September 25, 2014

Two factors enabling durable progress

The advantages of a growth mindset have been mentioned often on this website. A growth mindset is, briefly, the belief that progress and growth is possible through effort. A fixed mindset is the opposite. This is the belief that traits and abilities are largely fixed and that you can't develop them even if you put in much effort. If you don't believe that growth and improvement are possible it does not make sense to put in much effort anyway, so you don't. If you have growth mindset, however, it makes perfect sense to put in much effort. You will then realize that if you want to become really good at something you will have put in continued effort. We can visualize this as follows:

But this picture is not complete. It lacks at least one important piece of information. This piece is about the question where people get the energy to put in continued effort. You will probably have seen examples of people who worked hard and had their energy drained. They appeared to burn out. But you may also have seen examples of people who seemed to be able to move mountains and yet continued to make a healthy and energetic appearance. What explains the difference between the two examples? Which factor makes it possible to remain vital as we move mountains?

This factor is autonomous motivation. Autonomous motivation means that we fully endorse what we do because we find it interesting and/or important. Research shows that when we are autonomously motivated for an effort we do no drain our energy and get burned out but, instead, we gain energy from what we do. Because of this we can continue our work longer and more easily. For more information about this vitalizing effect of autonomous motivation, see Moller et al (2006) and O’Keefe & Linnenbrink (2014).

So we have to adjust our picture as follows:

Do you want to learn more about autonomous motivation? View this presentation by Ed Deci.

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