Lenia and Kevin both study business administration, Lenia at a private university and Kevin at a state university. The motivation of the two could not be more different
Pressure of expectations
Lenia already had good grades in school and is now also willing to study a lot at university in order to do as well as possible. So far, she hasn’t missed a lecture and she always meticulously takes notes on everything. She has two older siblings, both of whom have doctorates. In her parents’ home, performance is a top priority; Lenia’s parents are in the real estate business and have high expectations of their daughter. She is supposed to run her father’s company one day. Lenia is incredibly lucky, according to her father.
Kevin enjoys his studies, especially the field of “Marketing” interests him very much. He developed strategies as a child to sell products, toys at the time. His uncle studied philosophy and is the head of marketing for a large company; Kevin sees him as a role model. In his spare time, Kevin reads tips from marketing experts or watches their videos. His university grades are not that important to him. He is often absent from lectures that he finds boring. His parents are happy that he enjoys his studies and that he is so relaxed. They are also reassured that he quickly found a nice flat-sharing community.
Motivation and goal orientation
The example of Lenia and Kevin shows two different goal orientations. The American psychologist Carol Dweck divides achievement motivation into two areas: Performance goals and mastery goals.
Lenia’s approach is typical of the performance orientation. She finds business studies not uninteresting, but what motivates her is mainly the result, i.e. the grades. Their ultimate focus is on achieving a master’s degree with top grades. Their main values are diligence and goal orientation.
Kevin’s cool approach, on the other hand, is typical of the learning goal orientation. He naturally has an interest in doing well in his business studies. Nevertheless, his interest in certain topics motivates him above all. For him, the values are learning and further development.
Unstable and stable self-worth
Both students are very motivated, but their motivation is fed by different interests and goals. Lenia’s performance orientation is primarily about an interest in status. The so-called deficit motive here is recognition. Poor grades mean failure for them and damage their self-worth. Overall, she’s all about being better than others. She is driven by social comparison, wanting to outdo her sisters. The way she perceives herself in this competition can lead to problems.
Kevin’s learning goal orientation is primarily for learning and development. Central to this is the motive of curiosity, a so-called growth motive that pursues the development of competencies. Of course, this is also about improving yourself, but not in competition with others. Rather, the focus is on self-realization and the goal of leading a free and self-determined life.
Motivation from outside and motivation from inside
The two different goal orientations result not only in two different types of motivation, but also in different feelings and different behavior.
Lenia’s performance orientation is not directed at the tasks themselves, not at the content of the lectures, seminars and exams. She is concerned with the result, i.e. success in the exams and the master’s degree at the end. It is not the task itself that leads to a reward for her. Lenia’s motivation is therefore extrinsic, i.e. it comes from outside. However, because there is always a risk of not achieving the targeted goal, performance orientation is accompanied by negative emotions such as anxiety, frustration, and uncertainty. In the long run, there is even a threat of burnout. However, if Lenia achieves her goal, she can recharge her self-confidence and feel affirmed in her strengths such as perseverance and self-efficacy.
Kevin’s learning goal orientation, on the other hand, focuses on the activity itself. Of course, he is also concerned with the end result. But achieving the master’s title is not his sole goal. The real reward for him is in performing the task, in learning. Here he experiences positive emotions like joy, inspiration and flow. Satisfaction and fulfillment are often within reach. His motivation is therefore instrinsic.
Can you train yourself to have a learning goal orientation?
Most mainstream schools tend to promote the principle of performance orientation: through their grading system, fragmented preparation of learning material, setting external stimuli. The level of self-determination within these schools is thus low.
However, psychologist O’Keefe has shown in an experiment that change is possible. He, too, first found a clearly achievement-oriented group of students. During a summer seminar, he stimulated them with tasks that promote learning goal orientation. Along the way, communication also improved. By the end of the summer, he could see a visible increase in learning goal orientation among his students, and even after six months, that shift was still measurable.
Promotion and prevention focus
From psychologist Edward Higgins comes the division into focus areas. In the so-called promotion focus, the person is oriented to opportunities and possibilities. Emotions like hope, enthusiasm and pride play a role, the mindset is optimistic. The goal is the achievement of ideals. The focus is also on the appeal of challenges. If that appeal is no longer there, that could be a reason to change careers.
With the so-called prevention focus, the attention is more on the risk and possible problems. Feelings such as fear, shame and guilt and possibly also anger are the focus, the mindset is pessimistic. The goal is to fulfill obligations. In doing so, the person proceeds cautiously so as not to make any mistakes.
On the surface, the doctoral focus seems more attractive, but there are definitely professions where the prevention focus makes more sense. For example, in the medical field, caution and prudence are important values. No mistakes must be made and hazards must be considered. The promotional focus here would be too risky and, in the worst case, life-threatening. For a marketing manager, on the other hand, the promotional focus is more purposeful.
Four types of motivation – summary
Each type of motivation has its importance and justification, depending on the industry in which someone works. Those who seek their vocation will probably find themselves in Type 1. An ambitious person is likely to find their match in Type 2, and those who have experienced burnout are more likely to find themselves in Type 3 or 4.
Type 1 learning goal orientation/promotion focus (e.g., startup employees).
– seek new challenges
– want to constantly work on themselves
Type 2 Performance orientation/promotion focus (e.g. sales employees)
– want to be superior to others
– use this superiority as a drive
Type 3 Learning goal orientation/prevention focus (e.g., employees in the medical field).
– Avoid mistakes
– have perfectionist demands
Type 4 Performance orientation/prevention focus (e.g., police or military personnel).
– want to perform better than others: competitively
– Keeping problems and dangers in view
Assistance Life Coach regarding motivation
For the life coach it is important to grasp the totality of a personality. A holistic perspective and an important tool for my work is provided by the self-determination theory of psychologists Deci and Ryan.
It covers the whole range of motivation in psychology: from extrinsic motivation, i.e. that motivation which comes from outside, to intrinsic motivation, which arises when someone is absorbed in their activity.
According to Deci and Ryen, Lenia’s performance orientation can be classified as external regulation, i.e., controlled motivation. Kevin’s learning goal orientation can be classified more as autonomous motivation according to self-determination theory. Lenia is therefore externally determined, whereas Kevin is self-determined.
Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory, however, can also be applied practically. By collecting examples from my clients’ professional and private lives for the respective regulation levels, it quickly becomes clear where they get their motivation from in their daily lives and what the reasons behind it are.
© Timo ten Barge [14 .07.2020]