What is the difference between ‘Effort’ and ‘Effective Effort’

“In a growth mindset, you don’t always welcome the setback, you were hoping to move forward, but you understand that it’s information on how to move forward better next time. It is a challenge that you are determined to surmount. In a fixed mindset, a setback calls your ability into question.” -Carol Dweck, 2013 interview

Setbacks are hard. So much so that many people avoid learning anything new, taking risks, or opportunities because of a fear of mistakes or that they might not be “good” at it. Our learning behaviour and ultimately our achievement all comes from our mindset. In a growth mindset, we see intelligence, behaviours, and responses as malleable. When one is in a growth mindset, one is more likely to experience a disappointment or a setback as an event that will teach us something. In a growth mindset, it is easier to reflect about what we learned and consider how to move forward in a productive way.

If we are struggling, we want to remain motivated, try harder, and stick with it. However, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result will not help us to move forward.

Often, we don’t recognize the difference between effort and effective effort. So if we say “try harder”, “study more”, or “stick with it”, we may think that we need to sit in front of our work for longer. However, continuing to do the same thing that hasn’t worked for us in the past will not move us forward. We need to find a more effective strategy to achieve our goal, such as, breaking down the task into smaller pieces, showing it to someone for feedback, looking closely at mistakes to understand them, setting specific learning goals at the appropriate level of challenge, and asking for help. We need effective learning strategies to help us to move forward.

Effective effort involves reflecting on our approaches to work smarter, which is needed to achieve better outcomes. Learning this, along with effective learning strategies and the understanding that we can change our abilities (a growth mindset), motivates us, as it gives us a path to success.

If we are aware of the distinction between effort and effective effort, we can build our self-management and learning competencies to maximize our progress. We come to understand that to improve we need to learn more effective ways to learn and with a growth mindset we will be motivated and empowered to develop our learning competencies which are needed to thrive in school and in life.