Performance or Mastery?
Performance or mastery? A simple change in perspective can be the difference between success and failure.
Do you think of your goal in terms of doing better than others, or in terms of learning?
The thought of doing better than others can be exciting and motivating. But the thought of doing worse can be unsettling. Distracting, even.
The thought of improving and learning can be also be exciting and motivating. So which is better? Improve compared to yourself or do better than others?
“I will get the best reviews out of anyone on my team,” or “I will learn to get my work done faster and better?”
The stakes are larger than a simple re-phrasing would suggest. In one study, those in one group procrastinated 50% less than those in the other.1
One group was guided through writing down a performance goal, the other through writing a mastery goal. Which is the one that did better?
Performance or Mastery?
|“I will score the highest in my class”
||“I will score higher than on the last test”
|“I will look sexy by loosing 5 pounds”
||“I will exercise three times a week”
|“I will become the happiest person on the planet”
||“I will become 10% happier”
In this particular study, it was the group with the mastery goal that procrastinated less. Other studies have found similar results. In general, performance goals tend get over-used. However, each goal type has its own advantages.
How can you know when to use which? Follow these guidelines:
1. If You’re Confident and Have a Competitive Spirit, Go For Performance
I’ve been reading a lot of pop psychology books on motivation recently. A disturbing trend I noticed is a growing tendency to bash competition – to suggest that it saps intrinsic motivation, hurts the development of pro-social behavior, and is generally less effective than other strategies,
People with performance goals tend to use defensive strategies for dealing with failure or rejection, including withdrawing effort, making excuses, and avoiding challenging tasks. People with learning goals tend to use constructive strategies for dealing with failure or rejection, including increasing effort, persisting on difficult tasks, seeking help, and remaining open to information about their mistakes.2
The key word, which I bolded, is tend. Sometimes performance goals reduce performance, but not always.
Some of my most positive transformations were driven by competition – by the energizing drive that comes from pushing yourself against the best efforts of others. Without competition, I would know less, have poorer skills, and probably not have made a few of the friendships I did.
It seems like an obvious finding in hindsight, but the truth is that competition can be as energizing as it is draining.
For those with a strong drive to achieve and the confidence to pit their skills against others, competition and performance goals are motivating. The thought of messing up and looking bad is hardly given any consideration – most effort is focused on how to do better.
However, for many, performance goals provoke anxiety and encourage avoidance behavior.
There are other considerations to keep in mind, but this one is the most important. Does thinking of going head-on against your peers or friends to lose weight or snag more sales excite you, or does it worry you? If it excites you, don’t waste this potential source of motivation.
If it worries you, a mastery orientation may be better suited towards helping you achieve your goal.
In two studies, those who were told to create a performance goal but disliked competition ended up performing more poorly than those who disliked competition but were told to create a mastery goal. They experienced more worry and anxiety, which translated into procrastination.3
Your preference makes all the difference.
2. If You’ve Failed Before, Focus On Learning
There are two aspects to this. First, if you’ve failed before, you’ll probably pursue the goal with less enthusiasm. After all, you’ve already failed once.
I get amazed every time my mom talks about how she wants to lose weight. After every failure, she seems to find new sources of motivation. But her excitement isn’t as large as it once was. The failures are taking their toll.
Like a reset button, a change in perspective can help. Instead of focusing on trying to lose those 5 pounds again, something with which she may or may not succeed, she set a mastery goal – something which, hopefully, will provoke more excitement and less anxiety. Specifically, she set a goal to build the physical endurance to be able to go running three times a week.
But there’s a second, more important reason that if you’ve failed before, a performance goal may not be the best idea. Repeated failure indicates a lack of preparation – that some critical skill or combination of skills are missing. Focus on building up those skills, and performance will take care of itself.
3. If You’re Anxious, Take Things One at a Time
I’m naturally competitive, but the thought of my first ballroom dancing competition struck me cold. I was going to look like a frikken fool.
Did that desire to avoid looking like a fool motivate me? Sure.
But once I stopped thinking about the competition and the dozens of people who would be laughing at me, and started focusing on mastering certain individual skills, the anxiety faded and an even stronger source of motivation arose. I wanted to be able to make those movement, gracefully. As I made progress, I felt pride in my growing ability.
Once I got better and gained a little confidence, I switched back, from mastery to performance, from focusing on simply improving to winning. In this case, on getting 3rd place or higher.
The thought of being on the dance floor no longer terrified me – in fact, it did the opposite, it energizing and motivated.
