Motivation – is what drives us to do something willingly. As Google says, “motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” It can be an internal reason or an external one. If you are motivated by internal or intrinsic rewards then the motivation comes from within you; like the feeling of a job well done, pride in yourself for reaching a goal, etc. This is what we would like to foster in our children and ourselves.
However, if you are motivated by external or extrinsic rewards – then things that can be bought or received (games, toys, $) will motivate you. This would be the “carrot” type of motivation. The opposite is the “stick” type of motivation where task completion is based on avoiding a punishment of sorts. There is a time and place for this type of motivation too but it has a downside.
In Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive, he mentions that the carrot and stick type of motivation only works for simple, and/or uncreative type activities. Once a reward or a punishment is introduced it tends to narrow the focus and limits creativity. Pink says, “The drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity” (p45). So if we are to become more creative and motivated at work, school or home, then the task/project needs to have three things. Pink refers to them as autonomy, mastery and purpose. The first as Pink calls it is “autonomy.” Autonomy means that you get to decide about the task, the timeframe and/or the method/approach you want to use. When you have this option, you are more willing to keep at something until you master it provided it also has a purpose - which are the other two necessities.
Think about a project or report you need to do for work. When you are given all the specifics and it is just a matter of putting the pieces together, are you inspired to do your best? Or do you just go through the motions in order to meet the deadline without even considering adding some creativity to it?
The more we know about what motivates us, the more opportunity we have to design our own projects and develop that inner creativity. We can also use what we learn to help our kids motivate themselves. Think about how hard it must be for them to do boring, busy work type homework. They have no power over decisions (i.e. no autonomy), are more interested in getting it done, than mastering the content and I am pretty sure they don’t see the big picture (purpose) in the homework either. Without motivation, kids are not developing an interest in learning for the fun of it, nor are they developing their creative problem solving skills. What kind of world will we have without creativity, motivation or a love of learning?