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Did you ever wonder why you work so hard to prove someone wrong? Motivated!

Did you ever notice yourself working hard to prove someone wrong and, by extension, prove yourself right? Did you ever wonder why you feel so motivated to do so? According to the self-completion theory (Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982), when people experience a threat to something they value about themselves as a person (i.e., an aspect of their identity), they become highly motivated to show others that element of their identity. For example, if a football player did not perform as well as expected in a game, that player might seek a teammate or coach to tell them they are still a skillful player to restore their sense of self as a talented football player. Sometimes, they await the next training session or game to prove their identity to themselves and others. For instance, after a comparatively poor performance in a competitive match, a player might go full throttle at the next training session to show others they can still outplay anyone on their team. Some coaches and managers use self-completion theory to motivate or elicit a response from a player by telling them: ‘I’m not sure you still have the engine to be a box-to-box player’ only to see the player work incredibly hard in the next game to disprove the coach’s point (and restore themselves and their identity). Occasionally, however, this challenge to the player backfires because the player does not see the coach's statement as a challenge but as confirmation that they have lost fitness or are aging.


Brunstein, J. C., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (1996). Effects of failure on subsequent performance: The importance of self-defining goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology70(2), 395–407.

Wicklund, R. A., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (1982). Symbolic self-completion. Erlbaum.

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