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The surprising truth about passion

The surprising truth about passion

4 min read
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset

There is a universal view that we put more effort into a task or venture when we are passionate about it. However, recent research has suggested that this common belief has it the wrong way around.

In fact, when someone increases their effort and spends longer on a task, they actually become more passionate about it. This means we may have been giving students terrible advice when we tell them to ‘follow their passion’…

What does the research say about developing passion?

In a recent study, the researchers aimed to show that, contrary to popular belief, an increase in passion occurs as a result of enhanced effort, and not the contrary. They surveyed 54 entrepreneurs over the course of eight weeks, measuring both their effort and passion. The entrepreneurs were asked questions such as “In the last week, how much effort did you put into venture tasks, beyond what was required?”, and were asked to rate their agreement with statements including “In the last week, establishing a new company excited me”.

Upon reviewing the data and running statistical analysis on it, the researchers were able to conclude that the more effort the entrepreneurs put into their business venture, the more passionate they became, such that the previous week’s effort influenced this week’s passion.

What other factors affect passion?

The same researchers then conducted a second study to look at other factors that may influence the relationship between effort and passion. To do so, they recruited 136 business administration undergraduate students and asked them to make a business idea into a more viable concept. This was done by answering questions on its likely competitors, customers and the conditions and trends of the market. However, the researchers manipulated how much effort students put into the task, whether or not they received positive feedback, and whether or not they were assigned a business idea or could choose to work on their own idea or another from a list of 12 proposals.

In regard to effort, the researchers discovered that when students only put in minimal effort, there was no impact on their passion. However, the amount of effort students originally put in becomes irrelevant if students receive negative feedback, such that unsurprisingly negative or unhelpful feedback does not decrease or improve passion. Finally, the researchers found that, when students were unable to choose for themselves which business idea to work on, their passion did not increase, even if they received positive feedback on their progress.

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How can this research be applied to the classroom?

The above research allows us to presume that, if we can increase a student’s effort in regards to their school work or revision and ensure that they are receiving helpful feedback and have a sense of choice towards what they are doing, then we should be able to increase their passion.

As a result, it can increase their motivation to work harder to achieve their full potential. But how can teachers encourage students to increase their effort?

Foster a growth culture

Developing students with a growth mindset and thus deterring them from a fixed mindset has been shown to increase effort levels. Students with a growth mindset believe that their attributes are malleable, hence they believe that if they put in the necessary effort they will improve and learn. Students with a fixed mindset on the other hand, believe that their attributes are fixed, therefore there is little point in putting in any extra effort. These students, unlike those with a growth mindset, look to avoid using new strategies for fear of looking stupid and see failure as a judgement of their abilities and indeed who they are.

Check out our guide page to learn how to develop a growth mindset in your classroom.

Co-create challenging but achievable goals

Working alongside students to create challenging but realistic goals to achieve in a specific time frame is a good way to increase effort; short-term goals will keep them engaged, while long-term goals will give them something to aim for. Various research has confirmed that if managed well, this can help accelerate both learning and performance.

Build a great team

Research has shown that effort is contagious, such that if the person next to you is working hard, this increases your work ethic too. Interestingly, this outcome was found to occur regardless of whether this individual was completing an easier or more difficult task or whether this task was similar or unrelated to yours. Therefore, if teachers are able to design their classroom so that hard-working students are placed near those who are often unmotivated, this should help boost the latter’s motivation.

Final thoughts

Recent research has brought to the fore the common misconception that passion leads to increased effort and proved that the reverse is actually true – passion is created as a result of enhanced effort.

Therefore, as high levels of effort are so influential in increasing passion, it is an important area to focus on. By looking to develop student’s growth mindsets, working with them to set joint goals and creating a supportive classroom environment, we can increase students’ chances of maximising their potential and developing their passion.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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