Thursday, January 14, 2016

It's Not Me, It's You: Motivation

I was emailing my sister-in-law and explaining how one of my kids doesn't seem motivated to do much of anything, especially school. My frustration is overflowing, yet I feel completely helpless. She has experienced similar problems motivating her boys, the most recent problem being her potty training failures with her little one. No matter what we do or say, they are not motivated to do what we feel they should or shouldn't do. At times, I feel as though I have failed as a parent, unable to make them see the importance of things, unable to inspire them to be better, to want more for themselves. I tend to get jealous of parents whose kids are over-achievers, yes, I can admit that. "My kid gets straight As, my kid is a top athlete, my kid is the star of the show," blah, blah, blah. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm happy for them, really, I am. I would just like to know what the magic formula, the secret sauce is, what motivates their kids to achieve without the push, without the dangling carrot. Or, if they do get pushed or chase the carrot, why does that work for them but not for my kids? I think the one most obvious statement exists: Motivation comes from within and cannot be taught or coerced.

We all do it, reward desirable behavior with positive words or actions. Hell, I have promised my kids phones, money, or other wanted items in exchange for good grades or certain behaviors. It makes sense right? Motivate them with what they want, what they desire? As kids get older, it's more difficult or should I say, the payout is much more complicated. When they were little, a warm smile and a "Yay, you did it," seemed to be all they needed. Then we moved to M&Ms, then Barbies/Legos, and before I knew it, I felt like I was offering more than what the task was worth. A while back, my husband told my son he would get him a specific car if he got straight As. I guess he knew he would never really have to pay up since our son's motivation wanes and dissolves during the semester, but on the slight chance our son did it, maybe it would spawn an internal motivation to want to achieve straight As the following semester. Um, no.

Lack of motivation doesn't just pertain to kids; it's very much a part of the adult world as well. We have someone in our family who smokes. We have begged, offered options, given the dire reality of what it's doing to his/her body and how it's claimed too many of our family members already, but what we see as motivating reasons to quit is not motivating to him/her. This person has to want to quit. He or she may say they want to, but in reality, they are not motivated enough to make the effort. No matter how much begging, it's a waste of breath because the lack of motivation exists.

We may struggle with our own motivation. I used to go to the gym almost every day and was in the best shape of my adult life until about a year ago. Now, I make a million excuses why I can't get to the gym. How do I motivate myself to get back into the healthy routine? What lies am I feeding myself to keep from getting back in shape? I guess I just don't want it badly enough. I keep telling myself, next week would be fine to start, this week is just too busy. Yes, I lie to myself, even though I know I'm lying! Maybe our family member has lied to him/herself that they won't be one of those who die of lung cancer. Sometimes it's much easier to convince ourselves of the pros of what we are doing than to convince others around us who have a different view.

I had to dig down into what motivates me. My motivation stems from childhood. When I was in grade school, my parents were told they would be lucky if I worked as a checkout girl at Kmart for the rest of my life - yes, someone at the school actually said this!! I struggled in school; nothing came easily to me. I had a learning disability no one could pinpoint. I was put in remedial classes and was made fun of for being in the "stupid" math class. It was humiliating. I would huddle under my covers with a flashlight at night and study, so I wouldn't be made fun of for getting a bad grade on a test. School was my nemesis, but it was also my motivation. I refused for anyone to tell me I couldn't do something. I proved my worth by going off to college and eventually scoring higher grades than the grad students in my class. My motivation never came from material things; it came from the need for internal validation. It was raising my middle finger to the schmucks who thought I wasn't capable or worthy of my dreams. I guess you could say, people who doubt me, motivate me.

So, no matter how much I try to motivate my children or those I love to push through their difficulties and rise above it, if they don't want it, it won't happen. I have to hope, somewhere along their journey, they will find the strength to push themselves, to find their own motivation to achieve what I know they are capable of. In the meantime, I hope to push myself to be the best I can be so they can draw strength from my perseverance. If they see me conquering my own mountains of self-doubt, maybe it will inspire them to do the same.

Next time you struggle with your motivation skills, consider leading by example rather than offering a physical or verbal push that will only be pushed back to you. No matter how hard you push or how much you want it, they have to want it more.


  1. You are peeking into my windows at night, aren't you? Sometimes I feel like everybody else's kids are perfect, until they tell me how wonderful my kids are. You are right, kids learn from what we do. It's hard trying to do everything perfectly and yes, I sometimes have to try really hard to motivate myself, let alone motivating someone else!

    1. I think social media has a tendency to make us feel inadequate as parents, but no one has perfect kids or a perfect life - some just prefer for everyone to think they do. I think being real as well as being realistic is the only way to stay sane. And when it comes to motivation, if were not motivated, how can we expect our children to be? Lead by example is my new motto! Thanks for reading, Tiffany!