Education July/August 2013

Motivation Matters More Than Ever

Ideas of the Year 2013
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It used to be enough to go to college, pick up a few skills, and ease onto a career track. But now that information is updated hourly and is available to anyone, anywhere, everyone must keep learning. And one thing we know about learning is that you can’t do it if you aren’t motivated.

But if you are motivated, how the opportunities abound! You can learn JavaScript on Codeacademy .com for free. After that, you can bid on the 256 JavaScript projects posted on Freelancer.com. Once you’ve paid your rent, you can fund a short film on Kickstarter, which now distributes more money annually than the National Endowment for the Arts.

As the barriers to entry are getting lower, though, the bar for performance is ratcheting up. If you finish that JavaScript project late, future employers will read about it in your reviews. At a new public research university opening in Florida, professors won’t get tenure—they’ll get renewable contracts based on performance. Work is getting easier to audition for but harder to keep.

Motivation is a battery pack of skills, from passion to perseverance to self-control. Statistically speaking, boys and low-income kids have less of it. But a little-known fact about motivation is that it can be taught. It’s not harder to teach than reading, and it’s probably more important.

Stanford’s Carol Dweck has found that teaching kids that their brains are muscles and get stronger with use significantly boosts perseverance. Meanwhile, training children not only to set a goal, but to devise a plan for overcoming specific, inevitable obstacles to that goal, increases self-control, according to research by the University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Lee Duckworth. These lessons should be the new ABCs: taught from a very young age, repeated often, and made impossible to forget.

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Amanda Ripley is the author of The Smartest Kids in the World—and How They Got That Way (coming August 2013).

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