Wanting vs. Choosing

Paul Tough in How Children Succeed:

When it comes to ambition,” Rowson [a chess grandmaster] wrote, “it is crucial to distinguish between ‘wanting’ something and ‘choosing’ it.” Decide that you want to become world champion [in chess], Rowson explained, and you will inevitably fail to put in the necessary hard work. You will not only not become world champion but also have the unpleasant experience of falling short of a desired goal, with all the attendant disappointment and regret. If, however, you choose to become world champion (as Kasparov did at a young age), then you will “reveal your choice through your behavior and your determination. Every action says, ‘This is who I am.’

This difference between motivation (want) and volition (choose) explains why so many children and adults fail at achieving their desired goals. I want to exercise and even talk about it regularly, but rarely do I choose to do so. Similarly, if our students don’t succeed at first, it may not be due to a lack of motivation. In fact, we must believe that every child in our classrooms is motivated to do well, but needs support to now convert that desire into a choice.

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