Recent research suggests we can learn to be hard, persistent workers. Those of us who have been rewarded, often starting in childhood, for making strong efforts to achieve our own or assigned goals tend to develop a "work ethic" and a "moral ethic." Likewise, training in persisting or waiting for a worthwhile reward or achievement can help us develop better self-control involving handling delays. So, just as there is "learned helplessness," there is "learned industriousness."
There is a "law of least effort:" we all try to get things (a pay off) the easiest way we can. That's smart and different from being lazy. Some of us take on hard challenges, others don't. You can also see an enormous range in the amount of effort people will expend to achieve a given goal. Of course, the value of a goal differs from person to person, but some people simply work much harder and longer than others. Why? Perhaps, according to Eisenberger (1992), because some have a long history of exerting intense effort and then being praised and well reinforced. In effect, some have been given "effort training" to be industrious, others haven't. One theory is that this training is effective because being repeatedly rewarded following long, hard efforts makes hard work in any situation seem less offensive, less aversive, less awful. Eisenberger has also shown that self-talk ("When I try hard, I do well on all my school work" and "when I don't, I don't") further enhances this "effort training." Both high effort and attention to tedious detail, if reinforced, become less unpleasant and less avoided. Thus, reasonable and challenging-but-demanding work or study experiences may produce harder working employees or more motivated students.
Eisenberger suggests another law, the "law of more effort:" if hard work has paid off for you in the past in many different ways, your effort and self-control will increase more, as compared to individuals who have worked less hard, as the stakes get higher. Likewise, a boss, teacher, or parent who has positively encouraged and reinforced your high performance and hard efforts in the past will provide more motivation to you than a person who is or has been more permissive.
Unfortunately, while "effort training" seems simple at first, a little thought makes you realize that the actual work conditions as well as your attitudes and personality traits are all involved in determining if your hard work is viewed as yielding rewards or punishment. If hard work is seen as stupid and/or obnoxious, then one may develop "learned laziness." Also, our willingness to work hard, regardless of our past experience, is, in part, a function of our needs and the nature of the work, e.g. mental or physical, clean or dirty, cooperative or competitive, social or isolated, all of which may reflect one's reinforcement history (Eisenberger, Kuhlman & Cotterell, 1992). Most important aspects of life are complex.
Another fascinating feature of this program of research is the moral consequences of "effort training." Children required to do hard math problems first, cheated less on a later anagram test than students given easy math problems first. We need to know more about the relationship between industriousness and honesty, caring, and other morals. But there are reasons to doubt that the relationship is simple because in some situations having a high need for achievement increases our tendency to cheat.
Later, we will discuss the harm that can be done to a person's performance, especially on interesting tasks, by extrinsic reinforcement. Eisenberger's research contradicts this; he found that extrinsically rewarding hard work improves performance. Moreover, he says rewarding progressively improving performance (harder and harder effort?) did not reduce intrinsic interest. To me it seems clear that in order to maintain optimal motivation you have to consider both your intrinsic and extrinsic pay offs (see intrinsic satisfaction section). The motivation problem is complicated by the fact that only parts of working or studying are interesting and exciting, other parts are hard and difficult, still other parts are tedious or boring, and so on. You have to cope with all parts of life, so it is important for our work to be satisfying, but a history of hard, rewarding efforts involving long delays of reinforcement may also be important in preparing us for the unavoidably hard and uninteresting parts.
Abraham Maslow (1971) was critical of traditional psychology because it based its theories on emotionally disturbed patients or on laboratory animals. Like other philosophers, he believed in the basic goodness of humans and in their tendency to move to higher levels of functioning as their basic physical needs are met. Maslow described the needs at each level, going from the most fundamental physiological needs to the highest, most noble needs. Every person has the same "hierarchy of needs:"
- Physiological needs--air, water, food, sleep, elimination, sex, activity.
- Safety needs--escape fear and pain, physical security, order, physical safety.
- Belonging and love needs--to love and be loved, have friends, be part of a family.
