Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Habit of Industriousness

All knowledge is of itself of some value. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable, that I would not rather know it than not. In the same manner, all power, of whatever sort, is of itself desirable. A man would not submit to learn to hem a ruffle, of his wife, or his wife's maid; but if a mere wish could attain it, he would rather wish to be able to hem a ruffle.

Thus spaketh Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell in Life of Johnson.

Ten years ago, I was late to the inline skating party, but once I was there, I threw myself into it. Once I had taught myself how to fall and how to stop, well, there was no stopping me. I trained for marathons, often skating 70 miles or more a week.

What I never did learn, though, was how to maintain my skates. Having grown up in the company of mechanical geniuses, I believed that the wielding of tools was far beyond my ken. Not to mention the learned helplessness that develops when one is in the habit of allowing others doing for one what one might be capable of doing for oneself if one only took the trouble.

Relying on the kindness of another eventually became an insurmountable obstacle. Doesn't that sound stupid? But I quit skating--something I loved--because of my combined ignorance and unwillingness to learn how to maintain the skates myself: if you don't clean the bearings and rotate the wheels, you slow down, which deceleration drastically decreases the fun and increases the risk (as counter-intuitive as it sounds, the slower you go, the less stable you are).

Last weekend, I persuaded someone to show me how to take the skates apart and clean them and put them back together. Then I did it. The process took hours and hours. I had grime under my fingernails (what was left of them) and a streak of black grease on my face and I was tired. But by the time I was done, I thoroughly knew how to do this thing. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable, that I would not rather know it than not.

So I learned how to do this task that did not come easily to me, one to which I used to have aversion, because I was highly motivated:
There are certain aspects of tasks that induce greater effort and persistence: a performer’s interest in the task and the level of difficulty of the task. These factors are relevant in creating an environment where an individual is likely to exert more effort and, in turn, become more industrious. Therefore, task interest and task difficulty may both act as moderators in the relationship between effort and industriousness.
Which effort was reinforced:
Learned industriousness theory asserts that reinforcing an individual for achieving a performance standard increases the likelihood of that individual performing those behaviors again. If the individual exerted high levels of effort during the completion of the task, the effort takes on its own reinforcing value. This is because the individual enjoys the sensation of working hard because it is associated with reinforcement. Therefore, this individual is more likely to generalize this high level of effort to other tasks because it is less aversive and is associated with positive results. 

The joy is in the doing.

You understand that this is really about how we can figure out how to help kids access that joy of exerting oneself and developing competence and confidence--in whatever realm.

What is the lever that triggers the engagement?


  1. I love the concept. The joy is in the doing.

    And I believe it. It's what I try to show my students every day. (It can be a battle. One of the other downsides in our test obsessed culture is that kids learn and think of their "number". I read 30s. I read 28s. I don't read those books, those are too high a number. Bleh.)

    I think I'm going to adapt the statement for my classroom: Learn the joy in doing.