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Category: Persistence

Common Advice Scientifically Proven To Kill Motivation

Common Advice Scientifically Proven To Kill Motivation

Some people say that to keep your motivation high you need to review your progress frequently.  Others say you should keep your eye on the prize and notice the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

bigstock_Teenage_girl_studying_at_the_d_13025183Is one of these perspectives right and the other wrong?

It turns out that psychologists have studied this question and their answer was surprising to me.

Each of these ways of thinking about your goal can reduce motivation or increase motivation depending on your level of commitment to your goal.

If you are highly committed to your goal, thinking about how much you have left to do called to-go thinking raises motivation but thinking about how much you’ve accomplished — to-date thinking — reduces motivation.

The opposite is true if your level of commitment is uncertain or low.  Thinking about how much you’ve accomplished will raise motivation and how much you have left to do will lower motivation.

One of many studies that demonstrate this point was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In this study researchers had college students who were studying for a core-course exam think about their progress in terms of how much studying they’d done or how much studying they had left to do.

These students were highly committed to getting a good grade on the exam because it was for a core course and those that thought in terms of how far they’d come, had less motivation to study and studied much less than those students who thought in terms of how much work they had left to do.

In the same study another group of college students were assigned time to study for an elective-course exam – this would be something they had low and/or uncertain commitment to.

Some of these students were made to think in terms of how much progress they had made on studying for the exam and others were made to think in terms of how much work they had to do.

And these students experienced the opposite effects of those studying for the core-course exam.

Those thinking about how much work was left to do studied less and reported feeling less motivated.  Those thinking about how much work they’d accomplished felt more motivated and studied for more hours.

But why does thinking about how much work is left to do or has been done have different effects depending on your level of commitment?

Researchers say this is because when you think in terms of how much progress you’ve made on something important to you, it activates a drive to achieve more balance, so you end up spending more time on other goals.

And when your commitment is low or uncertain it’s as if you ask the question “How committed am I?” and you look to your own behavior for evidence of commitment.  If you see that you have been putting time and energy into a goal, you decide that this goal must be important to you.  Thinking about how much is left to do does not provide evidence of commitment and so does not raise your motivation.

So now you know what to do to raise your commitment to your goal if it is low and how to keep your motivation high if you’re already highly committed to achieving your goal.

How will you use this information to get more done and reach your goals?

Leave a comment with your answer below.

Dynamics of self-regulation: How (un)accomplished goal actions affect motivation. Koo, Minjung; Fishbach, Ayelet
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 94(2), Feb 2008, 183-195. doi:

How To Do Anything Better In Just 30 Seconds

How To Do Anything Better In Just 30 Seconds

Would you like to know a simple trick that can allow you to perform better in just a few seconds?

The answer has to do with stereotypes.

In one study researchers Jochim Hansen and Michaela Wänke from the University of Basel decided to test the effects of thinking about stereotypes to see how they affect performance.

Specifically they wanted to know if thinking about stereotypes of skilled people would help improve performance.

So they took college students and had them answer trivial pursuit questions to find their base level of performance in answering general knowledge questions.

They then divided these students into two groups.  One group was asked to write about the typical characteristics of college professors.  Another group was asked to write about cleaning ladies.

They then took another general knowledge test made of trivial pursuit questions.  This time those who thought about college professors got more right and those who thought about cleaning ladies got a lot more wrong.

They determined through a questionnaire that having students think about college professors made them fee more confident about their knowledge base and therefore perform better.

They did another study in which they tested how stereotypes affected persistence.

They had college students hold a hand grip for as long as they can to see how long they would persist on this task.  Then they had half of them do a writing exercise on stereotypes of athletes and the other half write on stereotypes of “permanently unemployed persons.”  Both groups then did another hand grip test.

This time those who thought about athletes held the hand grip about on average about 7 and a half seconds longer than they did before.  Those who thought about unemployed people held the handgrip for 16 fewer seconds than they did before.  Those thinking about athletes got stronger, those thinking about unemployed people got weaker.

So what does this tell us?

To raise your performance quickly and easily think of a general stereotype that has the skills you need.  If it’s knowledge think of college professors.  If you need to be funny think of comedians.

One note of caution though, the stereotypes of people who lacked the skill participants needed – cleaning ladies are thought of as less knowledgeable and the permanently unemployed are thought of as less persistent – had the greatest negative effect on performance.  So avoid thinking about the types of people who lack he skills you need when you’re about to do something important.

Second, other research shows this strategy does not work if you think of a specific person of extremely high ability like Picasso for artistic performance or Michael Jordan for athletic ability – the standard is too high and you may downgrade your self view in comparison to that person.

So when will you use this idea to help yourself?  Leave a comment telling when you’ll use stereotypes to improve your performance.