- Self-esteem needs--to feel competent, independent, successful, respected, and worthwhile.
- Self-actualization needs--being one's true self, achieving one's highest potential, wanting knowledge and wisdom, being able to understand and accept oneself and others, being creative and appreciative of beauty in the world. A self-actualized person is happy, realistic, accepting, problem-oriented, creative, democratic, independent, and fulfilling a mission or purpose in life.
What are the implications of this theory for changing behavior? First, the theory says it is necessary to generally satisfy one's basic needs before one can turn to meeting needs higher in the hierarchy. But once a person has taken care of the needs at levels 1 and 2, then one is free, in fact motivated to search for love, then self-esteem, and then finally self-actualization. Thus, if you can't achieve some goal, such as John not being able to study, consider the possibility that some more basic need still hasn't been met and must be satisfied first. For example, John may have to find love or feel secure and liked by his friends before he can study effectively and devote himself to a profession. While thinking in terms of a hierarchy of needs may sometimes help you figure out the real underlying problem, research has not supported the theory that all needs at a more primary level must be satisfied before you can move on to higher needs (just like you might not have to go in order through all six stages of Kohlberg's moral development, as discussed in the last chapter). So, go for self-actualization at 15 or 19 (long before Maslow said you were ready for it--see chapter 9), even if you lack confidence and a love relationship.
Also, remember if you make different assumptions about the basic nature of humans, you will surely find different underlying problems. Maslow would find unmet love or self-esteem needs; Freud would find unmet sexual-aggression needs; Adler would find feelings of inferiority to be overcome.
Maslow noted that learning theories (not the more recent Social Learning Theories or cognitive theories) were based largely on hunger, thirst, and pain (needs at levels 1 and 2) in animals, seldom dealing with the higher levels. Maslow's theories are based on the opposite end of the scale (needs at level 5). He studied the best historical specimens of our species he could find, including Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Schweitzer, and he interviewed the most outstanding living people available to him at the time. That's where his description of the self-actualized person came from. His was a valuable addition to our knowledge.
Secondly, according to theory, few of us ever achieve self-actualization to any significant degree. Maslow assumed it took the most able among us 30 to 40 years to develop self-actualization. Although Maslow believed we became more self-reliant on our own values and judgment as we met more of our needs, and less dependent on rewards and approval of others, he still emphasized the importance of the environment in determining our growth. He felt families and schools and work should be respectful, nonjudgmental, and trusting, i.e. places where one can make his/her own decisions, gain esteem, and use his/her talents. Otherwise, our growth would be slowed or reversed...and we would have problems. Maslow had impact on Humanistic education and on business management. But, he left it to others to discover if it is possible to develop specific methods of speeding up the natural development of self-actualization, such as through self-help techniques. Maybe in 100 years we'll all be self-actualizing even as teenagers.
Addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, smoking, etc. are instances of powerful motivation, but they sap our strength and zest for doing our best. William Glasser (1965) believes there are other addictive activities that give us strength: jogging, meditating, writing a diary, exercising, relaxing, and so on. These are called positive addictions.
Like Ellis and Knaus, Glasser focuses on the emotions underlying our behavior (level II). First, we all want to be loved and to feel worthwhile. When we don't get what we want, we either have the strength to try again or we don't. Thousands of us give up, according to Glasser, by saying, "Why try? I'd just fail" or "It's my parents' fault" or some other similar rationalization.
When giving up and giving excuses don't remove the pain (of not achieving love or worth), we may turn to psychiatric symptoms, such as depression, rebelling, going crazy, psychosomatic complaints, or addiction to drugs, alcohol, or food. Painful as these conditions are, they are less painful than facing the fact that we have failed and given up on obtaining love and self-worth. So, they are another self-con--they make it easier to give up and, at the same time, get some sympathy.
