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Motivation and self-esteem

The trouble with the self-esteem movement is that it concentrates too much on self-esteem and so only looks at one of three important elements of what I call the 'self-emotions' - how people feel about themselves

The self- emotions come from our sense of being in control, i.e our agency or self-belief; getting along, i.e our affiliation ratings, of which self-esteem is an indicator; and thirdly our sense of autonomy or self determination, marked by among other things our attitudes towards learning and achievement.  When our needs for affiliation, agency and autonomy have been met we enjoy self-energising emotions.
We can directly impact on people's sense of affiliation through how we treat them. We can also nurture a sense of autonomy, and in particular a self-improvement attitude to achievement, by how we structure activities and responsibilities.  Perhaps the greatest potential to nurture confidence and well-being lies in the direct impact we can have over others' sense of agency through the feedback we give them. 

It is understandable that people often try to engage others by modelling enthusiasm and building self-esteem but doing so often means that we miss opportunities to impact on autonomy through an autonomy supportive structure and agency through feedback. But this narrow, self-esteem boosting approach is based on a limited conceptualization of how motivation works and over-values the importance of self esteem. The Confidence section of these Resources outlines research which shows that self-esteem is not important in academic performance or achievement while motivation is of vital importance. 

Copyright: Alan McLean, 2006

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