This was one of the questions that I found more thought provoking than answerable. It’s interesting to think about which motivations can actually get you to act and which motivations just get you to want to act. Motivation is good but a weak motivation can just make you feel bad without actually getting you to do anything!
You talk about different motivation student’s can have a lot. Which motivations do you think works best?
I tend to get motivated by the people around me. From what I read, you don’t think that works as well. I just think having my parent’s push me ensures that I actually do what I need to do because they’ll actually stop me from doing anything else. Sure… it’s not always fun but it gets me to do what I need to do.
Motivation is a tricky subject.
The first thing I’m saying applies to most of what I say. Motivation is one of those areas where it’s particularly important because what looks like external motivation to me might be more internal than I can recognize. Your personal experience is the best judge. All the studies in the world can only hint at your preference. You may do better a different way and there isn’t much I can say about it (other than it’s unusual.)
Experiments have regularly shown that external motivation tends to be weaker than internal motivation. People do well when they want to do well for themselves. People that become the best in the world at sports and intellectual pursuits tend to be motivated most by the fact that doing what they do makes them happy.
They’re not motivated by coaches or teachers or parents. They’re not motivated by becoming the best in the world. They’re not going for the money either. Sure, they might like those consequences but they’re not fundamental to what moves them. They just want to do better for the sake of doing better. The motivation is deeply ingrained in the way they think.
External motivations don’t tend to produce as good of results.
Here is where the subject gets a little muddy though. The difference between an internal motivation and an external motivation is pretty hard to distinguish. A person may just be said to have an internal motivation because the external motivations have become so ingrained in the way they think that they don’t even think about it.
Here’s a thought experiment to show what I mean:
Imagine a person is electrically shocked every time they produce a smile for the first 20 years of their life. Behavioral science suggests that person will learn to not smile. When that person turns 21, they’re not going to suddenly start smiling because the shocks stopped. The motivation to not smile is ingrained in their psychology. They’re dramatically less likely to smile.
After a few decades they might smile occasionally but it will likely to be less often than the usual person. If you asked them why they don’t smile much, odds are, they’ll tell you they just don’t feel like it (unless they happened to be paying attention to the twisted behavioral science experiment they were put through.) Their motivation may be fear of getting shocked but they just can’t distinguish that because it’s so deeply ingrained.
A person who says they’re motivated internally may just be really internally convinced that the external motivations will come with it.
Then, of course, what looks like external motivation to me may be seriously internal to you.
If your parents motivate you to study, they may just be a voice in your ear provoking you to study but it can be deeper. Your desire to please your parents could be deeply ingrained in who you are. That motivation of pleasing your parents could be significantly more ingrained than your motivation to get studying.
So… science suggests the best motivation is internal but if you’ve got something that you’re satisfied with going, don’t fight it. If you ever are looking for a change then this might be one important area you could produce some gains. At a safe time it might be worth trying to focus on something more internal but if it’s working for you, I probably wouldn’t argue with it.
Do you want to know how to study less while scoring higher? That’s what this blog is all about. Read the ebooks in the sidebar, check out the archives, and follow along to get all the details.
Take This Advice From A Harvard Grad
“Find your tribe. Quickly.”
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The people you surround yourself with can make or break your academic experience.
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