What is Glasser's solution? Positive addictions. It isn't an easy solution nor is it for everybody. It takes six months to a year of activity (jogging, meditating, etc.) one hour every day to develop a strength-giving addiction. The activity must usually be done alone, with no demands or striving for excellence or self-criticism. There are thousands of joggers, bikers, meditators, relaxers, journal writers, exercisers, and other users of positive addictions, along with Glasser, who claim great benefits. They claim to get more results than just feeling better and getting pleasure; they claim greater self-confidence, more energy, better imagination and ideas, more frustration tolerance and so on.
It is an interesting, indirect approach which does not concentrate on dedication to your major life goals. Committing an hour a day directly to loving someone or to studying could have powerful effects too. If I were John, I'd first try to build a real interest and motivation in my studies. There are too many good joggers who are poor students to confidently believe that jogging will make you an "A" student. More research, not more testimonials, is needed to evaluate the effects of positive addictions and to investigate which positive addictions work best with what kind of people and with what problems. But it is an idea.
Popular how-to-be-the-greatest books and programs
Inspirational, confidence-building books sell by the million. None have ever been objectively evaluated to see the results, but people buy them, probably because they do motivate us, at least for a day or two. They are often written by successful business or sales people or by ministers. Psychologists write in areas related to motivation: assertiveness (chapters 8 & 13), self-acceptance (chapters 9 & 14), and self-direction or self-instruction (chapters 5, 11, and this one), but these writings deal with learning skills, not just getting inspiration.
The popular "success" books take four main approaches:
- Confidence building. The common belief is that you can't sell a product or love someone else until you believe in yourself or love yourself (Amos & Amos, 1988; Zigler, 1987). So, these books essentially tell you to recognize your strong points and to tell yourself you are the greatest.
- Setting goals and utilizing time effectively (Lee, 1978; Lakein, 1973). While these are important skills and have been discussed in this chapter and chapter 2, the goals need to be more than vague hopes and an occasional motivational speaker. Some seminars or longer programs about goal setting, however, involve lectures and tapes costing several hundred dollars (Meyer, 1988).
- Inspirational. These books give many illustrations of exceptional people and unusual successes (Simonton, 1994; Ferguson, 1990; Waitley, 1983; Stone, 1962). Michael Jordan's I Can't Accept Not Trying is a good example. Other writers emphasize the "power of positive thinking" (Peale, 1952; Schuller, 1973). The techniques involve fantasizing about being successful (like in achievement training), modeling and rehearsal, repeating hopeful beliefs (called affirmations), giving yourself pep talks, and so on. Of special psychological interest is Lillian Rubin's (1996) Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight which tells stories of people overcoming horrible childhood experiences. I find the caring stories in Canfield & Hansen (1991, 1993, 1995, 1996) to be heart-warming; they make me value goodness and look for it in others; they help me be good.
- Understanding human needs. Some of these books explain how to present products and ideas so that they meet peoples needs and, thus, sell (Dichter, 1971). Many other books describe how to influence or motivate others--usually for your benefit (Carnegie,1936).
These popular books are based on one person's experience or hunches, not on research. Don't neglect these books but read them with a lot of skepticism.
Methods for increasing motivation; references
In addition to the many methods already mentioned above, method #7 in chapter 14 summarizes several techniques for increasing your motivation. It should help too. For the serious student of motivation, Heckhausen (1991) provides an excellent review of the whole area, while Boggiano & Pittman (1993) concentrate on educational achievement. A highly regarded book by Daniels (1999) explains in simple detail how positive reinforcement can be used to both build good relationships and high motivation in a work setting. Bernard & DiGuiseppe (1993) and McCombs & Pope (1994) try to motivate adolescents in school and in relationships. Very bright, achieving women have special problems in the world of work (Walker & Mehr, 1993).
Also, the next three sections probe the causes of self-defeating behavior and procrastination. We must understand and overcome the barriers to achievement, if we are going to reach our potential.
Excellence can be attained if you...
care more than others think is wise.
risk more than others think is safe.
dream more than others think is practical.
expect more than others think is possible.