Motivation and energy seem to be intrinsically linked, such that when your energy levels drop, you’re more inclined to slip as your self-control lowers. That’s the standard thinking anyway. A study from the University of Toronto casts a degree of doubt on this hypothesis however. It reveals that there is no noticeable dip in our motivation levels as they day progresses, but this is only the case if we rotate tasks throughout the day.
“While people get tired doing one specific task over a period of time, we found no evidence that they had less motivation or ability to complete tasks throughout the day,” the authors say.
The study found little noticeable evidence of self-control depleting in real-life environments. It instead found no real decrease in motivation throughout the day, with motivation often increasing instead.
The authors suggest that the power of rotating tasks is probably due to the fact that we often have several long-term goals to achieve, and therefore we’re conscious of the need not to load all of our eggs into a single basket.
The authors believe that the hundreds of other studies into this have failed to come to a similar conclusion in large part because many were conducted in lab environments rather than real-life. The team believe they are one of the first to monitor self-control in a natural setting over a prolonged period, and with over 16,000 participants they believe their findings are robust.
Each participant was tasked with performing a number of learning exercises via the Cerego adaptive learning platform.
“The data from Cerego offered a unique opportunity because it showed us exactly when people were willing to engage in a difficult mental activity and for how long,” the researchers explain. “The fact participants got worse at a single task speaks to how effortful they found it, and despite the difficulty, we found no evidence whatsoever that their ability or motivation decreased up until the point they got tired late at night.”
Given the weight of evidence against them, it would seem sensible to adopt a cautious approach to these findings, but they are interesting nonetheless. It might be worth mixing up tasks in your own life to see what impact it has on your energy levels.