Viaggio nella felicità

Good grades, good results… all wrong for our happiness

Are you being evaluated at the university or at work?

Be careful, because “extrinsic motivation” (receiving good grades or good results) seems to reduce our “intrinsic motivation” (if we chose that particular university or job, it was because we liked it, and we had a particular interest in dedicating ourselves to those activities).

This is what Deci demonstrated in 1971, through a study that showed that receiving monetary rewards for intrinsically motivating tasks reduces intrinsic motivation.

To focus on good grades/results not only seems to reduce our “intrinsic motivation”, but also seems to lead us to develop a mindset that is particularly problematic for our happiness: the so-called “fixed mindset”.

Carol Dweck (a well-known American psychologist who taught at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of Illinois before joining the Stanford University faculty) identified 2 different types of “mindset” that characterize people with regard to their belief on intelligence.

On the one side, there are people who consider intelligence as a fixed trait: according to them, we are born with a certain grade of intelligence and we can do very little to modify it. These people have a “fixed mindset”.

On the other side, there are people who believe they can significantly increase their level of intelligence with study, effort, and experience. These people have a “growth mindset”.

Some of you might be thinking: “well, if I was born with a certain mindset, I cannot change it”.

It is not so. We can learn to overcome our “fixed mindset”. How? Simply reminding ourselves that there is now a lot of neuro-scientific evidence showing that our brain is able to grow, create new connections, learn through commitment and mistakes. Simply reminding ourselves of this, will have positive effects on our way of living and responding to life’s challenges. Indeed, a study conducted by Blackwell et al. in 2007 showed that students to whom this concept was explained subsequently obtained much better grades in mathematics than those who were led to believe that our brain cannot grow and each of us is born with a fixed and unchangeable degree of intelligence.

What we need to aim for, is not having “good grades” or “good results”, but having a “growth mindset”.

Reminding ourselves that we have the capacity to improve will make us happier: it will not make us experience a bad result only as a failure, but also as an opportunity for growth, just as it will not make us hide our weaknesses or defects, but it will make us consider them as things to work on to become better people.

We need to think of ourselves as “lifelong students”, be intellectually curious and motivated to grow.

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