Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Extreme achievers

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Extreme achievers:
What motivates them and how can others do what they do?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Former world number one, Rafael Nadal

The 16-time Olympic medal winner Michael Phelps trained everyday of the year, has three weight lifting sessions a week, swims at least twice a day, swimming a minimum of 80,000 metres a week (Michaelis, 2008). Three time Iron man world champion Craig Alexander's training sessions can include rides of over 180 kilometres which can last upwards of 7 hours (Godwin, 2011). Rafael Nadal, the former world number one tennis player, has a daily training regime that includes four hours of playing tennis on court, two and a half hours in the gym, and a strict stretching routine (Rajkhowa, 2011). So how do these people summon such incredibly high levels of motivation when most people can barely drag themselves to the gym once a week? How can people attain such high levels of motivation? How can we achieve more?

Olympic champion Michael Phelps

Goal setting[edit | edit source]

Setting goals is an important first step in achieving something you want as it gives you something to aim for. It turns a vague idea such as "I want to lose weight" into "I want to lose 10 kilograms in 10 weeks". Many studies have found that people who make goals outperform those who do not (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Weinberg, Bruya, Longino & Jackson, 1988). To get the intended enhanced performance from goal setting it is important, however, that the goals are both difficult and specific (Locke, Shaw, Saari & Latham, 1981). A person with a difficult goal will have to be persistent and increase efforts to accomplish it and specific goals focus and direct energy. The above example, losing 10 kilograms in 10 weeks, is very specific and quite difficult, which should make the individual more persistent and focused on achieving it, when compared with a more general "I want to lose weight".

Research by Burton, Pickering, Weinberg, Yukelson and Weigand (2010) sought to investigate the effects of goal setting on extreme achievers. They included 338 prospective Olympic athletes from 12 different sports and found that those who they referred to as ‘multifaceted goal setters’ outshone the rest. These multifaceted goal setters had a strong belief in the effectiveness of the short-term, long-term and psychological goals they had set for themselves. When compared to those who did not believe in the effectiveness of their goals, they found that the multifaceted goal setters set more goals, had higher levels of commitment, more self-confidence and greater success in their sporting careers.

Long-term goals[edit | edit source]

Having a goal such as making it to the Olympics is a long term goal as usually you would need to be in intense training for years to reach the required standards to compete. Whether your goal is short-term or long-term has no significant effect on performance unlike having no goal at all, which significantly lowers performance (Weinberg, Bruya, Longino & Jackson, 1988). Although having a long-term goal does have a negative effect on persistence and intrinsic motivation (Bandura & Schunk, 1981)[grammar?]. A possible explanation for this is due to the lack of feedback that is given during the pursuit of a long term goal. One way to counter this is to break a goal down. Bandura et al.[source?] argue that breaking down a goal into sub-goals can promote and increase intrinsic motivation.

Short-term sub-goals[edit | edit source]

Breaking a long-term goal down into achievable sub-goals can make a large and distant goal more attainable. In a classic study by Bandura and Schunk (1981) this was put to the test. They put children in one of three self-directed learning conditions, one with short term sub-goals, one with distant future goals and one with no goals. They found that those in the group with short-term sub-goals progressed quicker, achieved more and developed an intrinsic motivation for the learning. Bandura and Schunk stated that creating short term sub goals would have three main effects. The sub-goals would sustain motivation, provide immediate feedback and encouragement and make it more unlikely that a person would relax their efforts to achieve their long term goals in the present. All very important factors for an individual who has a long term goal, like competing in the Olympics[grammar?].

Implementation intentions[edit | edit source]

Turning these goals into reality is a different matter. One thing that can assist the execution of a goal is forming implementation intentions. For example, the goal may be to train so you can run the famous 42 kilometre New York City marathon whereas the implementation intention would be that after breakfast tomorrow morning I’m going to run 10 kilometres. It[what?] has been shown that an effective tool in achieving goal attainment is the forming of implementation intentions (Webb & Sheeran, 2004). Gollwitzer and Schaal (1998) argued that implementation intentions were more effective when they were linked with a situational cue. In the above example, the implementation intention was to run 10 kilometres after breakfast, so therefore eating breakfast would be the situational cue for you to start training. Gollwitzer et al. stated that the situational cues can help avoid bad habits or temptations like procrastination, it can be very tempting for example to put off the run till another time[grammar?].

How will you know if you are improving without feedback?

Feedback[edit | edit source]

To increase performance a person’s goals need to be reinforced with timely and accurate feedback. Feedback has been shown to be very important in maximising a person’s performance (Locke, Shaw, Saari & Latham, 1981). Meeting your goal of losing 10 kilograms will be very hard to judge without a set of scales, do you need to work harder to achieve your goal or not[grammar?]? On the other hand, feedback is pretty much useless if you have not set a goal. Jumping on the scales and finding that you’ve lost one kilogram will just be irrelevant information without a predetermined weight lose goal in mind. To read more about the importance of feedback, refer to the book chapter on feedback.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

Intrinsic motivation is when the motivation to do an activity is genuine and comes from within you. Basically, it is when you want to do something because you want to. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is where the motivation comes from a social environmental event, like feedback, rewards or incentives. A child who reads a book because they like reading is intrinsically motivated, however a child who reads a book because their parents have promised them $5 for doing so is extrinsically motivated.

