Motivation and Confidence
Motivation is the amount of or level of desire to accomplish a specified
outcome. Confidence is the perception of one’s abilities to succeed in
the fulfillment of the specified outcome. Both are related to the same
outcome. However, and this is a critical distinction, even though both
are directed at a future outcome, confidence is generated from past
experiences and motivation is generated from anticipation of a future
Let’s start with motivation. This is something I would say to a student
after we have identified their academic goal. For example, “how
motivated are you to achieve your stated goal of a 75% average?” In
other words “How much do you really want this?” During this time, the
student is in a future orientation, thinking about this future outcome of
achieving a 75% average. This is measured on an interval scale of 1 to
10, where 1 represents a complete lack of motivation or desire to
accomplish the stated goal.
A score of 1 on the motivation scale is almost always because the goal
is not internalized, meaning that the person is feeling external
pressure rather than internal pressure, to achieve the goal. In my
business, it might be that the student’s parents are putting on
academic pressure, or that the school and teachers are exerting
pressure on the student, or that the entrance requirements to postsecondary
institutions are forcing certain outcomes on the student.
These externally driven goals, if not internalized by the student, will
not produce motivation, or it will produce intermittent striving for the
goal, but will not persist in a consistent way. As well, a student may
have become so discouraged from previous failures that they cannot
even imagine the possibility of a better outcome and therefore have no
motivation to try.
A score of 10 on the motivation scale indicates that the goal is
completely internalized and that this is a true desire for the student.
They have taken the external expectations and internalized it and now,
the achievement of the goal is their own. This is something that they
truly want. A score of 5 represents someone who is intermittently
motivated (perhaps just before an exam) and sometimes not (Friday,
Sat and Sunday). These students have their feet in both camps. They
know enough to get that they need to do something positive for their
future, but they rise and fall in their behavior relative to the
achievement of that outcome like a hot air balloon, sometimes up and
sometimes down.
Confidence on the other hand, is a person’s perceptions of their own
abilities to achieve a stated outcome. Using the example of obtaining a
75% grade point average, we are determining their ability to do this
based on what they currently know and what they are currently doing
towards achieving this goal. This is substantially different from desiring
the goal, this is about “do you have the necessary skills and
competency to achieve this stated outcome?” And more importantly,
confidence is evidence based, meaning that during those moments of
self-reflection to determine their score, the student is subconsciously
searching their memory data banks for evidence of their past
experiences related to this goal.
Again, confidence comes from past experiences whereas motivation
comes from anticipated future outcomes. This is assessed on a scale of
1-10. A score of 1 on the confidence scale means that the student has
for sure, failed in the past, has had desperate disappointments, and
has had consistent evidence that they absolutely cannot succeed in the
achievement of the stated goal. A score of 10 indicates that the
student thinks or perceives that they could achieve the goal easily ‘if
they choose to’. A confidence score that is higher than the actual GPA
is an over-inflated self-assessment and indicates a lack of true
awareness on the part of the student. It may be a safety mechanism
keeping them from actually testing their own abilities, using the ‘back
door’ escape hatch. “I can do it if I want to, I just don’t want to.” A
score of 5 means that the student sometimes thinks they can do it,
and sometimes, not.
A very interesting finding of the confidence score is that it is a valid
indicator of real confidence. If the confidence score comes back lower
than the student’s actual GPA, (a score of 5 with a 64% average) they
are undervaluing their abilities and giving greater mental weight or
attention to sporadic low test scores than they give to more consistent
good test scores. If they give an over-inflated confidence score relative
to their GPA (e.g. a confidence of 9 with a 64%), they are overestimating
their abilities. Generally though, most students give a
confidence score that is within 5% of their actual Grade Point Average.
This is never correlated in our discussions and is therefore indicative of
past experience. In addition, as their test scores go up, the confidence
score goes up accordingly.
