Does school seem difficult or worthwhile because of the challenges

What do we mean by motivation? There are experts everywhere who have new tips for motivation.

As researchers who are interested in motivation and educational success, we wondered: Is there only one type of motivation, or is it different? Motivation is about the way people react to challenges, or does it also include how they respond to ease? Students can succeed by understanding these various aspects of motivation.

Why do people need motivation?

They see themselves and other people as with a core, a fixed or stable essence. People tend to think that their sense of “me”, or who they are and who they may become, defines how they will act in the future.

Motivation would not be needed if people had a fixed “essence”. They could act in ways that matched that essence. People would not need to be motivated; they’d do something because it was part of their identity.

Motivation is important. This is partly because what people think about themselves in one situation does not necessarily predict what they will do in another. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will pay attention to your teacher instead of giving notes to a buddy.

Even a student who is determined to do well in school might decide that it’s more crucial to focus on developing friendships at the time than to concentrate in class. Rawpixel/

This seemingly contradictory behavior may seem like a flaw in human design. Still, it is actually a benefit: thinking (including the way you feel about yourself) is highly sensitive to what each situation has to offer. It’s more important right now to maintain a relationship than worry about next week’s test.

Too easy to bother? Too easy to matter?

There are both easy and difficult experiences in everyday life. How does the presence (or absence) of these challenges impact motivation? What matters, according to research, is how people perceive ease and difficulty.

Both easy and hard experiences can demotivate. When homework is easy, students may think, “This is stupid.” If something seems too easy, a student may think: “This is stupid.”

If the homework is difficult, the same student may think, “This is just too hard for me.” If you feel like this, then the task is too hard for you.

Both perspectives will undermine motivation. Why waste time on trivial or impossible things? Quit and do something else.

A common view of adversity in sports is that ‘no gain, no pain.’ It is not always the case in academics. Stocksnap

It can be motivating to feel ease or difficulty when working on a particular task. When something is easy, this can indicate that success is achievable, and when it is difficult, success can be worthwhile (no pain, no gain). This means that easy homework suggests: “I am capable of doing this!” and difficult homework implies: ‘This work is valuable!’

Demotivating mindsets can be a hindrance to success. We asked more than 1,000 adults from different backgrounds, ages, and genders about their perceptions of what easy and difficult meant. About 200 adults were asked to complete a complex cognitive task, in which some of the items were easy to solve while others were difficult. We found that people who did better on the task were those who believed that difficult doesn’t mean impossible and that easy doesn’t mean trivial.

Students’ perceptions of difficulty

Numerous studies have shown that the way students perceive difficulties can influence their performance at school.

Students are randomly split into two groups in these studies. One group is asked to read sentences that suggest difficulty as a sign of significance. The second group reads sentences that imply difficulty is a sign of low odds of success. Students in the first group are more likely to solve problemsproduce better essays, and report being more oriented toward school.

How students perceive their daily struggles at school is important.

Is there a pattern?

Is it possible to predict the way students will interpret ease and difficulty?

We asked the 1,000 participants in the same study to rate their agreement or disagreement with four interpretations about what ease and difficulties might mean: easy means trivial, difficult means impossible, easy means possible, and difficult means worthwhile. We found that people tend to interpret their experiences as motivating rather than demotivating.

People who believed that trivial things were trivial also thought that difficult tasks were impossible. They are not the majority, but they do make up a subset that, without help, tends to quit or work too little.

Who are these people, and what do they look like?

In our study, the men who were most likely to have low income were the majority of. Low income among adults (mostly white Americans in our sample) was linked to a higher level of agreement that, when things become difficult, they could be impossible and that one should focus on other matters. Men are more likely to interpret ease as triviality than women.

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