Tag Archives: motivation

To Complete Goals, Concentrate on ‘The Big Picture’ (Not Subgoals)

To help con­trol and man­age pro­gress on a dif­fi­cult or long-term goal, we often split that goal into many indi­vidu­al sub­goals. Once we begin to com­plete these sub­goals, our con­tin­ued motiv­a­tion and pro­gress toward the main, or super­or­din­ate, goal can be com­prom­ised.

A study pub­lished in the Journ­al of Per­son­al­ity and Social Psy­cho­logy in 2006 shows that by put­ting people in mind of their sub­goal suc­cesses or on their main goal com­mit­ment causes drastic dif­fer­ences in their future effort (the lat­ter is bet­ter):

The authors show that when people con­sider suc­cess on a single sub­goal, addi­tion­al actions toward achiev­ing a super­or­din­ate goal are seen as sub­sti­tutes and are less likely to be pur­sued. In con­trast, when people con­sider their com­mit­ment to a super­or­din­ate goal on the basis of ini­tial suc­cess on a sub­goal, addi­tion­al actions toward achiev­ing that goal may seem to be com­ple­ment­ary and more likely to be pur­sued.

via Derek Sivers (Yep, via the post I linked-to in my pre­vi­ous post. I felt that this needed its own post as I wanted to provide a bal­anced view on the study, not just say­ing, some­what incor­rectly, “suc­cess on one sub-goal […] reduced efforts on oth­er import­ant sub-goals”.)

For Motivation, Keep Goals Secret

Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom for set­ting goals and fol­low­ing through on inten­tions is to make a pub­lic state­ment of intent in order to bring about some account­ab­il­ity. How­ever the research on the the­ory is mixed.

Derek Sivers sum­mar­ises a num­ber of stud­ies that sug­gest we should keep our goals private if we want to remain motiv­ated (espe­cially if that goal is con­trib­ut­ing to a per­ceived or hoped-for ‘iden­tity’):

Announ­cing your plans to oth­ers sat­is­fies your self-iden­tity just enough that you’re less motiv­ated to do the hard work needed.

In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a per­son announced the solu­tion to a prob­lem, and was acknow­ledged by oth­ers, it was now […] a “social real­ity”, even if the solu­tion hadn’t actu­ally been achieved.

NYU psy­cho­logy pro­fess­or Peter Goll­witzer has been study­ing this since his 1982 book Sym­bol­ic Self-Com­ple­tion (pdf art­icle here) – and recently pub­lished res­ults of new tests in a research art­icle, When Inten­tions Go Pub­lic: Does Social Real­ity Widen the Inten­tion-Beha­vi­or Gap?

Four dif­fer­ent tests of 63 people found that those who kept their inten­tions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them pub­lic and were acknow­ledged by oth­ers.

Once you’ve told people of your inten­tions, it gives you a “pre­ma­ture sense of com­plete­ness.”

The research art­icle in ques­tion con­cludes that “Iden­tity-related beha­vi­or­al inten­tions that had been noticed by oth­er people were trans­lated into action less intens­ively than those that had been ignored” and that “when oth­er people take notice of an individual’s iden­tity-related beha­vi­or­al inten­tion, this gives the indi­vidu­al a pre­ma­ture sense of pos­sess­ing the aspired-to iden­tity”.

The Ideas of Frank Chimero

Design­er Frank Chi­mero presents his ‘Ideas’: his mani­festo of sorts prin­ciples on cre­ativ­ity, motiv­a­tion and innov­a­tion. Chi­mero briefly cov­ers sev­en top­ics, entitled:

  • Why is Great­er Than How
  • Not More. Instead, Bet­ter.
  • Sur­prise + Clar­ity = Delight
  • Sin­cire, Authen­t­ic & Hon­est
  • No Sil­ver Bul­lets, No Secrets
  • Qual­ity + Sin­cer­ity = Enthu­si­asm
  • Everything is Some­thing or Oth­er

I’m par­tic­u­larly fond of the final two top­ics and this, from Why is Great­er Than How:

This com­plex world has made us over-emphas­ize How-based think­ing and edu­ca­tion. Once the tools are under­stood, under­stand­ing why to do cer­tain things becomes more valu­able than how to do them. How is recipes, and learn­ing a craft is more than fol­low­ing instruc­tions.

