What our children can teach us about motivation

Have you ever tried getting your kids to do something, only to find that you’re the one putting in most of the effort?

Whether it’s music lessons, homework, tidying up after themselves, there are things they gravitate towards, and things they would do anything to avoid.

In the last fortnight, I watched with astonishment and awe as #1 went for her first TKD grading and came out top scorer, earning her the option of doing a double grading for her next stripe.

Then #2 went on her first school holiday program with the Australian Shakespeare Company, and in 5 days memorized a monologue and several other scenes from Romeo and Juliet. And I don’t just mean she was able to recite the lines correctly. When she got on stage to perform, I realized she actually understood enough to recite with meaning and dynamics while acting out her part. Turns out this introvert becomes another person when she’s on stage!

How can we as adults learn from our kids to stay motivated and on track with our goals?

What my kids have taught me is that Motivation has to have Meaning. We are motivated to do something when we see the point of doing it, when the reason is meaningful and relevant and fun, and when we can see a connection between what we are doing and where we want to end up.

#1 is motivated by significance and achievement, so putting in the effort to memorize her poomsae, turning up to class 3 times a week, getting her stances right, and performing well under pressure on grading day, gave her both.

#2 is motivated by fun and creative expression, so being in the company of like-minded others who ‘get’ the humour and drama of what they were performing, and being led by a professionally trained crew who love acting and are good at working with kids, gave her both.

In both cases, the opportunity was offered by us as parents, but it was their decision to say yes and to participate fully. If we had insisted on them taking part, or somehow given the impression that our love and approval were conditional on them saying yes and doing well, I am quite sure the outcome would have been different.

Likewise, in career and business, we are given the opportunity to impact lives, add value, share our gifts and talents, and create an income – and it’s up to us to say yes and to participate fully. Sometimes we say yes, but then we don’t commit fully. Sometimes we say no right away. We hold back out of fear of making mistakes, fear of uncertainty, and fear of other people’s opinions. Or we don’t feel motivated because this isn’t what we wanted to do – it’s someone else’s idea, and our passions and interests lie in a different space. We push on because we feel obliged to participate, but then it creates an internal conflict that leads to stress and frustration, and eventually we give up.

To make life easier on ourselves and make our goals easier to achieve, let’s remember the meaning behind our choices, and let our motivation flow naturally from there.