Stanford Study Says You Can’t ‘Find Your Passion’, You Must Develop Passion

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By Fattima Mahdi

According to ‘Implicit Theories of Interest: Find Your Passion or Developing It?’ a paper published in Psychological Science by three Stanford University researchers, popular mantras like “follow your passion” create the belief that pursuing a passion is easy. However, interests do not arrive fully formed, ready for you to coast the rest of the way. Instead, they require constant work, you must actively take the steps necessary to develop the skills and attributes that will allow you to pursue your goals. In essence, if you want to develop passion it will be far from easy. It will takes days, weeks, months and even years of hard work to actualise your dreams.

Paul O’Keefe, Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton conducted a series of laboratory studies that examined the belief systems that lead people to succeed or fail. The participants were either ‘techie’ – passionate about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) or ‘fuzzy’ – passionate about humanities and arts. 470 participants were observed as they read articles and watched videos on topics that interested them. They found that participants who were engrossed in one topic were less likely to 1) understand the material and 2) to finish the article or video.

The researchers observed that focusing on a single passion meant that people were less receptive to new potential areas of interest. Walton believes that such a narrow-minded view can be detrimental to the success of the individual. “Many advances in sciences and business happen when people bring different fields together, when people see novel connections between fields that maybe hadn’t been seen before,” he says. “If you are overly narrow and committed to one area, that could prevent you from developing interests and expertise that you need to do that bridging work. If you look at something and think, ‘that seems interesting, that could be an area I could make a contribution in,’ you then invest yourself in it,” says Walton. “You take some time to do it, you encounter challenges, over time you build that commitment,” says Walton.

In essence, if you have a fixed mindset and believe that interests are innate, you may be less intrigued by new topics, however, if you have a growth mindset and believe that interests are developed, you will believe that you can get smarter or better at something and this is likely to yield more successful results. The number of interests you can have is infinite, so broaden your focus, don’t narrow it. If you are able to do this, then you can achieve more than you ever thought was possible.

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READ MORE: Why We Are Unhappy And How We Resolve It

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