Motivational Mindsets & Purpose

Compositive Model

Motivational Mindsets & Purpose


A growth mindset (as opposed to a fix mindset) boosts academic performance. Carol Dweck writes: “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.”

Some research findings:

  • Compared to students who demonstrated a fixed mindset, students with a growth mindset displayed increases in grades across the junior high school years.
  • A growth mindset can protect individuals from the negative effects of stereotypes:
    • African American students involved in growth mindset training were able to avoid the declines in academic performance and engagement associated with stereotype and demonstrated better academic outcomes (e.g., higher GPAs and greater value and enjoyment of academics) compared to their counterparts not in the training.
  • Praising children for intelligence can have unfavorable effects.
    • One well-known study found that children praised for performance become performance-oriented and struggle with failures.

Promising practices

Osborn-Parnes CPS program is a cognitively-based program designed to help individuals improve their creative problem-solving abilities. One study found it had significantly positive impacts.


Having a sense of purpose is associated with positive development across multiple domains (e.g., prosocial behavior, achievement, self-esteem, participation in youth activities, and identity development). Here are some specific research findings on purpose:

  • Youth with a high sense of purpose participated in school activities and activities within the community (e.g., orchestra) at higher rates than their low sense-of-purpose counterparts.
  • That same study found that high sense-of-purpose youth were more likely to be involved in challenging work with a high level of community engagement than their low sense-of-purpose counterparts who were more likely to work in low-wage jobs with low status.
  • Having identified a purpose is linked to life satisfaction and hope (during adolescence, emerging adulthood, and adulthood.


It’s important to distinguish between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to a desire to engage in an activity because of an inherent interest in the activity or pleasure gained from the activity; conversely, extrinsic motivation refers to a desire to engage in an activity because of an external goal (e.g., praise, money). 

Some findings on the two types of motivation and their impacts:

  • Intrinsic motivation is associated with higher levels of academic achievement; unfortunately, intrinsic motivation in school tends to decline as children grow. 
  • Still, students high in intrinsic motivation have higher levels of academic achievement over time compared to their counterparts with low levels of intrinsic motivation.


A widely accepted definition of initiative is the ability to assess and initiate things independently. Research shows that:

  • Participation in a youth program was found to be connected to the emergence of initiative skills that enable youth to channel effort toward future goals.
  • That same study found that leaders in youth programs can foster the development of initiative by allowing youth to take responsibility for and ownership over their work while still providing support.
  • Adolescents report more experiences linked to learning about initiative in organized activities than in academic classes.


Quite simply, to be aware of oneself is to have self-concept.

Research shows that academic self-concepts are predictive of academic achievement and can be influenced by adults and previous achievement.

Promising practices

  • Marvelous Me is a program that works to improve the self-concepts of preschool children through a variety of activities based on six themes (feelings, self-image, getting to know myself, family, friends, and community). One evaluation study found that the program had mixed results in improving self-concept.


According to the American Psychological Association, self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.

  • In a series of studies, psychologist Albert Bandura found that self-efficacy develops from mastery experiences (i.e., experiencing success), vicarious experiences, social persuasion, and physical and emotional states.
  • Self-efficacy is associated with academic motivation and performance, persistence, and goal selection (no link available).
  • Low levels of academic and social self-efficacy significantly contribute to depression in childhood; girls with low social self-efficacy are at greater risk for depression than their male counterparts.
  • Academic self-efficacy is a stronger predictor of occupational efficacy and, in turn, preferred career choice than academic achievement.


Open-mindedness is not a highly prevalent character strength among younger children and is more readily seen in older individuals. There are few relevant academic research studies on this issue.


Hope/Optimism is linked to positive outcomes (e.g., higher levels of academic achievement and happiness) and fewer social-emotional problems among youth. Hope/Optimism is also related to life satisfaction among youth and adults. Some research that backs this up:

Promising practices: See self-control, above for information on KIPP schools.


Zest (or vitality) is a positive trait reflecting a person’s approach to life with anticipation, energy, and excitement. Research has found links between zest and life satisfaction and happiness. This is true of children, adolescents, and adults. 

  • A 2006 study by Christopher Peterson and Nansook Park in the Journal of Happiness found that zesty middle school students were less likely to display neurotic behaviors and internalize problems, and zesty adolescents had higher levels of life satisfaction. 
  • Those same researchers, in a 2009 study, found that among employed adults zest is associated with orientation to work as a calling and satisfaction with both work and life.

Promising practices: See self-control, above for information on KIPP schools.

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