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Category Archive: motivation

Interest drives performance

Interest drives performanceHere is a new article which supports what I said in this article, namely that interest drives performance:


The role of interest in optimizing performance and self-regulation

Paul A. O’Keefe & Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia



  • Task performance was optimized when affect- and value-related interest were high.
  • Depletion was also minimized when affect- and value-related interest were high.
  • Interest supports effective and efficient engagement without depleting resources.
  • Results underscore the importance of interest as a motivational variable.

Click here to read more »

Congruence in progress focused work

Study: Merit pay and bonuses related to autonomous motivation

Merit pay bonuses autonomous motivationExamining the relationship between workplace rewards and the quality of motivational experience; a Self-Determination Theory perspective

Rebecca Hewett (2014)

Abstract: The relationship between reward and motivation is one of the most fundamental questions in organisational research. Self-determination theory (SDT) acknowledges that performance-contingent rewards are motivational but suggests that these highly contingent rewards undermine better quality (autonomous) motivation because they thwart the satisfaction of individuals’ basic psychological needs. Through three field- based empirical studies, these theoretical assumptions were tested. The first, a qualitative interview study, supported the distinction between different motivation types and found that more autonomous motivation related to a more positive emotional experience. The second and third studies addressed the primary aim of the thesis; to test SDT’s theory about the reward–motivation relationship. Click here to read more »

Messages of encouragement that convey a growth mindset (Kahn Academy study)

encouraging a growth mindsetJascha Sohl-Dickstein, Dave Paunesku, Benjamin Haley, and Joseph Williams (see Paunesku, 2013 and this summary) conducted a study in collaboration with Kahn Academy to investigate the effects of brief messages of encouragement on learning. In an experiment with 265,082 students learning math on the Khan Academy website, brief messages encouraging a growth mindset were presented above math problems such as: “Remember, the more you practice the smarter you become!” and “If you make a mistake, it’s an opportunity to get smarter!” The study also had three control conditions. In one control condition standard encouragement messages were presented such as standard encouragement, e.g., “Some of these problems are hard. Just do your best”. In another control condition science statements, e.g., “Did you know: An elephant brains weighs 7/2 as much as a human brain.” Finally, there was a no-header control condition. Click here to read more »

Self-concordant goal selection

Becoming Oneself. The Central Role of Self-Concordant Goal Selection
Kennon M. Sheldon (2014)

Abstract: Pursuing personal goals is an important way that people organize their behavior and mature as individuals. However, because people are typically unaware of their own implicit motivations and potentials, they may pick goals that do not serve them well. This article suggests that “self-concordant” goal selection is a difficult self-perceptual skill, with important ramifications for thriving. Various means of conceptualizing and measuring goal self-concordance are considered. Then, relevant literature is reviewed to show that goal self-concordance, as assessed by a self-determination theory methodology, is predicted by goal/motive fit; that goal self-concordance in turn predicts more persistent goal effort and, thus, better goal attainment over time; and that self-concordant goal selection is enhanced by personality variables and interpersonal contexts that promote accurate self-insight and personal autonomy. Implications for the nature of the self, the causes of personality thriving and growth, and the free will question are considered.

Internal and instrumental motivation

Multiple types of motives don’t multiply the motivation of West Point cadets
Wrzesniewski et al. (2014)


Abstract: Although people often assume that multiple motives for doing something will be more powerful and effective than a single motive, research suggests that different types of motives for the same action sometimes compete. More specifically, research suggests that instrumental motives, which are extrinsic to the activities at hand, can weaken internal motives, which are intrinsic to the activities at hand. We tested whether holding both instrumental and internal motives yields negative outcomes in a field context in which various motives occur naturally and long-term educational and career outcomes are at stake. We assessed the impact of the motives of over 10,000 West Point cadets over the period of a decade on whether they would become commissioned officers, extend their officer service beyond the minimum required period, and be selected for early career promotions. For each outcome, motivation internal to military service itself predicted positive outcomes; a relationship that was negatively affected when instrumental motives were also in evidence. These results suggest that holding multiple motives damages persistence and performance in educational and occupational contexts over long periods of time.


Full article

Reciprocal gains of basic need satisfaction, intrinsic motivation and innovative work behaviour

basic needs Intrinsic motivation innovationKeep the fire burning: Reciprocal gains of basic need satisfaction, intrinsic motivation and innovative work behaviour

Devloo et al (2014).

Abstract: Drawing on insights from self-determination theory, we explored the dynamic relationship between intrinsic motivation and innovative work behaviour (IWB) over time. Specifically, we investigated how basic need satisfaction influences IWB through its effect on intrinsic motivation and how IWB in turn affects basic need satisfaction as measured the next day (i.e., a reciprocal relationship). The current study used a longitudinal design comprising a 6-day period and relied on multi-source data from 76 students in industrial product design and electronic engineering who participated in an innovation boot camp. In general, results provided support for the mediating role of intrinsic motivation in the relationship between basic need satisfaction and IWB, as well as the reciprocal relationship between basic need satisfaction and IWB.

What is meaningful work?

workAs Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have shown, making progress in work that is meaningful is one of the most motivating, if not the most motivating, things in work. Even small progress may have a big positive impact on one’s inner work life (this is the authors’ term for perception, emotions and motivations in one’s work).

‘Meaningful progress’, of course, consists of two parts: the meaningful part and the progress part. I have focused a lot on the progress element in many previous posts. I’d now like to focus on the meaningful part. Click here to read more »

How progress can make itself invisible

progress levelThe feeling of making progress in something which is important to you is very motivating. But sometimes you make progress without being aware of it and thus you miss this motivating effect needlessly. In this article I explained some reasons why achieved progress can sometimes be hard to notice. One reason I mentioned is sensory adaptation. This means that we get used to the progress we have made and because of this we stop perceiving it. A second reason I mentioned is that we may interpret progress negatively. An example of this is that we may view the availability of technological resources not as advantages but as perils or problems. A third reason why we may not notice progress is that we may, sometimes unconsciously, concurrently raise the bar for ourselves. When this happens, not only our competence level has increased but also the level we aim for. Because of this, the distance between our current level and our goal remains the same (or even increases). Click here to read more »

Adding constraints in order to improve performance

wasting lightI am often intrigued by the complexity and paradoxes in optimal human functioning. One thing which interests me in particular is that our performance may sometimes be improved by deliberately adding constraints to the circumstances in which we have to perform. I came across nice example when I was watching Back and Forth about the rockband Foo Fighters. Just before starting to record the 2011 album Wasting Light, Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl decided that instead recording the album digitally they would record it on tape. This implied that the recording process would be harder and less flexible. While digitally recorded music can be easily manipulated and corrected, analogously recorded music can’t be.

Grohl realized that the easiness of digital recording might make musicians a bit lazy and easy. After all, any mistake could be relatively easily corrected. But analogous recording would require the band members to be really sharp and play really well. While we can’t know how and to what extent this contributed to the album’s succcess, we can say the album was indeed a success. It became their best sold album and won five Grammy Awards.

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