These three scores, motivation, confidence and actual GPA are very
powerful indicators as to the success of the student. The ideal
distribution is to have confidence match very closely to actual GPA and
for motivation to be higher than confidence. (e.g. GPA is 75%,
confidence is 7.5 and motivation is 9). If the motivation score is lower
than the confidence score,(e.g. GPA 50%, motivation 5 and confidence
8) this indicates an unwillingness to generate new behavior in the
actualization of the outcome. In terms of applying new strategies to
assist themselves, it is not very probable. Conversely, if the motivation
score is higher than the confidence score,(e.g. GPA 50% Motivation 9
and confidence 5) then the student is much more likely to implement
the new behaviors and to be successful.
This is because confidence can be ‘borrowed’ from someone else
through trust, but motivation must be generated internally. Motivation
creates the pressure to act, to change, to take action. And because we
cannot force another to act, to change or to take action, (morally and
lawfully) this must come from the within the individual. Confidence is
different because someone can rely on the expertise of another to
make up the deficit in their own confidence. If a student expresses a 6
confidence level in their own abilities to achieve a 75% GPA, they can
rely or trust my past experience until they have their own evidence.
And this is a critical difference between confidence and motivation;
confidence can be loaned or borrowed through the currency of trust,
but motivation cannot (at least, not permanently). The implication is
that when we are tying to encourage someone to alter their behavior
in a positive way to achieve their goals (not ours) we need to place
less emphasis on motivation and more on establishing trust in our
expertise. We, as experts, can make up the deficit in their confidence
to achieve these valued outcomes on their own. This borrowed boost
in confidence will generally increase motivation in the student to try
the new learning methods for themselves. When they begin to get
positive feedback and see their grades increase, their own confidence
now increases as well, and concurrently, so does motivation.
Therefore, these two constructs are powerful indicators as to
someone’s actual intent relative to a preferred outcome. As long as
motivation is either equal to or greater than confidence, the student is
much more likely to succeed in the achievement of their goals,
because they want to do it, and they are willing to trust and be guided
by an expert.
July 31, 09
Terry L. Hansen

Author's Bio: 

Ms. Terry L. Hansen, MSc., BAHon.,
Ms. Terry L. Hansen was born and raised in Alberta, Canada and while
she freely admits to graduating high school with a 64% average, she
was not content to accept what those marks suggested—that she
wasn’t all that smart. Hansen struggled against that label, and
successfully completed a technical degree in electroencephalography
(brain wave testing) at the University Of Alberta Hospital. Hansen
continued her education at the University of Calgary, receiving a BA
First Class Honour’s Degree and earning scholarships and awards for
maintaining an exceptionally high Grade-Point-Average (4.0).
Hansen was awarded the Dean’s Special Scholarship to pursue a Master’s of Science in the Faculty
of Kinesiology. Subsequent to receiving her MSc., Hansen was accepted into the PhD program at
the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Neuroscience at the University of Calgary. She was awarded
the Cooper award for having the highest mark in the course “Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience”.
She is trained in brain mapping, a complex skill that aids in the placement of a permanent
electrode deep within the brain to assist in reducing the devastating symptoms of advanced
Parkinson’s disease.
Having successfully completed two years of her PHD, Hansen chose to take a leave of absence in
order to promote her unique method of learning, Genius by Choice with the book that she had
written. This was in response to being asked repeatedly how she maintained such high marks. Her
answer is contained in Genius by Choice for College Students. Initially, the intention was to
write the book and then return to her PhD program. However, it quickly became apparent that
students of all ages were benefiting from her learning system.
Hansen continues to train students in her unique approach to learning, and has had tremendous
success. She has been instrumental is helping students to change their lives, creating a promising
and fulfilling future for many. Hansen envisions the day when all education will be based on the
principles of neuroscience and is truly a pioneer in the effort to expose learning myths and offers
simple, tested solutions for increasing learning outcomes in education.
Hansen currently offers training to students in grades 9 through 12, Post Secondary and Industry
clients needing to pass a licensing exam to advance their career placement. Hansen's Genius By
Choice is located in Cochrane and Calgary.