Friday, January 29, 2016

Motivation Part II

I could relate to Jan's blog post about motivation, and I think it's safe to assume I'm not the only one. After a rather long Christmas break and a heavenly vacation where our families reunited, Jan and I were commiserating over a single issue: how to motivate our kids. Jan's son was getting back to his first year of college while mine was getting back to first grade. Both were adjusting to being back in "the real world". Both were giving their respective mother's gray hair, sleepless nights and a (bigger) reason to drink. Despite the twelve year age difference, our boys do have some striking similarities in the personality department, which gives me hope that my son will turn into a confident. caring young man like my nephew.

Anyway, the motivation issue is center stage in my household. Most days a three year old who refuses to poop on the toilet is the least of it. I spend all day every day trying to motivate myself and my first grader.I don't think my struggles homeschooling are greater than the struggles of parents with kids in traditional school. If anything I have more time and flexibility. The homework battles spare no one. The problem is I think it's my job to motivate my son, which again isn't unique to our schooling situation. To a certain extent, it is our job as parents to motivate our children. I'm channeling my motivational psychology class when I say that we are all born self absorbed egomaniacs. In other words, children are naturally motivated by what feels good: a full belly, a soft bed, a parent's arms, colorful toys. As the world grows we learn to be concerned with bigger pictures and people and things outside of ourselves - but - and I know this is my new favorite overused phrase, let's be real here. Who is not more motivated to do things that offer a sense of pleasure and purpose? Or even just pleasure? Who wouldn't rather watch TV than fold the laundry? Good thing we can do both simultaneously, right?

How do we motivate our kids, especially those that are a little more difficult to motivate? Although I've said it in my head, I'm fairly certain screaming, "Just spell the fucking word!" would be about as effective as begging, not that I've done that. My husband and I say ridiculous things like, "hard work pays off in the end" and "you need to do well in school so you can go to college and you need to go to college so you can get a job and you need a job so you can pay your bills". If you don't think this is ridiculous advice, listen to it as a six year old. "In the end" refers to when your friend logs off the Minecraft server. As for the school-college-job-bills thing? That, my friends, is extrinsic motivation.

For those of us who aren't psychology nerds with dusty, useless bachelor's degrees, extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to do something for its end result. I am motivated to do laundry so that we have clothes to wear. I am motivated to go grocery shopping so that we have food to eat. Simple enough, right? This is what we often use with our kids, or at least I do. "If you get 10 out of 10 on your spelling test you get a new book; if you finish your school work you can play Minecraft; if you poop in the toilet and not in your pants you get a sticker and a piece of chocolate, and Spiderman won't have to go in the garbage". Some might call this method of motivating bribery. I call those people STFU. By the way, my son's response to the aforementioned school=college=job=ability to pay bills? Don't worry, he is going to, and I quote, "play Minecraft all day while my wife works". Those of you with daughters, you're ponying up the dowry right now, amIright?

This brings me to intrinsic motivation. If you're reading this blog pot you are intrinsically motivated, because there's no prize at the end, which means you're reading out of a genuine interest and quest for knowledge. Or you are a friend/ family member reading out of a sense of obligation, but that's a different matter altogether. I am intrinsically motivated to write. I don't get paid for it; in fact I have spent more on printer ink printing out all 272 pages of my finished manuscript. Maybe it will never be published, but I still had a sense of accomplishment when I got the first draft of my first novel typed out. I'd still write even if no one read it. Back in September I attended a writer's conference in L.A. One wise speaker said, "It takes a certain degree of insanity to put 80,000 words in a Word document". *Raises hand and nods*. In other words, it takes a certain amount of passion to put a lot of work into something that may never be rewarded (or even read), because, drum roll please, the reward is in the work. The destination is in the journey and all that jazz. I write because I love writing. I spend one Saturday and two Sundays a month working with kids with special needs because it gets me out of my own head. It's a flow experience -  that thing you do that makes the time seem to flow instead of drag. Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is the person who runs for the runner's high versus the runner who runs to lose the pounds.

Obviously, intrinsic motivation is what really drives us. So how do we teach our kids intrinsic motivation instead of, as Jan said, dangling the carrot? The answer is we can't. Intrinsic motivation can't be taught, fabricated, threatened, or cajoled. I would say it has to come from within but then I would have to be holding a joint, which I'm not if you were wondering. Nonetheless, we can't make our kids really want to write spelling words, study, or clean rooms any more than we can make ourselves really want to clean the litter box, fold the laundry, or kiss the boss's ass. But if/when they find what drives them, what they really want, what fits, they'll be motivated to do whatever it takes to get there. All we can do is expose them to a wide variety of experiences and give them a chance to find that drive.

 Until they do, we'll keep begging, praying, drinking, not sleeping, and holding Minecraft on a stick.

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