Staying Motivated

When the clock strikes midnight, when the closing bell goes off at H-L, when your eyes turn bleary, what motivates you to finish those seemingly unending stacks of homework? A shot of espresso? A cafe cookie? A brisk walk in the Bowdoin fall-winter air?

The Atlantic reports that researchers have found a way to reinvigorate and renew motivation. Behavioral economists have long told us that it is a “sense of progress” that keeps adults motivated in their working lives. Taking the science one step further, however, researchers at Duke University demonstrated this effect using Legos. By offering students an opportunity to build a Lego Bionicle for $3, decreasing the cost to build each successive Bionicle until the subjects had had enough. In a second iteration of the experiment, the students were presented with the same offer, but had to watch each Bionicle they’d created be deconstructed, brick by tiny lego brick, before being offered to build another one. Naturally, the subjects in the first run of the experiment showed vastly more interest in building more Bionicles. Even with something utterly distinct from their own happiness and well-being [the construction of a miniature, plastic, robot-doll], the sense of progress the subjects experienced by accumulating constructed Bionicles compelled them to build more.

And it’s pretty easy to imagine this result holding true outside of the playroom, or science laboratory, as the case may be. Seeing the fruits of our labor stack up, whether it’s pages of printed paper or repetitions of a study, is highly satisfying. It proves to us that our mental strain means something, creates something, and often, this knowledge is enough to keep us going.

The truth is, motivation is personal – we all find different ways to keep ourselves going when the going gets tough. But understanding the premise demonstrated by the Lego experiment – that progress creates progress – is a notion guaranteed to keep your fingers pattering away on the keyboard when you’ve still got three pages to go.

To find out more, check out this awesome Atlantic article: