someone else (e.g., telling an embarrassing story to your insisting friends), or you may be favoring a long-term goal over your current pleasure (e.g., brushing your teeth).

In each of these cases, there is an inner conflict between your immediate pleasure and a longer-term goal that is typically more important, but also more abstract. As infants, people are initially only guided by their immediate pleasure, but as they grow up, they learn to aim for these less immediate goals – albeit sometimes grudgingly.

In the comic, Murphy is finally ready to get some of his work done, when he finds a note from his boss, urging him to type out all the notes from this morning’s meeting – a chore he despises.

Movie clips


Typical expressions

“Do I really have to do this?”

“Not now, please.”

Murphy's bad day

Comparisons with other emotions

Reluctance & Boredom

Boredom and reluctance are both caused by a lack of engagement with an activity. However, boredom is directed at the current activity, whereas reluctance is mostly directed at a future or imagined activity. For instance, someone may feel reluctant when he remembers he still has to do laundry, and subsequently feel bored while he is doing it. Consequently, someone can be engaged in a very enjoyable activity and feel strong reluctance to end this activity. This person is feeling reluctant, but not bored.