Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. You are in for a treat with this episode of Real English Conversations. It’s a really special episode, and I’m so happy to be sharing it with you.
A while back I had the huge honor of having a conversation with one of my own personal heroes, Dr. BJ Fogg. BJ is the director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. Put simply, he’s a scientist who spends a lot of time studying how to help people create desirable habits and getting those habits to stick. The concept of motivation plays an important role in BJ’s work. I think most people would agree that motivation is incredibly important for successful language learning, maybe even the most important thing. When you’re highly motivated, it’s easy. But when your motivation is low, it’s not so easy.
BJ has lots of practical advice about how you can make most of your motivation, no matter if it’s high or low. His way of thinking about motivation as a wave blew my mind when I first came across it. The motivation wave can easily be applied to language learning, so I am super excited to share it with you.
As always, you can find the full transcript of this conversation, including a bonus vocabulary lesson at betteratenglish.com/transcripts.
OK, you’re about to hear part one of the conversation. I’ll pop in again at the end to give you four things you can do to get the most benefit from this episode.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Lori: Can– can people depend on motivation when they’re trying to learn things and do things that are difficult?
BJ: Well, in order to do anything difficult, you have to have motivation or you won’t do them. So either, if it’s…if the behavior or task is difficult, you’ve got to find some way to summon up some motivation; or if you make the task simpler, you won’t need so much motivation. So you basically have two options: boost your motivation or make the task easier to do.
Lori: Okay yeah, that– that makes a lot of sense. And I— I noticed in your video, you said that…people often, like teachers or people trying to initiate behavior change or help people change their behavior, that, you don’t like to hear them talking about, “motivating behavior change,” you prefer the term “facilitating” behavior change. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.
BJ: Yeah. In English, there’s a common phrase that people use when they talk about behavior change, “We need to motivate behavior change.” And yes, you could motivate behavior change but there’s other ways to get behavior to happen. And if you’re looking at long-term behaviors or getting people to create habits, focusing on motivation is the wrong focus. You really need to look at, how do we make the behavior easy to do? And also, it’s related to the habits — how do we make the behavior rewarding or emotionally satisfying? And so, the thing that I’m worried about is by using that phrase, “motivate behavior change,” people are really limiting themselves in how they think about the different ways to design for behavior change.
Lori: It’s interesting to me, coming from, you know, having a background as a teacher. I can remember from my initial teacher training, we were often…it was either implied or— or sometimes even overtly stated that the idea was, “You have to motivate your students. You have to do things to keep their motivation up.” And— and of course, you know, [as a teacher] you want to be motivating and inspiring to people. But when I saw your video, your presentation about the motivation wave, it’s kind of like, a little bell went off that– you know, that it makes so much sense. Could you just explain just the basic, basic idea about the motivation wave — talking about the peaks and valleys, and difficult and hard?
Practice your listening with CC subtitles
BJ: Everyone, I think, has experienced this phenomenon in their life where they get excited about doing some behavior or some set of behaviors like, getting healthier or reducing stress. Now that excitement, as it goes up, I decided to call that, a “motivation wave” because it will go up but it will also come back down. So, it’s not a constant thing. And what the motivation wave allows you to do, when the motivation wave is high — you can do hard things, you can spend lots of time, you can put in a lot of effort, you can persist through hardship if your motivation is high. And as your motivation comes down, you can’t do the hard things anymore, you only can do simple things. And so the key to understand…there’s a few keys: Number one, that motivation won’t always be high. That goes up and down. And then two, when motivation is high, that’s the right time to get yourself or other people to do hard things. And when motivation is low, you can’t do hard things; what you can do are simple things. And so designing — if you’re trying to get yourself to study more or exercise more or what have you and your motivation’s really low, then you should take, let’s say, the study task, and break it down to just three minutes and say, Continue reading…