Motivate for Sanity's Sake! (part 1 of so, so many)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I have been thinking a lot about motivation. How do you motivate someone else to do something you want them to do?

So often, when it comes to motivating children, I feel mothers have a choice between two bad options: bribery and threats. Really, think about it. What is your go-to when you need your child to clean their room? Something like this: "If you clean your room first, you can go play with friends." OR "If you don't clean your room, you can't play with friends."? Insert any task and any reward, the formula tends to be the same.

But I don't like it! Neither approach really teaches what I want my son to know about the intrinsic reward of doing and finishing for the sake of doing and finishing.

To further complicate matters, something that works for one child will not work for another. Something that works for a child will not work for a husband. Something that works at home never works on employees at work or students in school. Boy oh boy!

Speaking of students in school - I am one and I recently took a class about organizational behavior where one of the topics was motivation and the professor shared this quote:

"Spending time and energy trying to 'motivate' people is a waste of effort. The real question is not, 'How do we motivate our people?' If you have the right people, they will be self-motivated. The key is to not de-motivate them." Jim Collins. Good to Great. p. 89

AHA! Now you know! Your kids are just the wrong people! Kidding.

In class, we talked about diagnosing motivation problems and a motivational theory. The theory (Vroom's Expectancy Theory - in case you were wondering) says people go through the following process of questions before they do something and problems happen when someone answers no to one of the questions:

Do I think I can do it? Do I think I'll be rewarded? Do I value the reward?

Now that's a theory we moms can sink our teeth into right? Problem: Susie won't clean her room. Does Susie really have the skills to clean her room? Does she know what a clean room means? Is she old enough to do the cleaning without help? Has she gotten negative feedback when she hasn't cleaned her room "correctly" in the past? Susie must feel capable of the task.

What about the reward? Face it. We all need one. Maybe you've gotten to the point where finishing is it's own reward. But it's still a reward. Think of Susie and her room again. What is her reward? And does she value the reward?

Think about your children. You know what rewards work. You do! You may not like them but you know what they are. One child might go to the moon and back for a tootsie roll. My son will do almost anything for 15 minutes of Poptropica (a computer game).

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll write more about motivation and rewards. For now, just think about those questions. If your child doesn't think he has the skills to do what you've asked, how can you fix that? If there is no reward, rethink that. If there is a reward but it means nothing to your child, rethink that.

What works for you? What doesn't? When do you have the hardest time motivating your children and what tasks are the most difficult?

More to come!


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