What’s Your Motivation?

People often tell me that they don’t ‘feel motivated’ to do this, that or the other thing. Motivation is a sense of conviction that you have a good reason to do something. And that reason must be connected in some way to your own self-interest.

For example, if your child needs something, you’re motivated to help because it serves your interest to assist a person you love. You see an obvious reason for helping your child. Or, say your car has a flat tire. You feel motivated to take care of it because if you don’t, you know you won’t be able to drive.

Motivation is a psychological concept, i.e., it arrives in the form of an emotion. Since we are at the same time both mental and physical beings, motivation manifests itself physically in the form of increased pulse rate, intensified breathing, and high mental focus. If a child is unmotivated in school, he’s unable to concentrate easily because he finds the material (or its presentation) uninteresting or unimportant. Correct or incorrect, conscious or subconscious, these are value judgments on the part of the child. Value judgments are also experienced in the form of emotions, and poor concentration can be a byproduct of those emotions. That same child can leave school, go home and play a video game with an energy and focus that Einstein would envy. In the classroom the child sees no tangible, self-interested reason to focus. The video game provides the necessary motivation through the use of clearly defined actions and goals.

The emotional state of students diagnosed with ‘attention deficit disorder’ is, ‘Schooling is not important. What purpose does it serve?’ It’s as if they’re depressed about what they encounter in the school setting. It’s not always laziness, either. (Most kids aren’t lazy.) They are often delighted to work, think and discuss, but they feel no incentive to do so with their schoolwork. Good teachers know that the biggest challenge is to motivate a child to learn. Unfortunately, some teachers and schools disguise their incompetence behind wholesale diagnoses like ‘ADHD’ and ‘ADD;’ recommending instead that the kids pop a few Ritalins to at least quiet them down.

The same issue applies to adults who can’t concentrate because they’re resentful or unchallenged by certain aspects of the workplace. When they go home they pursue recreation, hobbies, or a side business with full vigor and enthusiasm.

Physical problems can also hinder concentration. Interestingly, some individuals are less distracted by physical symptoms than others. For example, some people simply ignore the effects of a cold and continue their work, while others find they can’t get anything done when they’re sick. To some extent, the underlying motivation depends upon the nature of the work (e.g., do you interact with other people, or do you work in isolation on the computer?). Pre-existing circumstances also play a part: If it’s in your financial self-interest to meet a deadline, you’ll be less likely to be hampered by minor physical symptoms.

The best way to feel motivated is to live your life directed by your own, rational self-interest. In other words, rely on logic and facts — not unexamined ‘gut feelings,’ unfounded beliefs, or pressure based upon tradition, society, or other people — to determine what is best for you. Challenge unearned guilt. Live the life you want to live, and ignore others’ attempts to intimidate you by saying, ‘Don’t be selfish!’ or ‘Go along to get along!’ These issues are deeply ingrained for a lot of people, but the more aggressively you address them, the more confident you’ll become in your ability to live a happy and productive life. Happy people are the most motivated. This enlightened approach is rewarded by a satisfying command over your life.

When it comes to kids, repeatedly point out how a particular activity (e.g., learning) serves the child’s self-interest in both the long run (how school can lead to making money to buy things they like) and in the here-and-now (‘If you want to go out and play, you must first study’). Parents should spend time raising their children intellectually through informal home schooling, family reading time, regular discussions about real-life problems, and limiting TV to specifically agreed upon shows. Creative play such as story telling and imaginative games that require abstract thinking are infinitely better than passive reaction to mindless stimuli on a TV screen.

Often, the first response I hear is that the parent just hasn’t the time for any of this. I ask them if they’ll have time to attend the teacher-parent meetings about their child’s ‘attention deficit disorder’ (or whatever). Or if they’ll have the time to deal with the changes in behavior when the kids are loaded up on the latest pills for their ‘disorders.’ Time spent on a child’s intellectual growth isn’t a matter of choice. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.