So there is a pervasive myth about motivation, you either have it or you don’t. Those who have “it” are the stars. They are the athletes, they excel in school, they get the jobs and they succeed in the grand game called life. And there are the rest of us that feel like big fat frauds. We know we are frauds because we don’t have the motivation, the grit, the gumption or the fire to succeed. The most important thing to know about motivation is that it is all a sham.
Wait … what? Did you just say motivation is a sham? Yes, I did. And I believe it (with a caveat). Most people love the notion of chucking it all and having some delicious pizza while watching a Netflix marathon or living out their days drinking out of coconuts on the beach. The thing is I have spoken to many successful CEOs, philanthropists and political leaders and they like Netflix, pizza and the beach as much as the next person. So let me tell you something more about motivation – it is the result of action, not the impetus of action.
Okay, you are asking, what the heck does that mean? This is the most damaging myth about how motivation works. Motivation happens from acting, it doesn’t make us act. I know people are sitting on their couches or twiddling their thumbs waiting for the motivation monkey to climb on their back, but that just isn’t how motivation works. I find motivation so important I am going to be tackling it every Monday for awhile so people understand how you can hack motivation. Don’t believe me! Stay tuned. I will give you case after case of students who have hacked motivation and are now excelling in school and have become terrific academics and advocates.
Motivation happens as a result of baby wins, which is why I tell my students who come to me struggling that you have to fake it before you make it. There are real life studies that faking happiness works. Confidence, academics, happiness – it all comes from doing rather than waiting. So for now, I will say fake it, tell your struggling student to fake it because the only thing that keeps students from succeeding is the action not the motivation. Act now, motivate later.
So how does this relate to motivation? It does. People keep waiting for motivation to come in a neat, beautiful package tied up in a ribbon. Acting and getting results creates motivation rather than the other way around. I always tell parents that come to me that you need to create a culture of success in your home, set up structures to succeed and encourage that first good grade or slightly higher test score because that will increase motivation. No amount of yelling, shame or doubt can duplicate a win. I had a student come to me once who was so defeated, I could barely get him to open a book. And in fairness to this young man, he kept getting hit with punishing blows, bad teachers and lack of administrative support. Each day we would fake being a good student: set out study time, discuss the material, write letters to teachers to set up conferences and he would just go through the motions. His dad was frustrated, he is JUST going through the motions he would say. Yes, and I couldn’t be prouder (because I knew from experience how motivation comes to students). Then he got his first history test back, and he scored an 89. He went from a failing grade to an 89 just from listening and showing up. Then something unbelievable (to his family at least) happened: he began to show up more and study just a little bit. The next paper was a 96. Then something even more unbelievable happened: he began caring and he was motivated to do just a little better.
Over and over I have seen this work, and in the alternative seen kids suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of how motivation occurs in academics. So for now, be a good coach and just ask for plan compliance as opposed to enthusiasm. The enthusiasm and motivation will come. Act, plan and fake it now. Motivation and excitement will come later.