Today’s guest post is by Benjamin O.
I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. First I need to make a few disclaimers–one, to the best of my knowledge no serious research regarding the motivation of home-teaching pairs has ever been published. That’s a huge disclaimer. I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Second, because of point one, virtually all of what I say here is logic applied to what we do know about motivation to conform to a new situation. Third, if there’s anything that we know about behavioral psychology, it’s that it is incredibly difficult to make generalizations based on one set of samples and extend it to another. I could spend a lot of effort proving that point, but I’ll simply cite the fact that when we are developing a selection measure in a workplace it must be validated for the organization in question. It is impossible to take a stock measure and claim any sort of certainty that it predicts performance exactly the same from one job setting to the next. Because of this, what I am saying is largely based on the broadest and most well-accepted theories of motivation available.
It is no secret that in many wards, home-teaching is an activity that every elder and high-priest is aware of, but only a select few do with any sort of consistent regularity. I am personally convinced that it is due to a set of motivational issues that are never properly addressed. As a researcher, I get pretty peeved about many of the definitions of motivation out there. Personally, I get annoyed when ward members start talks by defining commonly used words, but in this case I am justifying this because the word motivation has so many definitions that are used quite interchangeably, with little regard for what someone really means.
For instance, if someone says, “I’m not feeling motivated today” what they mean is that don’t want to do the things that they are feeling pressure to do. If I say “she is a really motivated woman”, what I might mean is that she is ambitious, works hard, or is highly conscientious. The problem with all this is that it lacks precision. Although psychology is often viewed by chemists, physicists, and biologists as a ‘soft science’, the best researchers in psychology are exceptionally careful with their research methods and definitions. In that tradition, I am arguing that if we really want to understand the core of a person’s reasons for action, we must be meticulous about definitions. Thus, I am borrowing heavily from Gary Latham’s definitions for motivation, he, with Ed Locke, being one of the foremost researchers in work motivation. He rightly points out that the word motivation has Latin roots, being a derivation of movere (for movement). [Reference: Gary Latham (2007), Work Motivation: History, Theory, Research and Practice, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, p. 3]
With that in mind, I am offering a definition of the word that is simple–the desire to act (or move) in a particular fashion. Thus we are never unmotivated (except possibly in a few instances of extreme depression)–we always have a desire to act in some fashion, whether or not that action is in keeping with the goals and desires of others or even those held up by the teachings of the gospel as being of utmost importance.
Thus, if we view it that way, the problem with home teaching is not a lack of motivation, but an over-abundance of motivation to things OTHER than home teaching. Note that this applies equally to virtually any particular task or goal. It may not be that a person lacks a desire to do something, it’s that they have stronger desires to do other things.
With that in mind, there are two potential solutions (working on a competing priorities model). First to increase the strength of a person’s desire to do the home-teaching (this is tricky), or second, to reduce both the number and intensity of competing goal-sets. Either solution is viable in general, but in a specific setting one may be more viable than another.
I should note at this point, that the above is true of virtually any goal-set, gospel related or otherwise. Temple attendance, payment of tithing, adherence to the Word of Wisdom (which I can no longer abbreviate as WoW–that’s now a time-sink of infinite proportions designed to look like a game), caring for children in a particular manner, completing work-projects, doing homework, and so forth.
This is the strength of Locke & Latham’s model, as presented by Ed Locke in a 1997 article–it’s generic enough that it can be adapted easily to a variety of scenarios, while specific enough to actually be useful. It’s also testable (falsifiable), which is a litmus test of whether or not an idea can be considered a scientific-theory. But that’s another point.
This linked article has a great explanation of the theories I’m discussing: http://fisher.osu.edu/~klein_12/CTmodel.pdf [WARNING: PDF]
This article is even better: http://bit.ly/9NfLCA [WARNING: PDF] (this is the source for the above image).
While there is a lot to absorb in the above flowchart, much of which I simply don’t have time to explain, it should be noted that intrinsic to action is the concept of goals. I want to focus on this for a moment. Goals are necessary if you want to convince someone to behave in a particular fashion. I believe this is a lesson taught consistently within the scriptures. God wants the Israelites to stop worshipping idols with the Egyptians so he gives them goals. The most effective form of therapy for most psychological malfunctions is based around this concept–cognitive-behavioral therapy includes goal modification.
The single biggest problem in this is that all too often in home-teaching we shy away from goals and we are unable to convince those who are supposed to be doing this relatively simple task to adopt the goal with sufficient force that it becomes more important than other goals (like watching Lost, or playing Xbox 360 [or PS3, or Wii, or some title on their computer–I’m system agnostic], or going to see Iron Man 2, or golfing, or whatever their preferred leisure activity is).
According to this model it comes down to #3: Values & Personality (which of course are fed by needs*–we absolutely value what we perceive we need). For my brother, while he values home-teaching in a service-oriented sense (and is there 100% when a home-teaching family has a specific need with which he can assist), he does not value it from a friendship perspective or a spiritual teaching perspective. That’s largely rooted in the fact that he’s not an extrovert, but also has a root in his desire (perceived need) for action rather than talk.
In order to convince my brother that monthly visits regardless of a physical need are in order, it becomes necessary to reorder his evaluation of the importance of socialization, as he feels no particular compulsion in this regard (don’t get me wrong–he enjoys conversations with others, but he doesn’t feel a need for it; there’s an obvious analogy here, but I think I’ll refrain as I’d rather not offend).
In my opinion the shortest path to make that value change happen is a spiritual path, which is fine for home-teaching (if you assume that it is indeed a divinely appointed program), but for things in the day to day, this may not be a solution.
Certainly setting clearly defined goals is a step in this process, but it isn’t enough. There needs to be an emotional attachment (values are, in large part, emotional attachments to a particular outcome), which is what we see in advertising. Effective ad agencies know this: the goal is to have a person adopt the values that would lead them to value the product sufficiently that it becomes more motivating than competing motivations. That is, we want to spend our money on their product rather than any other product. There’s a lot of good research on this–mostly done by economists rather than psychologists (although one Daniel Kahneman is an exception–he won the Nobel Prize in Economics one year, but he’s a psychologist).
This is also why many companies (and drug dealers) give out free samples: they know that because you have a free portion of their product, you will place value on that product (there are a lot of reasons for this–but simply put, we value what we have in our possession more than that which we do not possess). I think home-teaching is much the same. In order to convince someone that monthly home-teaching visits have value for those performing them (rather than just those visited), I think the real solution is to get them started on it with a companion which already values it and that is able to engage them on a personal level. This is a tricky proposition, but it is likely the most effective solution to a difficult problem.
Of course, all this applies just as much to visiting teaching. The question to readers is this: what motivates you to participate in the home teaching program, if anything does? In the interest of full disclosure, I have recently had a really hard time doing my own home teaching, but I have in the past gone for a number of years without ever missing. What has your experience been?
*Needs, in this instance, are not referent to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which has limited empirical support as a theory of explained action (motivation, if you will). It might be useful in providing a general framework for talking about different types of desires or needs, but the data do not show it to predict behavior. The most fundamental flaw is that Maslow envisioned a hierarchy in which needs at the base of the pyramid (food & shelter) are dealt with prior to pursuing other needs and did not allow for a mechanism which explains under what conditions an individual might pursue a need at the top of the pyramid prior to a more fundamental need (seeking spiritual enlightenment despite undergoing severe poverty and even starvation). Thus, while an interesting idea or framework for conceptualizing needs, it fails to explain behavior, and is therefore of limited value.