I had an extremely interesting conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago. It was psychological and intriguing, so I’ve been wanting to do an article on it since it happened. It just never did happen until now.
Here’s the main idea: Some people are driven to work hard in order to do the best they can do. Others feel no motivation to work at things, even if they want to get better.
Let’s start by looking at each side individually:
My friend is one of those people who works hard at everything. He is ALWAYS busy: doing homework, practicing, studying, getting ahead in his classes, practicing some more…he’s one of those people who never really stops. He’s driven to do his best at everything, and he absolutely does it. His hard work definitely pays off, too. He believes that by working hard, he can get better, and he grows a lot because of it.
I fall on the other end of the spectrum. I constantly compare myself to other people. I always want to be better than I am. The problem that I have is that I have no motivation to work hard. None. I know I should start working out because I’m gaining weight, but I don’t. I’m lucky if I get in half an hour of practice per week on percussion, and even that drains me completely. Like many other people, I’m sure, I have the mindset of “This is the way it is. I’m only so good, and nothing I do will make me better. I’m limited, and nothing will change that.” As a result, I really don’t get better because I’m not working hard. I do want to work hard and get better. I just can’t work up the motivation to do it.
What we see here is a dichotomy between those who believe that change is possible and those who are resigned to believe that they can only become so good at things. What causes these mindsets in people? Well, I might actually have an answer for that.
In one of my education classes, we watched a video that talked about a certain study done by researchers in educational psychology. I wish I could give you a source, but I can’t do so off-hand. Anyway, the study found something quite interesting. When a child is given a task, adults can praise them in two different ways. The first is by praising the finished product of the task; the second is by praising their work, the amount of effort they put in. Children who are praised for the outcomes of their tasks, or for their natural abilities, are the ones who develop the mindset of resignation: “I’m only this good, and I won’t become better.” This comes about because talents and outcomes are things that can't always be changed. Hard work and effort, though, are entirely under one's control. Thus, children who are praised for their hard work often develop the mindset of growth and change: “If I work hard, I’ll get better.” This article by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., offers a good explanation of the effects of this type of praise. Check it out!
These hard workers are the people who succeed in life, and I envy them. I’m successful at some things, sure, but I’m not notably above-average at very many things. Some of you are probably reading this and thinking, “Just work harder.” Well, I try. Granted, I’m not trying as much as I should, but I do sometimes try. It’s difficult for someone like me, though. This mindset is ingrained in me. Even the very fact that I feel as though I can’t change this aspect of myself reflects it.
I guess the point of this article is to encourage you to consider where you fall on the spectrum. Do you believe hard work can change who you are? Do you believe that you can grow and improve if you put in the effort? Or do you feel trapped at one level of talent that can never change?Maybe those of us who feel the latter can change our way of thinking. We might just have to. After all, life, with all the work and effort it requires, demands it.