How is import­ant for new prac­ti­tion­ers focused on avoid­ing mis­takes. Why is for those who wish to push, are not risk-averse and seek to improve. How is coulda, Why is shoulda. How is fin­ish­ing tasks, Why is ful­filling object­ives. How usu­ally res­ults in more. Why usu­ally res­ults in bet­ter.

via Link Banana

Motivation and the Cognitive Surplus

This short dis­cus­sion between Clay Shirky and Daniel Pink on cog­nit­ive sur­plus and motiv­a­tion is full of little insights and allu­sions to inter­est­ing pieces of research.

This, from Dan Pink, is a won­der­ful over­view of the research into motiv­a­tion, presen­ted in typ­ic­al Pink clar­ity:

We have a bio­lo­gic­al drive. We eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, have sex to sat­is­fy our car­nal urges. We also have a second drive—we respond to rewards and pun­ish­ments in our envir­on­ment. But what we’ve forgotten—and what the sci­ence shows—is that we also have a third drive. We do things because they’re inter­est­ing, because they’re enga­ging, because they’re the right things to do, because they con­trib­ute to the world. The prob­lem is that, espe­cially in our organ­iz­a­tions, we stop at that second drive. We think the only reas­on people do pro­duct­ive things is to snag a car­rot or avoid a stick. But that’s just not true. Our third drive—our intrins­ic motivation—can be even more power­ful. […]

Both of us cite research from Uni­ver­sity of Rochester psy­cho­lo­gist Edward Deci show­ing that if you give people a con­tin­gent reward—as in “if you do this, then you’ll get that“—for some­thing they find inter­est­ing, they can become less inter­ested in the task. When Deci took people who enjoyed solv­ing com­plic­ated puzzles for fun and began pay­ing them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles dur­ing their free time. And the sci­ence is over­whelm­ing that for cre­at­ive, con­cep­tu­al tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm.

via Link Banana

Task Perception (Serious vs. Fun) and Performance

When a task is described as being a ser­i­ous test of skill or pro­fi­ciency, high achiev­ers per­form sig­ni­fic­antly bet­ter on the task than low achiev­ers (as one would pre­dict).

When the same task is described as ‘fun’, how­ever, the oppos­ite is seen: low achiev­ers out­per­form high achiev­ers.

Obvi­ously, how we per­ceive tasks (or describe them to oth­ers) can have a drastic influ­ence on our per­form­ance.

When high achiev­ers are primed to achieve excel­lence, the idea that a task is “fun” under­cuts their desire to excel. If some­thing is enjoy­able and fun, how could it pos­sibly be a cred­ible gauge of achieve­ment?

Con­versely, low achiev­ers who are sim­il­arly primed with achieve­ment words per­ceive a “fun” task as worth­while. Not only is their motiv­a­tion to per­form improved, so is their abil­ity.

This intriguing twist says much about why one-size-fits-all edu­ca­tion­al strategies so often fail. For stu­dents motiv­ated to achieve excel­lence, mak­ing tasks enter­tain­ing may actu­ally under­mine their per­form­ance. Like­wise, for those not nor­mally motiv­ated to achieve, describ­ing a task as urgent and ser­i­ous yields the pre­dict­able res­ult.

It also sheds light on the “lazy geni­us” phe­nomen­on. Every­one has known someone who is remark­ably intel­li­gent but gets mediocre grades and doesn’t seem to care. Clearly, low-achiev­ers are not neces­sar­ily less intel­li­gent or less cap­able than high-achiev­ers; instead, they just don’t respond well to status quo motiv­a­tion­al cues. A jolt of enjoy­ment could turn that around.

via Ryan Sager