Deci and Ryan (1985) argued that a person’s source of motivation, whether intrinsic, extrinsic or impersonal, were generally stable personality traits. They developed the General Causality Orientations Scale (GCOS) to assess people’s motivation. This scale has been shown to directly relate to the theoretical constructs intended and to be internally consistent (Deci et al.). Below is a modified[how?] version of the GCOS from the University of Rochester (2008). In this form the validity and reliability of this quiz has not been assessed and because of this it should only be used as an example.

Example of The General Causality Orientations Scale (GCOS)

1 A close (same-sex) friend of yours has been moody lately, and a couple of times has become very angry with you over "nothing." You might:

Share your observations with him/her and try to find out what is going on for him/her.
Ignore it because there's not much you can do about it anyway.
Tell him/her that you're willing to spend time together if and only if he/she makes more effort to control him/herself.

2 You have just received the results of a test you took, and you discovered that you did very poorly. Your initial reaction is likely to be:

"I can't do anything right," and feel sad.
"I wonder how it is I did so poorly," and feel disappointed.
"That stupid test doesn't show anything," and feel angry.

3 You have been invited to a large party where you know very few people. As you look forward to the evening, you would likely expect that:

You'll try to fit in with whatever is happening in order to have a good time and not look bad.
You'll find some people with whom you can relate.
You'll probably feel somewhat isolated and unnoticed.

4 You are asked to plan a picnic for yourself and your fellow employees. Your style for approaching this project could most likely be characterized as:

Take charge: that is, you would make most of the major decisions yourself.
Follow precedent: you're not really up to the task so you'd do it the way it's been done before.
Seek participation: get inputs from others who want to make them before you make the final plans.

5 Recently a position opened up at your place of work that could have meant a promotion for you. However, a person you work with was offered the job rather than you. In evaluating the situation, you're likely to think:

You didn't really expect the job; you frequently get passed over.
The other person probably "did the right things" politically to get the job.
You would probably take a look at factors in your own performance that led you to be passed over.

6 You are embarking on a new career. The most important consideration is likely to be:

Whether you can do the work without getting in over your head.
How interested you are in that kind of work.
Whether there are good possibilities for advancement.

7 A woman who works for you has generally done an adequate job. However, for the past two weeks her work has not been up to par and she appears to be less actively interested in her work. Your reaction is likely to be:

Tell her that her work is below what is expected and that she should start working harder.
Ask her about the problem and let her know you are available to help work it out.
It's hard to know what to do to get her straightened out.

8 Your company has promoted you to a position in a city far from your present location. As you think about the move you would probably:

Feel interested in the new challenge and a little nervous at the same time.
Feel excited about the higher status and salary that is involved.
Feel stressed and anxious about the upcoming changes.
Please disregard the score as there is no right or wrong answers and just look at the letters underneath the answers that you gave.

If you answered mostly A's - The Autonomy Orientation assesses the extent to which a person is oriented toward aspects of the environment that stimulate intrinsic motivation, are optimally challenging, and provide informational feedback. A person high in autonomy orientation tends to display greater self-initiation, seek activities that are interesting and challenging, and take greater responsibility for his or her own behavior.

If you answered mostly C's - The Controlled Orientation assesses the extent to which a person is oriented toward being controlled by rewards, deadlines, structures, ego-involvements, and the directives of others. A person high on the controlled orientation is likely to be dependent on rewards or other controls, and may be more attuned to what others demand than to what they want for themselves. In the U.S., at least, a person high in the controlled orientation is likely to place extreme importance on wealth, fame, and other extrinsic factors.

If you answered mostly I's - The Impersonal Orientation assesses the extent to which a person believes that attaining desired outcomes is beyond his or her control and that achievement is largely a matter of luck or fate. People high on this orientation are likely to be anxious and to feel very ineffective. They have no sense of being able to affect outcomes or cope with demands or changes. They tend to be amotivated and to want things to be as they always were.

Intrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

When intrinsically motivated an individual will be more persistent in their goal (Hardre & Reeve, 2003), perform to a higher level, be more creative (Sheldon, Ryan, Rawsthorne & Ilardi, 1997), have a higher conceptual understanding (Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Soenens & Matos, 2005), have higher self-esteem and greater psychological well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2000). If you were a star gridiron player in the NFL and were intrinsically motivated, you should be more persistent, able to perform better, think of new ways to train, have a better understanding of the game, higher self-esteem and greater well-being. As you can see being intrinsically motivated would be a great asset for an athlete. Indeed intrinsic motivation seems to be vital to Michael Phelps’ success with him himself saying “If I want to accomplish my goals, I have to do it myself... For me to show up for a workout, that’s on me. I have to want to do that.” (Anderson, 2011, p. 31).