But I had to take things one step at a time.
Performance or Mastery?
So, which goal type do you think better suits your goal?
Performance – focusing on demonstrating competence, or mastery – focusing on improving your skill level?
Rewrite your subgoal in terms of the goal type you think is a better fit!
- Latham 1974 – 1 day goal setting workshop given to 20 tree loggers increased productivity over the following 3 months, valued at a quarter-million dollars.
- Cambell 1976 – Chess players given a hard goal were more likely to successfully complete higher-level chess problems.
- Ivancevish 1976 – Sales personal given training in goal setting sold more.
- Becker 1978 – Two groups of people given goals on conserving energy. Those given the easy goal did no different, while those given the hard goal cut household energy expenditure by 14% over the duration of the study.
- Latham 1978 – Typists given hard goals increased their performance.
- Latham 1982 – 39 truck drivers were assigned goals. Over the following four months, their performance increased, being valued at $2.7 million dollars.
- Reber 1990 – Factory workers walked through a goal setting workshop and provided feedback increased safety compliance from around 50% to almost 100%.
- Rothman 2005 – Smokers helped in setting quit goals were almost twice as likely to have abstained after a quit attempt. This held true even after 18 months.
- Seo 2009 – Students walked through the goal setting process were less likely to procrastinate.
Read Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey for more.
A goal is a dream with a deadline.
All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.
Failures do what is tension relieving, while winners do what is goal achieving.
Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now.
Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement.
If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.
In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.
The person with a fixed goal, a clear picture of his desire, or an ideal always before him, causes it, through repetition, to be buried deeply in his subconscious mind and is thus enabled, thanks to its generative and sustaining power, to realize his goal.
–Claude M. Bristol
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Failure is not reaching your goal, but in having no goal to reach.
Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success.
David Joseph Schwartz
The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.
The higher goal a person pursues, the quicker his ability develops, and the more beneficial he will become to the society. I believe for sure that this is also a truth.
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.
If you’re bored with life — you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things — you don’t have enough goals.
Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.
The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.
The only limitations one has, are the ones they place on themselves.
Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people.
Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.
Pain makes me grow. Growing is what I want. Therefore, for me pain is pleasure.
One man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days, but it is the man who has it for 30 years who makes a success of his life.
–Edward B. Butler
If we each get on a treadmill right now, one of two things is going to happen… either you’re going to get off first or I am going to die. Period.
A year from now you will wish you had started today.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
–Neale Donald Walsch
Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.
Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.
Just do it.
If you don’t do what’s best for your body, you’re the one who comes up on the short end.
If you want to look young and thin, hang around old fat people.
You have to stay in shape. My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today and we don’t know where the hell she is.
Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.
No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
My philosophy of life is that if we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, and then work hard toward that goal, we never lose, somehow, we win out.
I like thinking big. If you’re going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big.
Lazy men are soon poor; hard workers get rich. A wise youth makes hay while the sun shines, but what a shame to see a lad who sleeps away his hour of opportunity.
–The Living Bible
An average person with average talent, ambition and education, can outstrip the most brilliant genius in our society, if that person has clear, focused goals.
The man says, ‘If I had a fortune, I’d take good care of it. But I only have a paycheck and I don’t know where it all goes.’ Wouldn’t you love to have him running your company?
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
A year from now you will wish you had started today.
All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous and unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.
Wealth depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality; that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.
Something in human nature causes us to start slacking off at our moment of greatest accomplishment. As you become successful, you will need a great deal of self-discipline not to lose your sense of balance, humility, and commitment.
The art is not in making money, but in keeping it.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting.
When I was young I thuoght that money was the most important thing in life; now that I’m old I know it is.
It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.
For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, and insist upon it.
– Elizabeth Gilbert
It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.
– L.M. Montgomery
Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.
Tell the negativity committee that meets inside your head to sit down and shut up.?
A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you can’t get very far until you change it.
Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design into the present.
Life is not about making others happy. Life is about sharing your happiness with others.
If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, you do have a pretty big problem.
Someone else is happy with far less than what you have.
Talk about your blessings more than you talk about your problems.
Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.
–James M. Barrie
I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.
Happiness is not a feeling, it is a choice.
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1. The Relationship of Procrastination With a Mastery Goal Versus an Avoidance Goal
2. Performance and Learning Goals for Emotion Regulation
3. Achievement Motives and Emotional Processes in Children During Problem-Solving: Two Experimental Studies of Their Relation to Performance in Different Achievement Goal Conditions