Performance or Mastery

Although having an unusual drive is part of the profile of XIPs, this drive should be underlain with motivation of some kind. In fact, if an XIP is not motivated to do something, the innate drive turns against him/her and results in a depressing feeling of inadequacy and meaninglessness.

According to educational, as well as management theories, motivation can be boosted by setting a goal of some kind. One of the choices that have to be made is whether to choose a performance goal or a mastery goal.

  • A performance goal is about obtaining some well-defined result, like grades at school or production targets at work.
  • A mastery goal is about becoming proficient – a master – in the process of learning or working.

XIPs and their environment have to be aware of the difference between the two, and of the fact that the management of motivation is an important factor in attaining and maintaining effectiveness of XIPs.

The inevitable prod to perform

For many people, having an uncommonly high intelligence means having an obligation to perform in accordance with this “special gift.” This is not something to take lightly: In many countries the various special programs for gifted children are of course meant to facilitate them in applying their special intelligence. But “performance” as a driving factor comes along with the special focus on school grades and quite often on blaming when they fall below expectations.
Although this line of thought – the fulfilment of expectations, and consequent steering onto high perfor­mance – is quite logical and from the viewpoint of society understandable, we have our doubts about its effectiveness.

In our experience, many extra empathic XIPs become distracted and develop a fear of failure due to their strong awareness of the expectations of their school or work environment and their loved ones.
They sincerely try to fulfil those expectations. In their endeavour they are less aware of, or forget to address their own needs and to use the qualities they actually have, due to their strong ability to see themselves and their qualities through the eyes of somebody else.
As a consequence, they may fail to perform well on the task at hand.

Extra task-oriented XIPs are physically less aware of other people’s expectations, and may accept a task that is assigned to them and go for it. But, similarly, when the task they undertake matches their own autonomous preferences and qualities, they may be more effective and reach a higher performance.

The personal challenge of striving for mastery

The word “mastery” is associated with the medieval guilds, where apprentices had to work and study a long time with their chosen master. Finally, they would produce their own “masterpiece” in order to be accepted in the guild as a master craftsman. This masterpiece was at the least the indication of a high quality of skills and workmanship but also expressed the creative identity of the maker.
Striving for mastery is a strong intrinsic motivation to become proficient to the best of one’s abilities. It is about stretching one’s limits every time, if possible. It is also connected with personal identity, just as the artist puts his/her name, or rather, personal sign or signature on a finished painting.

While striving to make a masterpiece, it is sometimes part of the process to make mistakes while trying a new, possibly better way of doing things, or while finding out one’s own individual style of expression. A mastery orientation helps to try out new ways of learning, or to seek help and inspiration from other masters or even apprentices, because everyone can be a source of knowledge. In the same vein, difficult tasks are usually more fascinating, because there can be something new to master. Perseverance and effort are almost self-evident, because the stretching of personal limits by definition does not come cheap.
The Mastery goal is quite compatible with a Growth Mindset.

Personal leadership

If the XIP is in need of rapport and appreciation from his/her environment, it is very tempting to go for performance goals: Once you have reached them, you are the hero. The reason can be just as simple as the wish to make Mom and Dad proud, to thank them for all they have done for you.
But the price can be very high: A loss of motivation, energy and self-esteem can occur when the goals are not met.

That is why personal leadership is an important quality for XIPs to develop. This involves being clear to oneself about one’s choices, dealing with pressure from the environment, and keeping an eye on the personal target, while still being aware of possible interesting information that might influence the goal.
Not being too harsh on oneself can also be an important rule.