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You're More Likely To Have A Successful Career If You Have One Big Passion Rather Than A Whole List Of Goals

ANNAPOLIS, MD – MAY 29: U.S. Naval Academy graduates throw their hats in the air during graduation ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy May 29, 2012 in Annapolis, Maryland. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta was the commencement speaker for the 1099 graduates of the class of 2012. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Having external motives to succeed in addition to internal passions harms rather than helps persistence and performance, a study has found.

Researchers have long distinguished between motivation driven by internal passions to perform and motivation driven by external goals such as grades or promotions.

Many studies show that internal motivation results in better performance than instrumental motivation.

Amy Wrzesniewski of the School of Management at Yale University and colleagues tested whether holding both types of motivations would enhance performance.

The authors examined data from 10,238 cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point from nine consecutive classes between 1997 and 2006.

Using responses to entrance surveys about why cadets enrolled at West Point, the authors linked those motives with long term data on whether cadets successfully completed their studies and became commissioned officers, remained in the military beyond the mandatory five-year service period and were selected for early promotion.

The authors found that internal motivation predicted success.

However, holding both internal and instrumental motives impaired outcomes, suggesting that holding multiple motives harms persistence and performance in educational and occupational contexts over long periods of time, according to the authors.

The study, Multiple types of motives don’t multiply the motivation of West Point cadets, is published in PNAS.

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