On Matters of Motivation

Creative Commons: Arya Ziai

Creative Commons: Arya Ziai

When it comes to getting stuff done, I’ve observed a fair range of behaviours and responses in regard to completing tasks, classwork or other types of challenges.

I’m a parent of three sons under 15 and also work part-time with young people at college. I used to be in the classroom, teaching, and have regularly been part of various teams – both in paid or voluntary settings. I’ve gained experience through tutoring 1:1, too.

As a result, I’ve seen the world of difference in working with those who are self-motivated, and working with those who are not.

You can nag, cajole, persuade, bribe. But at the end of the day, a nagged person will only achieve momentary success for a particular season or project. They’ll constantly need guidance, oversight and assistance to get anything done. In contrast, a self-motivated person will by default become a successful or independent person – in whatever life’s direction they pursue – since they push themselves to achieve more.

The self motivated tend to exhibit the following traits:

  • A positive or can-do attitude – they get going with planning or writing or contributing ideas. Without sighing or whining, as if they’ve been asked to schlep a tonne of bricks to the North Pole.
  • Determination – to tackle the task set before them, despite any challenges or setbacks. Determined people believe that what they need to complete is within their capabilities and act accordingly. They know they can do it, and just get on with the task at hand swiftly.
  • Initiative – willing to try out solutions and work things out by various methods, without constantly asking for someone else’s permission or help. Those who show initiative are quick thinkers.
  • Acknowledgement of their flaws or shortcomings – They are aware of their limitations and will be quick to ask for help or guidance or advice from a variety of sources, when necessary. They don’t wait until it’s right before a deadline before approaching someone for help.

Conversely, the unmotivated are a disgruntled bunch, showing frequent signs of apathy, negativity, discontent and over-reliance on others. They don’t plan or think ahead, and get annoyed when they find something difficult.

It doesn’t need stating, that it is a joy to work with those in the former group. Those who are motivated tend to be happier and more likely team players. They’re committed to seeing through an activity or assignment.  They’re often known as ‘high flyers’.

So what makes someone self motivated?

I think there are several reasons…

  • They see the bigger picture, and are aiming for something beyond the current task. Frequently, they’re working towards a level or an exam which will allow them access to something aspirational – such as a place at university or an award or a vocation. More simply, it could be that they welcome the praise or minor reward to come after completion of the task.
  • They thrive on a challenge. Instead of thinking how difficult or impossible a task might be, they are eager to show others what they can do and what is possible.
  • They have high self esteem and take pride in their work. They can’t bear to give half hearted attempts at anything. They recognise that their work is a reflection of who they are as a person.
  • They place value on quality and success. Average is not an option.

So how can self motivation be developed in children or young people?

  • Help give them something to aspire to, a vision of what they could be or could gain – whether a career or sporting achievement or recognition from someone acclaimed. Let them see that they have potential to do or be something great by praising their good qualities and encouraging them to think about their future.
  • The small things matter. Don’t let them get away with chucking their clothes on the floor or dropping litter. Encourage them to organise themselves and to take responsibility for their possessions and prioritise their time. Model this in the way you organise yourself.
  • Make them follow through on commitments or promises. Don’t let them quit easily or let others down without good reason.
  • Be cheerful and upbeat around them. Discourage any forms of hyperbolic whining or complaining.  Self motivation cannot be fostered in an environment of whining.
  • Encourage them to tackle tasks – even the most boring ones – quickly and efficiently, rather than deliberating for ages.

Fortunately, it is possible to change from unmotivated and downbeat, to self motivated and confident. Young people have great potential for adaptability. Once they hit adulthood, however, it would seem that that they’re more likely to be stuck in the patterns they’ve adopted since childhood.

Not everyone is brilliant or high achieving or clever. But everyone can become self-motivated to ensure they give their optimum to the things that matter.

 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart – Colossians 3:23