Motivation doesn’t equal Achievement

You might think it is safe to assume that, once you motivate students, the learning will follow. Yet research shows that this is often not the case: motivation doesn’t always lead to achievement, but achievement often leads to motivation. If you try to ‘motivate’ students into public speaking, they might feel motivated but can lack the specific knowledge needed to translate that into action. However, through careful instruction and encouragement, students can learn how to craft an argument, shape their ideas and develop them into solid form. 

A lot of what drives students is their innate beliefs and how they perceive themselves. There is a strong correlation between self-perception and achievement, but there is some evidence to suggest that the actual effect of achievement on self-perception is stronger than the other way round. To stand up in a classroom and successfully deliver a good speech is a genuine achievement, and that is likely to be more powerfully motivating than woolly notions of ‘motivation’ itself.  

Carl Hendrick writing in Aeon

Explore your passion without Pressure

“Finding your passion” can feel like a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t have to. All it involves is identifying the things you like to do and are good at and that others value enough so you can cover rent and groceries. If you can’t find it by way of a full-time job, there are always ways to explore it outside the realms of your job, whether that’s by way of a side hustle or a hobby. There may be things that you feel an overwhelming intensity to pursue. If that’s the case, great. If not, find the next right thing, and follow that path.

 Tracy Brower writing in Fast Company

"Keeping a “have done" list

"If you are working on one thing all day, it is very easy to remember what you did and give yourself credit for it," says CEO and co-founder Walter Chen. "But if you did 20 things and one is have a conversation with your kid and one is put out a fire, it's often hard to remember those things." Pausing to reflect is an opportunity to remember those accomplishments and to recognize their value. "Giving yourself credit helps you feel productive," says Chen, affirming, "That actually makes you more productive." 

Bottom line: To-do lists are useful for organizing and prioritizing work. But you should also maintain a "have done" list--or at least reflect on your accomplishments for a few minutes at the end of each day--to keep yourself motivated.

Leigh Buchanan writing in Inc.

The Power of Small Wins

Try to remember the last time you – or anyone you know – had a truly enormous breakthrough in solving a problem or achieving one of those audacious goals. It’s pretty hard, because breakthroughs are very rare events. On the other hand, small wins can happen all the time. Those are the incremental steps toward meaningful (even big) goals. Our research showed that, of all the events that have the power to excite people and engage them in their work, the single most important is making progress – even if that progress is a small win. That’s the progress principle. And, because people are more creatively productive when they are excited and engaged, small wins are a very big deal for organizations.

Religiously protect at least 20 minutes – and, ideally, much more – every day, to tackle something in the work that matters most to you. Hide in an empty conference room, if you have to, or sneak out in disguise to a nearby coffee shop. Then make note of any progress you made (even if it was a small win), and decide where to pick up again the next day. The progress, and the mini-celebration of simply noting it, can lift your inner work life.

Teresa Amabile talking about her book The Progress Principle  

Three Goals for 2018

“Kierkegaard cries out for us to live passionately, and worry more about the problem of living life than trying to fit the social order. His philosophy is all about living this way, even to the point where an outside viewer will be unable to understand your motivation,” writes Scotty Hendricks at BigThink.

1. Be passionate,

2. Focus on living not fitting into some predetermined social role,

3. You will know you are on the right track when people have trouble grasping what motivates you.

Three worthy goals for 2018.

Stephen Goforth

Getting Clarity

We are too often motivated by a craving to put an end to the inevitable surprises in our lives. This is especially true of the biggest "negative" of all. Might we benefit from contemplating mortality more regularly than we do? As Steve Jobs famously declared, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

Oliver Burkeman

Motivated by Stress

I very much was a person who was motivated by stress; I would use a deadline as a motivator. I think a lot of people do that, where they're like, "I'll just wait until the last minute, and that'll light a fire underneath me and I'll get it done." And I just kept thinking, "Well, that's a terrible way to live. Why am I building a house and lighting a fire in the basement just to see if I can finish the roof before it burns down my whole house?"

Dan Deacon speaking to NPR

moving past planning to doing

There is a beautiful study where they gave half the people a lecture on the importance of getting a vaccination, and only 3 percent of the people went. They gave the other half the same lecture, but they also asked them to indicate on their calendar when they were going to go. In that group, 26 percent of the people went to get vaccinations. Not everybody wants to get vaccinated. But the idea is that we have intentions, and unless they get specified in a concrete way on the calendar, they’re unlikely to be carried out.

Dan Ariely speaking to Wired Magazine

Motivated by Screaming

I had the most satisfying Eureka experience of my career while attempting to teach flight instructors that praise is more effective than punishment for promoting skill-learning. I was telling them about an important principle of skill training: rewards for improved performance work better than punishment of mistakes. This proposition is supported by much evidence from research on pigeons, rats, humans and other animals.

