September 21, 2021 TOPICS

Keeping Motivation High by Making Appreciation a Habit

When you put your mind to something, you start to acquire new knowledge. Although this seems common among business people, how long can you sustain that motivation? Some of us may have had the experience of starting something with great enthusiasm but quitting within a week, but if you keep a diary of the little things you appreciate in your daily life, you might be able to maintain your motivation.

[Key Points of this Article]
● Using an Appreciation Diary improved student motivation to learn
● It’s effective to regularly express how much you appreciate your friends and family
● Keeping an Appreciation Diary is an intensive task, but the effect lasts for three months.
● Appreciation can reduce apathy.
● This method could be effective for maintaining the motivation to learn among elementary and junior high school students and for helping working adults to improve their skills.

Motivation to learn increases when you keep an Appreciation Diary

In an Appreciation Diary, you express your appreciation for your friends and older classmates as well to the producers who made the food you eat. This is the method that was actually used in this study.
In a joint study with the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), Professor Noriko Yamagishi of Ritsumeikan University's College of Global Liberal Studies asked a group of university students to record what they were grateful for on a daily basis for two weeks and tracked how their motivation to learn changed.

"The results of the experiment showed that the group that kept an Appreciation Diary continuously improved their motivation to learn compared to the group that did not.
As you can see from the Appreciation Diary described above, the content of what you appreciate does not have to be related to learning. Since we targeted university students this time, most of the students wrote about little things they were grateful for on a daily basis, such as the friends and family they encounter in their daily lives as students, snacks that someone gave them, or events they enjoyed. Moreover, the diary entries are written in simple, bullet point style.
However, the group that continued to keep an Appreciation Diary every day showed a significant increase in their motivation to learn," explains Professor Yamagishi.

Improved motivation can persist for three months after stopping the diary

What is important about the results of this study is not only that motivation to learn increased during the two weeks of keeping the Appreciation Diary, but also that this increased motivation persisted for three months after the two-week period ended and the subjects stopped keeping a diary.

"To discover that motivation increased while the students kept an Appreciation Diary was a great achievement in its own right, but we were surprised to see that the effect lasted for three months afterwards.
In fact, even though the idea is to just keep a diary of the little things you are grateful for on a daily basis, it’s not easy to keep the habit going, and the entries can become rote. In terms of using a diary to maintain motivation, you could ask students to keep a diary just for the first two weeks of the fall semester,” says Professor Yamagishi.

The illustration above shows the most frequently used keywords from the students’ Appreciation Diaries. The larger the word, the more frequently it was used, and you can see that the students mostly expressed appreciation for the things and people they encounter on a daily basis like “friends,” “part-time jobs,” “older students,” “food,” and “mom.”
What is interesting is that, at a glance, most of these do not seem have any connection to motivation to learn. So, why did their motivation increase? Although more research is needed to shed light on the underlying mechanisms, the study found that one reason for this is the decrease in a certain emotion.

The key to improving motivation is reducing apathy

“Motivation to learn consists of three factors: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and apathy. By analyzing each of these factors, we found that the group that kept an Appreciation Diary experienced decreased apathy, but there were no changes in the other two factors,” explains Professor Yamagishi.

What is fascinating is that there were no discernable changes in the positive factors of intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Professor Yamagishi continues:

“As mentioned earlier, the Appreciation Diary entries dealt mostly with things that happened in daily life and expressing gratitude for people; there were not many entries about learning.
Being grateful for small daily events makes you feel more connected to other people, makes you want to help other people, and makes you more receptive to other people's opinions. As a result, we can say that the decrease in apathy brings one’s motivation and desire to improve oneself to the surface. It is possible that this psychological change may have triggered an increase in the motivation to learn.”

In other words, reducing apathy, which is an obstacle to motivation, plays a major role in increasing motivation.

The Appreciation Diary could be effective for elementary and junior high school students as well as working adults

Would the results of this study, which was conducted with university students, be effective for increasing motivation in other age groups?

Noriko Yamagishi, Professor, College of Global Liberal Arts, Ritsumeikan University

“We are currently pursuing research that also targets high school students, and we are starting to see results that suggest that the Appreciation Diary is also effective in boosting their motivation.
There is also a study that was conducted in schools overseas to track changes in the emotions of elementary and junior high school student by having them keep Appreciation Journals for five days. This study showed that the journals improve psychologically positive emotions. Although it did not measure motivation, I think it could be effective for doing so. What’s more, this study, like the one we conducted, showed that the journals helped the students maintain their positive emotions for several months afterwards,” explains Professor Yamagishi.

A universal worry that the parents of many elementary and junior high school students have is that their children are not motivated to learn, and they likely already know that just telling their children to study is ineffective.
Perhaps they can draw a hint from this study and use the first week of the school year for everyone in the family to record the little things they are grateful for in an Appreciation Diary. Perhaps getting the whole family involved could also be effective in boosting the parents’ motivation toward work.

“Due to the pandemic, telework, working from home, and taking classes from home have become commonplace. In a society where you can work or study from anywhere at any time, it is extremely important to be able to control your motivation.
Going forward, I would like to engage in joint research with company partners to see what impact feelings of appreciation have on motivation to work,” stated Professor Yamagishi.

Appreciation increases motivation, which in turn yields more appreciation. If this positive chain of events can be proven through research, it will be of great significance to the world. We will continue to pay attention to the “power of appreciation” that Professor Yamagishi is exploring.

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