Effort does matter, and effort needs fuel

Image courtesy of: http://s0.geograph.org.uk

Image courtesy of: http://s0.geograph.org.uk

By David DeBrot, LSU

Bonitas non est pessimis esse meliorem.

I saw this Latin phrase written on the wall of a colleague’s office this week and it so tidily summed up experiences that occurred just minutes and days before I’d seen it. The phrase means ‘Being better than the worst is not goodness’. In other words, putting forth effort to be better matters.

This hit me because I’ve seen many examples of true effort recently – from students trying to grasp new methods of learning and assessment to my LSU colleagues trying various methods to clarify and make tangible what is often not clear to students in their studies.

I met earlier this week with student volunteers who are working throughout this month to raise awareness of the University Student Council Elections. The students aren’t running for office themselves, and as far as I can tell, they aren’t working to get any one person nominated or elected. They just believe it’s worth putting effort into electing a truly representative Student Council. Again, the notion of effort and how visible it can be came to mind.

Immediately after seeing the Latin phrase above in my colleague’s office, I was asked by a lecturer if a student who has a physical impairment is still at our university. I said ‘Yes, he’s on a full academic scholarship and he’s going to serve in the University academic peer mentoring program this semester’. My response was met with surprise, almost awe, and I realized that this student also demonstrated well the power of effort.

Some months ago, I wrote a post here about the ‘C word’ – ‘care’ – and how much of a difference it can make in anything one undertakes whether it’s an assignment, an entire university program or an aspect of a job. Thinking back on this, I realized what I had neglected to include in this article. Of course caring matters, it matters a great deal, but it takes effort to make a start on any strategy to improve your learning or course of action to improve the outcomes of a job. It also takes subsequent effort to see what you care about all the way through.

And this is where my colleague’s Latin phrase, my experience with students and the effort exemplified by my colleagues in the LSU came in. If you care and you put forth effort, you can start and take flight with something, but to keep it going takes fuel. And this fuel seems to be moments of feedback that result in joy.

‘Joy’ is defined as ‘the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires’ (as defined by Merriam-Webster). Talking about joy isn’t exactly commonplace in academic settings, but I believe it is a more specific expression of the feeling of reaching a desired outcome or realizing positive feedback that leads to that outcome than, say, ‘happiness’. Three days ago, after teaching a workshop on essay writing to first semester students in a course in Management theory, a few students told me they’d now be able to set themselves in the right direction with confidence. This gave me joy because that’s exactly what I wanted them to get out of the session. This small ‘packet’ of joy, wrapped in feedback, gave me cause to think and look forward to the next session of the workshop I would teach.

I imagine the reader has experienced something similar to this and would agree that having these moments of joy, however brief, gives an incentive to investing more effort into a similar activity. For you, the students, reading this article, the feedback you most look forward to (marks!) sometimes seems a long distance from the effort you’re putting into assignments and your courses. However, setting smaller goals which are time-bound and more recent on the horizon than mid-term or end-of-term is one way to make sure you have a chance at getting some moments of joy sooner rather than later.

So, to you the student or staff working on a project or problem (and especially if you feel like it’s always going uphill) here are some ways to keep fueling your effort:

  • Break a project or task down into small, time-bound steps.
  • Be clear with yourself and talk with others about what you care about in the outcomes of this project or task.
  • Create opportunities and clear methods for feedback.
  • Rarely is there ever any experience (and therefore feedback) which is completely 100% negative. Critical feedback may also offer some portion of positive feedback.
  • Talk with others in your work or study group about what outcomes you’d like to see as a result of your efforts. They are likely to have similar interests or may also have feedback which can fuel your effort towards these outcomes.
  • Just as Socrates said that an unexamined life isn’t worth living, perhaps the same is true for effort. Knowing the specific reasons for your efforts and how you might get feedback on them could go a long way in reaching the outcomes of your next assignment, course or project.

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