Creating Motivation in Young People

Motivation is the word on everyone’s lips right now, at its fundamental core, as the world becomes a peculiar place and boredom and monotony sets in, removing us from the from the initial novelty factor how do we help our children and teenagers (as well as ourselves) to get motivated, and most importantly, is that even what we need?

What is motivation?

Motivation is defined as: “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way”.

Motivation can be intrinsic – coming from us, where we have a personal motivation to achieve something or extrinsic – where we do something because we are told to, or there is a reward for it e.g. money, success

It indicates that we have a desire, or purpose which drives us to get things done. But, how does that fare in a pandemic? When we have countless days ahead of us? No strict deadlines?

So, what is going wrong?

For the majority, the things that often motivate individuals are not a desire to compete them, but rather having their back against the wall and a deadline to reach, or a consequence which means that the work is the lesser of two evils. Of course, there are some who are motivated by the act itself, perhaps they have goals, targets or personal reasons for wanting to achieve (perhaps work, career or personally motivated).

In the current climate, the context of being out of the classroom, not having impending deadlines or the risk of detention, a lack of reward as our motivators have shifted – how are we going to motivate ourselves? Even adults are struggling to keep focussed and on task, often getting distracted.

When our routines drop, often our motivation drops with it. In order to develop the motivation, we start with finding our motivators and then installing a point of discipline (but from them not you!).

So how do we help our children and teens to get motivated?

In order to get anything done, we need to

  1. Be on board with it (extrinsically or intrinsically)
  2. Have discipline to get it done.

The latter is often the easier one to install – if we have discipline – even with no motivation – we will still get the job done! Think about the jobs you most hate, your discipline to get them completed is the thing that gets the task done – not because you had an overwhelming desire to! I know that I am never motivated to do my housework, but I am disciplined to do it, and complete it in a set order to achieve my task, but I am motivated to compete hobbies, write books or internet shop! Those I do with no cajoling and no prompting!

So, do we need to get our kids motivated? Or do we need to help them to develop discipline?

Ideally, both. If you can create a timetable which combines discipline to do things we are not keen on – but is balanced with motivation for things that we love – we can strike a strong balance and help our children, teens and ourselves to get things sorted!

Steps to take to support children and teens to get stuff done!

1) Get involved in planning first – Discipline starts from a point of self, the more you involve your child or teen in planning the targets. Take some time out on a weekend and grab a piece of paper and divide it into two columns (column 1 – non-negotiable and column 2 – things that make me feel good/I enjoy). Take some time and encourage your child or teen to list the activities for the following week, using their school planners, their own ideas, jobs that they need to help with at home and thinking about tasks that they would like to include in their time.

2) Discipline versus motivation – Now you have a succinct list get two highlighters. With one, get them to highlight the things that they can motivate themselves to do, and with the other, ones that they find hard/tough/boring/unenjoyable. The ones that they like you will find are the ones there is an intrinsic motivator for, the ones that they find hard or tough NEED an extrinsic motivator.

3) Create a planner – Now, you need to help them to plan how they can achieve ALL of the things on their list. There are a few approaches to this:

  • TOP HEAVY – get all the things that they do not like done at the start of the week so that they have the remainder to do what they love
  • EVEN SPLIT – do things that they do not like at the start of the day, and balance it with the things that they enjoy so it is a 50:50 split
  • REWARDS FOCUSSED – Do one task that they are less keen on, then one that they do so each task is rewarded e.g. one hour on, one hour off

The focus of the plan is that by the end of the week everything is done, and ticked off. Creating a snowball of achievement. The approach depends on the child/teen and they need to create the plan and you support them with the discipline to get it completed. The beauty of it is that you can work to your child’s strengths BUT the plan must be comprehensive at the beginning so all your ducks are in a row so you can hit them off one by one. Help them plan so that they are realistic in their targets.

4) Implement it – once the plans are created, they need to be referred to frequently and utilised effectively. Whether you type them up or creatively hand design them once created they need to be displayed somewhere prominent and referred to frequently. Ticking them off and reviewing them is a must. On especially constructive days your child may decide to do some tasks for the next day to lessen their workload, but they cannot leave things on the list accumulating as the consequence is overwhelm. You may choose to implement a reward at the end such as a favourite meal or streaming a desired movie to keep them extrinsically motivated too.

5) Reflect and re-plan – once the first week is done, take some time to sit together and reflect on what worked well and any changes for the following week e.g. changing approach. Give ownership to your child to reflect on what they think, it aids their resilience, problem solving skills and ability to find new solutions. Then create a plan for the next week and move forward.

Rome was not built in a day, so keeping in mind that we need realistic targets and goals right now will help with motivation levels. Role model what you want them to do, so if every family member has a planner and you all work together to achieve them you can motivate one another and install discipline. If you get all your tasks done, then it helps them to get theirs done and vice versa. Add a sprinkle of praise, a dose of cheering and high fives and the occasional reward to keep it all moving!

Further help

Click here for more articles about mental health.

Click here to learn more about child and adolescent mental health.

Click here resources to support child and adolescent mental health.

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