When I had finished my enthusiastic speech, one of the most seasoned instructors in the audience raised his hand and made a short speech of his own. He began by conceding that positive reinforcement might be good for the birds, but he denied that it was optimal for flight cadets. This is what he said,

“On many occasions I have praised flight cadets for clean execution of some aerobatic maneuver. The next time they try the same maneuver they usually do worse. On the other hand, I have often screamed into a cadet’s earphone for bad execution, and in general he does better one his next try. So please don’t tell us that reward works and punishment does not, because the opposite is the case.”

This was a joyous moment of insight, in which I saw in a new light a principle of statistics that I had been teaching for years. The instructor was right – but he was also completely wrong! His observation was astute and correct: occasions on which he praised a performance were likely to be followed by a disappointing performance, and punishments were typically followed by an improvement. But the inference he had drawn about the efficacy of reward and punishment was completely off the mark.

What he had observed is known as regression to the mean, which in that case was due to random fluctuations in the quality of the performance. Naturally, he praised only a cadet whose performance was far better than average. But the cadet was probably just lucky on that particular attempt and therefore likely to deteriorate regardless of whether or not he was praise. Similarly, the instructor would shout in to a cadet earphones only when the cadet’s performance was usually bad and therefore likely to improve regardless of what the instructor did. The instructor had attached a causal interpretation to the inevitable fluctuations of a random process.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow

Paying Creative People

Most of the time, when you hire people you don’t want to specify exactly what they are to do and how much they would get paid—you don’t want to say if you do X you will get this much, and if you do Y you will get that much. That type of contract is what we call a complete contract. Creating one is basically impossible, especially with higher-level jobs. If you try to do it, you cause “crowding out.” People focus on everything you’ve included and exclude everything else. What’s left out of the contract tends to drop out of their motivation as well. You are taking away from their judgment and goodwill and teaching them to be like rats in a maze. It’s like the difference between asking someone to help you change a tire and offering them $5 to do it. The moment you introduce money, you change how the person views the exchange. They say, “Oh, this is work. I don’t work for $5. Give me $150 and we can talk.”

When I was at MIT, they told us we had to teach 112 points per year. They had a complex formula for how many students and how many hours and so on would translate into teaching points. Basically, MIT was conditioning me to put the least effort into getting the most points. This became the game. I was quite good at it. And I taught very little.

It happens with all kinds of compensation. A consulting company once told me they made a rule that if you stayed until 8 in the office, you could order food and use the car service to get home. So what happens? A ton of people are there at 8. Nobody’s there at 8:05. It’s the same with pay: If you are hiring the right people, you don’t want to include anything too specific in the contract. You want people to buy into the objectives of the company. Be specific about those, and then trust people to quickly understand how they can help maximize the objectives at each point in time. People actually know to a high degree which actions are good for the company and which are not—regardless of what you pay them for.

Dan Ariely

Language that Ignites

Language that speaks of hopes, dreams, and affirmations (“You are the best!”), this kind of language--let’s call it high motivation--has its role. High motivation is not the kind of language that ignites people. What works is.. speaking to the ground-level effort, affirming the struggle. Phrases like, “Wow, you really tried hard,” or “Good job, dude,” motivate far better than empty praise.

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

you can't opt out of life

Imagine that three people see a twenty-dollar bill on the front seat of an unlocked car. Each person walks past and leave the cash there. Why? The first person wanted to take the money but passed up the opportunity for fear of punishment if caught in the act. The second rejected the temptation out of a conviction that God makes certain rules that people are to follow, and one of those rules is that we shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to us. The third refrained from taking the money because of empathy—awareness of how frustrated and angry she herself would be if some of her money were stolen.

The action is the same for each individual—no one took the money. But people do things for reasons and the reasons behind the same action in the case above vary significantly. The bumper-sticker-sized version of the first person’s ethics is “Whatever you do, don’t get caught,” while that of the second person is “Thou shall not steal.” The final persona builds her morality around “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These different reasons grow out of differences in theories about what constitutes right behavior.

Though none of the three people may have been immediately conscious of these theories at work, the theories were there, and they guided each person’s behavior.

Also consider the motives or the reasons behind the action.

Why they did what they did—the theoretical basis of their actions—is significant.

The reality is we must make decisions about the ethical issues confronting us, and we must have a theoretical foundations on which to build and evaluate these decisions.

In other words, the issue is not whether we have a theory, but whether we are conscious of the theory we do have and believe it is the best available guide for our life. We do not choose to be ethicists; we cannot opt out of that. The real question is whether we are going to be good ethicists.

Steve Wilkens, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics

Knowing the Why

Viktor Frankl worked as a therapist in the Nazi concentration camps, and in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he gives the example of two suicidal inmates he encountered there. Like many others in the camps, these two men were hopeless and thought that there was nothing more to expect from life, nothing to live for. “In both cases,” Frankl writes, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.” For one man, it was his young child, who was then living in a foreign country. For the other, a scientist, it was a series of books that he needed to finish. Frankl writes:

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

the meaning of life

In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished — but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, “Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.” Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, “Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?”

Emily Esfahani Smith
Writing in The Atlantic