Monday, January 21, 2013

Motivation and self talk - Bob the builder and the Marsh Mellow test

In a CBS interview   on ' how to find meaning in the work place beyond the pay check '           
Dan Pink shares motivation advice also from Bob the builder.
People are happier and intrinsically motivated in the work place if they are given autonomy, have mastery and find purpose in their work. Bob the builder tells us that self-posed questions about a future behavior-  ' Can we fix it '  may inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal, leading a person to form corresponding intentions and ultimately perform the behavior. People are more likely to engage in a behavior when they have IM – intrinsic motivation, feeling personally responsible for the action, than when they have extrinsic motivation.
Research  by University of Illinois Professor Dolores Albarracin and her team has shown that those who ask themselves whether they will perform a task generally do better than those who tell themselves that they will.
Participants in a study were told  to either spend a minute wondering  ' whether  'they would complete a task or telling themselves' they would'. The participants showed more success on an anagram task (rearranging words to create different words) when they asked themselves  'whether ' they would complete it than when they told themselves 'they would.'
In another experiment, students were asked to write either “I Will” or “Will I,” and then work on an task. Participants did better when they wrote, “Will I” even though they had no idea that the word writing related to the anagram task.  A final experiment added the dimension of having participants complete a test designed to gauge motivation levels.  Again, the participants who wrote ' Will I ' , and then proceeded to report their intentions to exercise scored significantly higher on the motivation test.
In other words, by asking themselves a question – interrogative self –talk , people were more likely to build their own motivation than if they simply told themselves – declarative self –talk , they’d get it done.
Questions like ' will I ' or 'can I ' open up the brain and stimulate thinking on how we would go about a task. Telling our selves ' I will ' or 'I can do it ' may make usu feel good and affirm our abilities, but it shuts down the thinking brain leaving the emotional brain in control. Telling our selves ' I will ' or 'I can do it ' sounds autonomous , but in reality we are just pressurizing ourselves from the inside.
 Try it out and see how ' Will I' and ' I will' have different effects on the brain – opening up or shutting down the brain.
The research is significant because it discounts all the talk , that what kids need is self-discipline, self control grit, and be ambitious and motivated to succeed and achieve.
It supports findings of the marsh mellow test where kids were asked to delay gratification and show self control. The kids who did well were able to distract themselves from the marsh mellow and sit out the time.
It is quite possible kids asked themselves ' can I do it ' and then started thinking about ways to go about it. Those kids who pumped themselves up with ' I can do it ' shut down their thinking brains and in a short time were struggling not to eat the marsh mellow .
Self-talk that focuses on the questions instead of presupposing answers, allows our minds to build motivation around the questions and be creative.

Parents and Teachers should forget about the motivational 'hype' and inspirational posters like ' You can do it '  in trying to motivate kids , but rather just help kids frame their own questions which will help them motivate themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Allan. Wow! At first, this seems counterintuitive but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. When you ask yourself a question you are primed to provide answers; when you simply say, I will do it, you just leave it at that and there's no thinking about how the task will get done. As you say, it makes you feel good but it doesn't lead to any action and feelings of urgency to get something done. I will have to keep this in mind for myself. I think I already do a good job with my students asking them how they're going to do something or what they're going to do next.