New Perspective: How Pride Motivates

Have you ever wondered how to motivate yourself when you’re stuck? Insights for Women in Business spoke with Jessica Tracy, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of the book “Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success.” Tracy’s research suggests that pride may be the motivating factor behind most people’s success. We spoke with her about how pride can be useful, and how you can bring it into your life.

Insights for Women in Business: How would you define pride?

Jessica Tracy: Pride is a positive emotion that we feel about ourselves. The most important part of it is that it’s about the self specifically.

IWB: Why do you think pride is so essential to success?

JT: My view, and this is supported by research, is that pride is what makes us want to succeed at really any level.

IWB: How does pride motivate us?

JT: We did a study looking at students who were taking regular class exams. And we looked at how they did on the first exam of the term, and then we asked them how they felt about themselves and their performance.

We expected that people who did well would feel a great deal of pride in their performance, and that would motivate them to keep on working hard. But that’s not actually what we found. People who did really well knew that studying in the same way as they had previously could probably get them there again. So pride wasn’t really a motivating factor to these people.

However, the people who did poorly — many of them reported that they didn’t feel pride. And those people said they were going to study differently for the next exam. And what we found was that for those people who performed poorly on the first exam, their spark of low pride directly predicted improved performance on the next exam. It’s like pride is a carrot. When we are aware that we’re missing it in our lives, that pushes us to go out and get it. And often that means putting in more work.

IWB: How would you suggest someone use pride to keep herself motivated?

JT: With people struggling for motivation, it’s about sitting back for a moment and thinking about what’s most important to you. It’s not that people don’t want to work hard; it’s that they are not particularly excited about the thing right in front of them. And I think we all experience this: Even people who are the most happy in their jobs go through periods where they are just not that into it. And maybe sometimes it means you’re burnt out and you need a break. But other times I think it might mean that what you are focusing on isn’t the right thing.

IWB: How can people cultivate more pride in their day-to-day lives?

JT: It comes from working hard toward an achievement that matters to you.

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