Cognitive evaluation theory[edit | edit source]

Cognitive evaluation theory, first proposed by Deci and Ryan in 1985, is a sub-theory intended to complement self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). It states that an individual’s social environment is very important as it can either aid or thwart their intrinsic motivation. When referring to a person’s social environment they mean things such as feedback or rewards. The most important thing is that these social environmental events generate feelings of competence and autonomy. If this is the case then intrinsic motivation will be increased. In other words if you were training to compete in the [[w:Tour_de_France|Tour de France], the three week long bike race that covers more than 3,600 kilometres, and you were to receive feedback, to enhance your intrinsic motivation the feedback would need to give you a feeling of competence or belief in your abilities and also a sense of autonomy, or the feeling that your success in training was due to yourself and your hard work (an internal locus of control).

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Theory

Flow theory[edit | edit source]

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed flow theory in 1975, sometimes referred to as "optimal experience", which is now a very well-known theory of intrinsic motivation (Keller & Bless, 2008). Flow theory describes a state called ‘flow’, which can be explained as a complete and entire absorption in an activity. For example, an athlete that is "in the zone", completely absorbed and involved in what they are doing. This activity is said to be intrinsically motivating, being interesting and involving of itself, regardless of any rewards or incentives. This state of ‘flow’ can be attained when the balance between an activities difficulty and an individual’s skills are aligned.

As you can see on the diagram to the right, if the task is difficult and the skill level is low it will produce anxiety, alternatively if the person’s skill level is high but the task is easy it will produce boredom. So making sure the tasks achieve ‘flow’ could be one way to increase motivation. This can be done by increasing a tasks difficulty if it is boring, or increasing an individual’s skill level if the task is anxiety provoking.

Extrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

It has been proposed that giving extrinsic motivation can undermine a person’s intrinsic motivation (Deci, 1971). In other words, rewarding an individual for doing an activity that they already enjoy will make them want to do it less. A meta-analysis of 128 studies by Deci, Koestner and Ryan (1999) confirmed that this is the case. Deci et al. stated that rewards that were contingent on engagement, completion and performance were detrimental to intrinsic motivation. This, however, seems a little confusing as it is a pretty fair assumption that Olympic athletes are receiving rewards (e.g., medals, prizes, bigger sponsorship deals) when they engage in or complete an event or when they perform at their best. Deci et al. did state however that although rewards deminished intrinsic motivation positive feedback actually increased it. Cognitive evaluation theory would explain the phenomenon this way too, that these rewards are acting as feedback to let the individual feel competent.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The examples of extreme achievers used so far have all been of elite athletes, however a student that will have to go through over 10 years of intense studying and training to reach their goal of being a doctor would also be an extreme achiever. So would the musician who practices for hours a day to perfect their craft. All of the above mentioned theories[explain?] and research can help you maximise your motivation and in turn your achievements in whatever setting you wish. Like setting goals, both long term and short[grammar?]. Creating implementation intentions and setting up measures for timely and accurate feedback[grammar?]. Ways to increase intrinsic motivation and how to place yourself in an optimal experience[grammar?]. Methods to make sure extrinsic motivators do not damage your intrinsic motivation[grammar?]. Using what psychological science has shown us can help everyone achieve more.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Anderson, K. (2011). Rough current. Sports Illustrated, 115, 31.

Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 586-598.

Burton, D., Pickering, M., Weinberg, R., Yukelson, D., & Weigand, D. (2010). The competitive goal effectiveness paradox revisited: Examining the goal practices of prospective Olympic athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 72-86.

Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 18, 105-115.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627-668.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). The general causality orientations scale: Self-determination in personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 19, 109-134.

Godwin, S. (2011). Craig Alaxander training day part 1. [Video Podcast]. Retrieved from

Gollwitzer, P. M., & Schaal, B. (1998). Metacognition in action: The importance of implementation intentions. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2, 124-136.

Hardre, P. L., & Reeve, J. (2003). A motivational model of rural students’ intentions to persist in, versus drop out of, high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 347-356.

Keller, J., & Bless, H. (2008). Flow and regulatory compatibility: An experimental approach to the flow model of intrinsic motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 196-209.

Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969-1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90, 125-152.

Michaelis, V. (2008). Built to swim, Phelps found a focus and refuge in water. USA Today. Retrieved from

Rajkhowa, P. (2011). Rafael Nadal's training schedule. Healthy Living India. Retrieved from

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

Sheldon, K. M., Ryan, R. M., Rawsthorne, L. J., & Ilardi, B. (1997). Trait self and true self: Cross-role variation in the big-five personality traits and its relations with psychological authenticity and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1380-1393.

University of Rochester, Rochester, NY. (2008). The general causality orientations scale (GCOS). Retrieved from

Vansteenkiste, M., Simons, J., Lens, W., Soenens, B., & Matos, L. (2005). Examining the motivational impact of intrinsic versus extrinsic goal framing and autonomy-supportive versus internally controlling communication style on early adolescents’ academic achievement. Child Development, 76, 483-501.

Webb, T. L., & Sheeran, P. (2004). Identifying good opportunities to act: Implementation intentions and cue discrimination. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 407-419.

Weinberg, R., Bruya, L., Longino, J., & Jackson, A. (1988). Effect of goal proximity and specificity on endurance performance of primary-grade children. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10, 81-91.