What Motivates You—Being Good or Getting Better?

Has anyone ever told you to “lighten up” or “go easier on yourself”?  Have you every asked yourself why it seems so difficult to stick to your goals, especially when the going gets tough?  When people tell you “it’s about the journey, not the destination” and “enjoy the process,” do you wonder, “how in the world am I supposed to do this?”?

The way you answer the question, “What motivates you—being good or getting better?” will give you great insight into these issues, your attitude toward performing, and your ability to not only enjoy the process, but to reach your goals as well.

So which is it?  Are you motivated by the need to BE GOOD or the need to GET BETTER?

What we’re speaking of with these two types of motivation is your unique MINDSET or attitude.  Mindset, as described in Heidi Grant Halvorson’s book, Succeed:  How We Can Reach Our Goals, can be compared to a lens through which we see our world.  It will determine:

  • what we pay attention to
  • how we interpret and draw meaning from our experiences
  • how we feel
  • how we cope or the strategies we choose in order to cope
  • what we consider motivating, helpful, or effective, and
  • what kinds of goals we choose to pursue.

I’m sure you’re already way ahead of me.  The way you or your students think about learning, practicing, and performing determines your or their reality.  Many performers find themselves operating out of the BE GOOD mindset because there are a lot of pressures on us to think in BE GOOD terms.  Just think—we’re constantly being evaluated and this causes us to care a great deal about being good right now!

As you look at the comparison above, which do you identify with more?  You may identify with statements from both sides, but one is usually dominant.

Performers with the BE GOOD mindset feel like that have to prove themselves to others and see performing as a way to impress people.  Thoughts like, “Winning will prove I’m really talented.” “Performing well will mean I have what it takes.”  Performers with the GET BETTER mindset are interested in showing others they are talented, but their main focus is continuing to grow and learn—to get better.  Those with the GET BETTER mindset are excited to see how much more there is to learn.

What do you pay attention to?

Do you pay attention to information about how you compare to others (BE GOOD) or information you can use to improve (GET BETTER)?  When you pay attention to comparing yourself to others or impressing others, you can either feel really good because you compare well or you can feel really bad because you perceive that you don’t compare favorably.  When you pay attention to information you can use to improve, you can feel pretty good most of the time because most everything is feedback you can use to continue to grow.

The BE GOOD mindset isn’t always bad.  Wanting to prove yourself  can be very motivating but only before feedback has been given, if tasks are not too challenging, and if feedback you get is always positive.  What are the chances of these conditions being met?  NIL

Is the GET BETTER mindset always good?  Halvorson’s research tells us:  YES! The GET BETTER mindset allows performers to maintain greater interest and enjoyment in tasks, to focus in the moment, to become more adaptive to dealing with pressure, to develop increased critical thinking, to have less anxiety, to have more success on challenging tasks, and to learn from mistakes or setbacks without giving up. 

What can you do?  First of all, become of aware of and identify the lens through which you are viewing your performing.  Then, think about your goals.  How can you reframe your goals in GET BETTER terms?

  1. When faced with a challenge, setback, or something unfamiliar, recognize that you will need time to master it.  Making mistakes is ok.  Let me restate:  Making mistakes is necessary!  They help you determine what to do next.
  2. Ask for help when you run into trouble.  Needing help or asking for it does not mean that you are incapable or stupid.  Admitting you don’t know something is the first step in getting the help you need to move on.
  3. Try not to compare yourself to other people.  Instead, make it a habit to compare your performance today to your performance yesterday.  “Focusing on getting better means always thinking in terms of progress, not perfection.” (Grant Halvorson)

Want to find out more about taking your performing to the next level?   Check out The Relaxed Musician Program:  Mental Preparation for Confident Performances, A 14-Day Plan   Download Day 1 workbook and audio to see how the program can work for you.  With purchase, you will receive 2 great bonuses—Your Pre-Performance Checklist and the e-book, Letting Go of the Need to be Perfect!

photo credit:  pixelsaway


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  1. Excellent as always.

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