The Psychology Behind Hard Work

The Psychology Behind Hard Work

a man pushing a big stone

Hard work can be said to be the act of consistent, devotional, and persistent effort in accomplishing tasks. Hard work is influenced by different psychological, cognitive, and motivational factors. There are different theories of psychology that provide an essence behind what hard work looks like. Let’s dive into what research in psychology has to say about hard work:

Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation:

Those who are motivated by factors that add value to their personal growth (e.g. reading to gain knowledge) demonstrate intrinsic motivation in the process of working hard. The drive to achieve a goal or master a skill motivates and satisfies them to keep working hard despite the hurdles that intervene.

Extrinsic motivation drives individuals through external factors, which can encompass rewards like recognition, money, fame, and approval from others. Extrinsic motivation can mean participating in an activity that is based on meeting an external goal like winning a competition, receiving an award or payment, etc. The rewards act like an incentive to work harder and put more effort in the task or domain they are in.

Setting Goals:

Hard work correlates to a person’s life goals and purpose. An individual is driven and set to achieve tasks consistently and devotedly when they are aware of ‘what’ and ‘how’ they want to accomplish in their life. Setting a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goal is assumed to give better results. SMART goals provide a clear road map for a person who is setting the goal as well as the person who is evaluating the progress (e.g. employee, coach. According to positive psychology, creating a goal and building pathways cultivates hope in an individual. The process of striving towards a goal provides a clear and concise purpose and direction.

Growth mindset:

An individual with a growth mindset believes that their intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, learning, and perseverance. A growth mindset allows one to make mistakes and learn from them, persevere in the face of challenges, embrace constructive criticism and feedback, find inspiration in others’ success, and embrace challenges.
On the contrary, an individual with a fixed mindset limits themselves by avoiding challenges, giving up easily, feeling threatened by others’ success, and desiring to appear smart.

Motivational theories:

Handy’s Motivation theory talks about three elements: Needs, Expectation, and Results.

  • Needs are important as people are working towards meeting an unmet personal need. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we have 5 essential needs: physiological, safety, belongingness, self-esteem, and self-actualization. Individuals strive to fulfill these needs depending upon individual circumstances and lifestyles.
  • Second, is “Expectation” that a given level of expenditure (energy, time, effort, money, etc.) will lead to a desired result. The anticipation that spending efforts will lead to a desired outcome. Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory states that individuals feel motivated when they believe that their efforts will result in the desired performance and rewards
  • The third is Results, rewards for completing a task seem attractive, for example, getting a promotion, praise and recognition, approval from the team, or any financial reward. Rewards act as a reinforcement to behavior which motivates them to continue working toward their goals.
The science behind Motivation:

According to Dr. Sydney Ceruto’s article “The Neuroscience of Motivation: How Our Brains, Drive Hard Work and Achievement”. He talks about dopamine as the secret to hard work. When we engage in a task and complete it after a long, intensive day of hard work, our brains release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is also known as the ‘pleasure chemical’. This chemical primarily deals with motivation and satisfaction after achieving.

Recent research tells us that people who are low achievers can find a way to become high achievers if they find a way to rewire the way their brains ration out dopamine release after engaging in tasks (e.g. Putting in long hours to complete a task).

Self Efficacy:

Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their ability to achieve a particular task and overcome challenges. People with high level of self efficacy often put hard work and dedication to the tasks as they believe in their abilities often leading to greater effort and persistence in the face of adversities or challenges.

Delayed gratification:

While completing tasks, there are instances where we get impulsive thoughts of engaging in some kind of pleasurable activity (e.g. Checking social media) which may disrupt the process of completing a task/goal for the day. Instead of delaying the completion of the task itself. We call delaying the urge to engage in a pleasurable activity ‘delayed gratification. Hard workers understand the skill of delaying gratification as their thirst for achievement is greater than anything else. Delayed gratification is an adaptive skill that improves your self-control and ultimately helps you achieve long-term goals faster.

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    • 3 weeks ago


    Very informative article.
    Culture, socio economic factors also play a vital role as predominantly people want to earn a living to be able to afford to live!
    Community impacts on the individual’s perception of what ‘success’ should be like – competing with others & seeking the good opinion of others –
    Whilst hard work has intrinsic & extrinsic motivators, without internal awareness on the value of hard work & the goals people want to achieve, it has the potential to be good & bad for us 🤔

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