Reference to the study mentioned in this article:

Jochim Hansen and Michaela Wänke “Think of Capable Others and You Can Make It! Self-Efficacy Mediates the Effect of Stereotype Activation on Behavior” from the journal “Social Cognition”

How To Gain The Critical Mindset Proven By Science To Make You Successful

How To Gain The Critical Mindset Proven By Science To Make You Successful

Did you know that there is a critical mindset that’s proven to make you more successful?  I’ll tell you exactly what it is today and how to develop this mindset.

This critical mindset was discovered by Carol Dweck of Stanford Univeristy.  She found that how you think about abilities like intelligence—whether they can be developed or are fixed can influence how successful you are for the rest of your life.

She calls the belief that abilities are fixed the fixed mindset and the belief that abilities can be developed with effort and learning new strategies that growth mindset.

In one of many studies that show this effect, two groups of seventh graders were divided into two groups to see whether teaching about the growth mindset would make a difference to their grades.

Both groups were given eight weeks of instruction. One group was taught study skills in a workshop format.  Another group was taught through citing scientific studies that the brain is like a muscle and that it’s connections grow and develop as we learn.  As a result, they came to believe that their intelligence could be developed.

Their grades in math – one of the most challenging subjects for middle-schoolers – were measured before the workshop and weeks later.  Only the students taught that intelligence can improve with effort had better grades.  The other students experienced a decline in math grades (something that is very common with middle-school students).

The teachers of both groups of students knew they were in a special program but didn’t know exactly what they were being taught.  However, they started sending in reports about changes they noticed in some students.  Here are just a few quotes from the teachers of the growth mindset students.

Jimmy, who never puts in any extra effort and often doesn’t turn in homework on time, actually stayed up late working for hours to finish an assignment early so i could review it and give him a chance to revise it.  He earned a B+ on the assignment (he had been getting C’s and lower).

Here’s another:

M. was far below grade level.  During the past several weeks, she has voluntarily asked for extra help from me during her lunch period in order to improve her test-taking performance.  Her grades drastically improved from failing to an 84 on the most recent exam.

A Way To Develop The Growth Mindset

So how can you change your mindset (if you need to)?

Unfortunately, when you’re an adult merely learning that the brain can grow and change may not be enough to get rid of years of believing that abilities are fixed.  However, there are some strategies from another intervention using self-persuasion theory that may be helpful.

Try answering these questions and sharing your answers with others in written or verbal form.

1.  What are at least three reasons why it is important to realize that people can develop their abilities? Include implications for yourself, your family, friends and co-workers.

2.  What is an area in which you once had low ability, but now perform quite well? How were you able to make this change?

3.  Write an email to an imaginary person who is struggling in life with advice to help them improve, include anecdotes about how you have personally dealt with developmental challenges.

4.  Identify three instances in which (a) you observed someone learning to do something they were convinced they could NEVER do, (b) why do you think this occurred? And (c) what may have been the implications.

Each of these questions is based on different psychological theories about how people change their beliefs.  To go into the four different theories to explain why these questions are so useful would make this post too long.

However, if you try them, you will experience a shift in your mindset especially if you share your responses with others.

What do you think about the growth mindset?  Leave me your comments below.

Reference to study above:

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., and Dweck, C.S. 2007. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development 78 (1): 246-263.

Dweck’s book that describes the life-changing results of developing the growth mindset in more detail than I ever could on this blog.

Dweck CS 2006. Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

How To Increase Persistence In 60 Seconds

How To Increase Persistence In 60 Seconds

Would you like to know how to increase your persistence in just a few seconds?

Research done by Ronald Friedman and Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester shows how.

They asked two groups of people to solve an unsolvable anagram.  One group was asked to place their hands on their thighs.  The other group was asked to cross their arms.

The ‘hands on thighs’ group spent only 30 seconds on the anagram.  The ‘arms crossed’ group spent 55 seconds – nearly twice as long.

Friedman and Elliot reason that this effect may occur because over time we’ve come to associate arm-crossing with persistence.  As a result, arm crossing actually stimulates us to become persistent.

However these two researchers also caution though that crossing your arms may only produce this persistence effect in achievement situations because body position can have different meanings in different contexts.

For example, I suspect that in social situations, this arm movement may cause unwanted effects such as stubbornness or close-mindedness because that is how many people perceive arm-crossing when in a social environment.

So next time you feel a need for a persistence boost when working on a challenging project, or you’re tempted to throw in the towel when things get too tough, try crossing your arms.  This simple act may make a world of difference.

When will you use this idea?  Tell me when and how you’ll use this simple technique in the comments below.

Reference to study mentioned above:

European Journal of Social Psychology
Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 38, 449–461 (2008)