If looking for clues as to how to become the most highly realized version of yourself, you could do worse than turning to the lyrics of the renegade poet-saint Kanye Omari West. In “Gorgeous,” the second track of his best album, he declares: “I was looking at my résumé feeling real fresh today/They rewrite history, I don’t believe in yesterday.” This, as Genius commenters note, provides a glimpse into how someone as successful as Kanye stays so aggressively creative: Recognizing that critics can tear down his accomplishments, the man just keeps going.
While I can’t say whether Stanford researcher Szu-chi Huang is a big Kanye fan, her latest research, upcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has a certain Yeezy quality to it.
In a series of experiments, she and her colleagues found that when people feel they’re ahead, they tend to let off the gas. In one case, participants who were playing a memory competition studied more when they were ahead early on, but studied less if they were ahead late in the game. Indeed, on self-reports, they said they thought it’d be easier for them to win at that point.
In another experiment, 2,500 students from two campuses of a public university were recruited to participate in a six-day book-donation drive. On the fourth day, some students on both campuses got a notification that “signups at our campus are still 10% lower than our best year.” The tactic was effective: On the leading campus, the group of students that got the notice had about double the participation rate and books donated per person compared with the unnotified group.
The takeaway: “By focusing on another standard that’s higher than where you are, you’re able to sustain motivation,” Huang said. Consider this an addendum to Kanye’s willful amnesia: Even if you don’t believe in yesterday, holding yourself to standards beyond the thing you’re doing right now can keep you from tapering off.