What motivates us to achieve the things we need to do?

Motivation can be a challenging concept. For many young people, they wait for a wave of motivation to hit to allow them to get work done, but what happens if the wave never flows?

Motivation is defined as; ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way’

Whether it is:

  • Health and fitness
  • School work
  • Projects
  • Work deadlines
  • Personal targets

So, how do we create motivation?

Why do some people have the ability to get so much done, whilst others need to be coerced or pushed to achieve anything? Why do some people have the ability to ‘get the job done’ and remain so committed and focused, whilst others sit watching, waiting for a ‘wave of motivation’ to hit them?

Motivation can be INTERNAL or EXTERNAL.

Internal motivation – comes from within us, it means that we take part in activities because we WANT to and they bring us joy, satisfaction or happiness. Internal motivation means that we take part in things because they interest us, bring happiness and we just want to do them.

It is linked with – passion, curiosity, growth, development, fun. enjoyment, happiness

External motivation – comes from outside of us, it means that we are completing tasks for some kind of reward or to avoid punishment. External motivation means that we are completing something to avoid a consequence or to gain a reward

It is linked with – benefits, winning, money, gifts, rewards,

So, what does it look like? 

External motivation

  • Studying to get a good grade
  • Doing homework to avoid detention
  • Working to earn money
  • Taking part in sport to win
  • Helping others to obtain praise
  • Doing chores so you don’t get into trouble
  • Volunteering to aid a university application
  • Completing a course to make parents proud
  • Taking part in events to post them on social media
  • spending time with people who improve your status or make you feel ‘cool’
  • Exercising for a goal or target
  • Cleaning your room to avoid a punishment
  • Completing work so they can see friends
  • Taking part in activities/making things to sell them for money

Internal motivation

  • Taking part in hobbies or skills because they make us feel good
  • Learning about new subjects because we find them interesting or engaging
  • Travelling to explore new countries and cultures
  • Volunteering because you enjoy helping others
  • Studying through curiosity
  • Learning about self-development or attending therapy to improve yourself
  • spending time with people who are interesting and whose company you enjoy
  • Exercising to feel good and improve well-being
  • Taking part in arts, crafts or baking for fun and enjoyment
  • Tidying your room because you like things to look nice
  • A desire to develop skills or abilities so that they can improve themselves


Which type of motivation is best?

In life, both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation have roles and purpose. However, there will be times in life when we need to be disciplined and focussed because it is the requirement, not because we will gain a reward from it. Whilst we are all inclined one way or the other, it is important that children and young people are able to tap into their intrinsic motivation to support them to be able to ‘keep going’ at times when the reward is a sense of accomplishment not reward.


What do we need to consider:

1 – Avoid excessive rewarding – if children learn that they will always receive a reward for taking part in everyday tasks, they will expect to be rewarded for everything. It is more effective that spontaneous rewards are provided as a thanks or recognition, than as a way to motivate. It should be noted that bribery may get things done, but will not develop internal motivation, bit rather a thought process, if I do X I will get Y.

2 – Role model – Role modelling to children and young people learning or reading for curiosity, supporting the community to help others, doing good deeds to support people and doing things for fun allows them to create a sense of normality around these behaviours. Our socialisation has a great impact on our behaviours.

3 – Recognise their commitment – If you notice your child or young person being self-motivated and committed, recognising it with praise or an occasional small reward, so that they learn to recognise that this brings with it a sense of satisfaction and positive feelings can increase internal motivation.

4 – Goal setting – Helping young people to set SMART goals so that they can learn to set themselves targets and work towards them for the benefit of achieving their own goals and developing a sense of achievement. Helping them to recognise how these goals fit into the bigger picture can help them tap into their intrinsic motivation.

5 – Avoid rewarding tasks that children already love – If your child is already interested in something, avoid rewarding this, as it can remove their self-expressed love or interest and change the motivation from ‘fun’ to ‘work’.

6 – Keep it in context – Excessive rewards or treats for completing the bare minimum does not motivate us to ‘want to do better’ but instead sets an expectation that to do the bare minimum is ok. In the workplace, the bare minimum will not be rewarded and as such we can set an expectation which will cause young people difficulty later.

7 – Words not things – Offering praise and recognition when children and young people are engaged in activities, learning or tasks, or have worked to make improvements, can increase internal motivation.

8 – Encourage children to celebrate their achievements – if children achieve something encourage them to recognise this and to be proud of it, children who learn to celebrate their own achievements and develop a sense of pride for their efforts can increase internal motivation.


Further help 

For more articles about mental health visit – https://dandeliontraininganddevelopment.com/articles-resources/

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For resources to support child and adolescent mental health visit – https://dandeliontraininganddevelopment.com/shop/

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