Uncertainty and motivation

Indeed, there is also evidence to suggest that uncertainty can motivate, for example, Luxi Shen, Ayelet Fishbach and Christopher Hsee found that people are more excited and motivated by a task when they don't know what the reward will be (Shen, Fishbach & Hsee, 2015). Recall, for example, your excitement as a child when you picked something from a lucky dip. Sometimes uncertainty can be invigorating, the freedom of simply not knowing what the future holds. At other times, this uncertainty can motivate us to explore ways of understanding and adapting to it.

At a very basic level, there are things that matter and there are things we can control. Some of the things that matter we can control, yet most we can't. Many of the things we can control don't matter. Political turmoil, rising crime rates and global tensions might be important to us, but our ability to control these things is limited. Similarly, a trip to the supermarket may presents us with a choice of products, but if we don't really care that much if we buy one brand of product or another, our choice is simple and hassle free. Returning to shoelaces, not so long ago you could pop down to Woolworths and choose from a very limited number of laces to replace the recently broken one. Now, a quick search on Amazon reveals innumerable options - there is simply too much choice and, consequently, our feelings of being in control are reduced.

Fretting about things we can't control serves little purpose and many of the things we can control we don't really care about anyway. The sweet spot is where our most concerted efforts should lie - the things that matter to us and that we have control over. A student studying for an important exam, for example, believes that a good result matters and that they have control over what they do to ensure that. Flowever, our perceptions of control aren't always conducive to success, as we'll discover in Chapter 10.

Daily hassles in the classroom: academic buoyancy

Making the distinction between high-level life events that have the potential to significantly test our copying abilities and daily hassles that, on the surface, don't appear to impact individuals in the same way, is a useful way to approach the general stress concept. It allows us to better understand how some people cope with daily setbacks, how these accumulate and lead to much wider wellbeing problems and why those who usually cope, sometimes don't cope so well.

It, therefore, makes sense that we do the same with resilience. In less extreme circumstances to those described in the previous chapter, individual coping mechanisms are different. Competing academic deadlines differ from a childhood characterised by extreme poverty or other adverse experiences, so why would we approach them in the same way? A relatively new area of resilience research focuses, not on these extreme circumstances, but school-related coping in response to low-level setbacks and challenges. This new area of academic interest has become known as academic buoyancy.

Academic buoyancy is a concept first proposed by Australian Educational Psychologist Andrew Martin. It was Martin who recognised that the ability of students to cope and thrive within an environment beset by daily setbacks (i.e. schools), was conceptually different from that being studied by traditional resilience researchers. Academic buoyancy, therefore, doesn't concern itself with cases of major adversity, rather, it deals with events that may appear innocuous yet have a strong subjective negativity attached. A teacher, for example, might set a short test as a means of checking student knowledge. For the majority of students a test will be viewed with mild irritation, but shouldn't produce high levels of anxiety. For a minority, however, even a short, low stakes test can trigger an anxious response (in a smaller number, the mere mention of a test can trigger fight or flight). A scenario such as this should be familiar to many teachers and some might have even witnessed more extreme symptoms of anxiety. This anxiety arises for several reasons and often differs between individuals. In general, the fear is related to failure but it may also be related to the uncertainty of outcome - the lack of cognitive closure. Even if the task is known well before it takes place (such as a previously planned test or perhaps a presentation) there is still a modicum of uncertainly; What if my mind goes blank? What if I'm asked a question I haven't prepared for? The ensuing anxiety is therefore more pronounced in those individuals prone to certainty seeking behaviour, or uncertainty avoidance.

 
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