Motivational Climate: Weathering the Storm

I’ve spoken a lot about Ego vs. Task Orientations as they pertain to the individual, as well as society.

This is the way in which we approach things: we do it for our mastery of the task, we do it to compare ourselves to others…or some combination of the two. Motivational Climate is something a bit different. Rather than the way we approach something, it is the way in which our environment encourages us to approach something.

Important questions to ask ourselves:
  • How did I get my current orientation?
  • What sort of motivational climate did I grow up in?
  • What motivational climate am I in now, in terms of work, sport, and life?
Our experiences with out motivational climate can have serious consequences.

One interesting finding is that task orientation is positively associated with a belief that one may be able to improve their physical abilities with practice (Sarrazin, Biddle, Famose, Cury, Fox & Durand, 1996). Task oriented people tend to have more of a “growth” oriented mindset, as opposed to a “fixed” mindset – that is, they believe that they have control over their destiny, as opposed to being locked into whatever gifts they were born with.

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck goes into detail about the importance of fostering growth mindsets as a way to bolster intrinsic motivation in sport, academics, and business (Check out her TED talk, it is quite illuminating). This makes perfect sense – with a fixed mindset, any “failure” or  mistake digs directly into a person’s self-worth. If one fails and believes that they are inherently unable to grow and improve, why would they bother continuing to exert themselves as a particular task?

The answer: They wouldn’t. They would have no real motivation to.

Looking at the process, on the other hand, sets people up to believe that they can continue to grow and achieve. This causes us to dream and choose goals of appropriate difficulty in order to challenge ourselves.

The Ego Climate does the opposite. It creates a fixed mindset within us that is detrimental to motivation. By constantly obsessing about being the best, and comparing ourselves to others, we have a tendency to fixate on the next test/contest/performance review. Worse yet, as Dweck points out, people with a fix mindset will often avoid challenges, cheat, or look for competition that is far below their skillset – all as a means to not look incompetent.

Practical Application: Creating a Task Oriented Climate (or: How to know if you are currently in one)

Duda and Treasure (2014), offer the following strategies. NOTE: this list is far from all inclusive:

  • Assist athletes in goal setting. That is, do not do it for them.
  • Give the athlete a role in decision-making.
  • Encourage self-evaluation
  • Get athletes to take responsibility for their development
  • Spend equal time with all athletes
  • Be consistent, especially with evaluations
  • Emphasize improvement, effort, and persistence toward goals.

One key theme: Task/Mastery Climate is best maintained when athletes are given ample autonomy and introspection. When we couple this with a strong emphasis on effort and mastery, vice only winning, we set the stage for consistent growth, motivation, and improvement.


Duda, J. L., & Treasure, D. C. (2014). The motivational climate, athlete motivation, and implications for the quality of sport engagement. In J. M. Williams & V. Krane (Eds.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (pp. 57-77). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Sarrazin, P., Biddle, S. J. H., Famose J. P., Cury, F., Fox, K. R., & Durand, M.  (1996). Goal orientations and conceptions of sport ability: A social cognitive approach. British Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 399-414.


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