Passionate Motivation: The “Why” Behind Building Talent

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is passionate motivation? Why do we need passionate motivation?

In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle says that meaningful practice takes significant time, patience, and effort. He found that this level of commitment requires a special type of motivation called passionate motivation, also known as impassioned motivation.

Continue reading to learn what triggers passionate motivation.

What Is Passionate Motivation?

Coyle describes passionate motivation as the “why” that inspires someone’s long, difficult commitment to building talent: Passion sparks their desire to achieve, and motivation fuels the hard work and perseverance necessary to reach a long-term goal

(Shortform note: In Grit, Angela Duckworth explains that in the context of personal growth, “passion” isn’t enthusiasm (as many people think), but rather endurance. She argues that it’s less about the intensity of your commitment to your goals and more about the consistency of your commitment.)

Passionate motivation doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Rather, Coyle argues, it builds from the environmental signals you receive throughout your life—messaging about what is “valuable” or what’s expected of you. You pick up on these messages, often subconsciously, and use them to inform who you aspire to be. 

Coyle argues that an “aspirational self” built from your environmental signals produces two factors essential for sparking the passion and motivation necessary for you to commit to years of meaningful practice: 

  1. The desire to belong to a valued, high-achieving group: Not only can you belong to this group, but you can also be considered highly valuable if you put in the work to develop your talent. 
  2. The belief that someday you can achieve this belonging: Often, environments that spark impassioned motivation have produced high-achieving members. This sends the signal that—again, with hard work to develop your talent—someone like you can succeed.

(Shortform note: The desire to align with what’s valuable and expected in your society in order to belong to your social group is an innate human need. It enabled our ancestors to survive and has been passed down to us through evolution. This is why the desire to belong to a high-achieving group is so motivating—it’s a hardwired need that touches the very core of who you are and how you relate to others.) 

For example, if you’re a soccer player who grew up in an environment that highly values a couple of local players who made it big, you’ll likely have a desire to belong to this valued group. And, because the stars were once playing in the same local leagues you’re in, you know it can happen with hard work and commitment. Likewise, if you studied physics at a school that lauds its Nobel Prize-winning graduates, you’ll internalize a desire to join their ranks.

Does Believing in Yourself Really Matter? 

Coyle’s second motivator of belief is just as important as desire to belong. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the way that belief in your abilities can create self-fulfilling prophecies. He explains that children who believe that they’re bad at something will never practice it—therefore, they’ll never improve at it. 

Meanwhile, children who get attention and praise from teachers and parents believe that they’re talented and smart, so they act as if they are. This leads them to practice—and develop the talent or intellect they believed they already possessed.

Passionate Motivation Has the Power to Create Talent Epicenters

According to Coyle, passionate motivation doesn’t just drive individuals toward the commitment necessary to developing exceptional talent. Applied to a group—such as a school, town, or family—impassioned motivation can create an epicenter where numerous people develop extraordinary talent

Coyle notes two sources of passionate motivation in groups: a breakthrough talent and competition and collaboration.

Breakthrough Talent

Seeing others achieve greatness can be highly motivating. This doesn’t just work on the individual level, though—this is often a driver of  “talent epicenters.” 

When one person in a community develops extraordinary talent and gains fame, she sends a key environmental signal to her community: Someone “like them” or from their background can succeed. This sparks passionate motivation within the community—members showing a desire to join her ranks and a belief that they can

Coyle explains that this is why, in his research, he often found cases of one breakthrough talent finding recognition—and then seven to 10 years later, many others from the same community following suit. 

(Shortform note: According to research, exceptional success within your community can be motivating because it piques interest and curiosity. First, because the success is “close to home,” it’s more interesting than a success that’s not related to you in any way. Second, seeing someone from your background succeed prompts you to ask questions to understand how they did that—setting you up to follow similar steps.)

Collaboration and Competition

Coyle notes that another contributor to talent epicenters is continuously-present challenge. Often, groups of exceptionally talented individuals are found in environments where they are constantly exposed to each other’s talent, so they both collaborate and compete with one another.

In this type of environment, group members are driven to prove their belonging among the high-achievers, repeatedly rising to the challenge of meeting the talent and ability of their competitors. In other words, their environment creates consistent, challenging repetition at the edge of their ability.

(Shortform note: This upward spiral of competency, where each opponent provokes the other to learn and grow, demonstrates a virtuous cycle: a feedback loop where each element positively benefits the others. So while having a ferocious rival may feel like an obstacle to your success on the surface, they’re in fact a huge part of what drives your growth. The heights of any discipline grow through competition; without that back-and-forth, the skill would stagnate.)

Passionate Motivation: The “Why” Behind Building Talent

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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