Do I want to, or Do I have to?! This is the dilemma that lies at the core of motivation.
By Arundhati Swamy
From the time a child is born, he is instinctively motivated to have his needs met. He is naturally curious, wants to feel capable, and do things out of free will. The feeling of being capable is constantly being built and reinforced by doing things repeatedly until the child feels he has mastered it. For example, he will go up and down the stairs endlessly till he masters climbing the steps. His curiosity helps him understand his world and how he must adapt to it, learn what must be done, how to do it, and what helps him get ahead. And, he wants to do those things by choice, by himself, in his own way. Remember that he is learning everything with utmost interest. Thus, a child’s motivational patterns are established in early childhood and they impact his learning in later years.
Unfortunately, many rigid early school systems destroy this inner motivation, by imposing external rewards for learning. Rather, they should understand how intrinsic motivation works, and make efforts to encourage it in their students.
The Science of Motivation by Kevan Lee, published on blog.idonethis.com (2017), speaks of the release of the chemical Dopamine in the brain when we have rewarding experiences, such as when we expect something important to happen, hope for improvement, progress or achievement. This is when an individual begins to feel motivated. Motivation is the drive that puts us into the action mode when we want to complete a task, achieve something or get better at something, or overcome obstacles and seek success.
The level of motivation determines the quality of learning, engagement and achievement. It can change, depending upon how interesting the subject is for the child.
Our choice of type of motivation – intrinsic (self-motivation) or extrinsic (external) – depends on several reasons like why we try, or why we want to learn and achieve.
Intrinsic motivation: It is crucial for school learning. It consists of two components – feeling capable and having a control over the environment (understanding how it works and how to find a way through it). A child derives pleasure from engaging in activities that she finds interesting, engaging and satisfying. As a result, she feels encouraged to learn, take initiative, stick to a task and complete it. A higher level of inner motivation makes her seek challenging tasks, as she doesn’t enjoy doing easy tasks as much. As she grows older, her inner motivation emanates from the positive thought, “I want to, because it’s important to ME.” Excessive focus on good grades, and learning without understanding its purpose and meaning will diminish her inner motivation and interest, and the will to learn independently.
Extrinsic motivation: It makes a child seek the approval of parents, teachers and peers. It creates fears of negative consequences and diminishes genuine interest in learning. It occurs when the child is pressured to get exceptional grades or ranks, or pursue opportunities and privileges. It takes the fun and enjoyment out of the experience, and is fuelled by a limiting negative thought – “I HAVE to please someone, avoid punishment or get a reward.”
However, a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation often works best. For example, a child can feel motivated when he is interested in a subject or activity, and will also consider seeking approval from his teacher or peers, as an incentive. Or, he may enjoy working independently but will seek help when required. Either way, the child learns important life skills such as focus and attention, problem-solving, self-management, and planning and organising.
Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.
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