Trouble motivating your teenager? Try flipping the script.

Sometimes, the solutions to our most frustrating challenges are actually much simpler than we first thought. After all, we live in a world of unexpected truths.

Here’s one, for example:

“Passion does not produce commitment.

Commitment produces passion.”

– Roy H. Williams

What does that mean?

It means that if you’re struggling to motivate your child to work on anything that isn’t immediately gratifying (e.g. studying), rather than try to motivate them with an extrinsic reward, the best way to get their inertia going might be exactly that… just get it going.

How to motivate your teenager

As Isaac Newton proved with his first law of motion, an object will continue moving at its current velocity until some force causes its speed or direction to change.

In this case, your teenager’s motivation is that object. So applying the first law of motion here, you could argue the best way to motivate your child to do anything is to simply have them start doing it.

In the words of Dr. Maggie Wray,

“It is actually the progress that comes first…and the motivation that follows afterward.”

Dr. Wray is a certified ADHD Coach & Academic Life Coach with a Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior from Cornell, and a Bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics from Princeton. So I think it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about the brain and how to motivate teenagers :)

The quote above comes from this blog post. Here’s another:

“There is a lot of fear and anxiety that can arise at this point in the process, about whether we can really do this, how long it’s going to take, whether it will turn out the way we want it to, etc.

As a result, the first several minutes we spend working on a task often feel challenging and frustrating, rather than motivating.

But once we are over that initial hurdle, and have gotten “in the zone” where we’re focused on the task and starting to make progress, we get a sense of momentum and feel much more motivated to continue.”

Inertia☝️ .

Two important lessons come to mind when marinating on both of the quotes above from Mr. Williams and Dr. Wray:

  1. The fear of failure and pressure to pursue perfection often stymies students’ motivation to just begin.

  2. The misconception that passion breeds commitment (when the unexpected truth is actually the inverse) often leads to analysis paralysis, with students waiting for that “aha” moment of motivation to strike.

In other words…

Action leads to motivation, not the other way around.

The more progress we make, the more motivated we get. And the more motivated we feel, the more progress we continue to make.

The most universal example of this is probably creating an exercise routine or changing our eating habits. Few people go from being a couch potato to running a marathon overnight. But when we set small, attainable goals and make progress toward them, it motivates us to rinse and repeat, or better yet, stretch the next goal just a bit further.

So if your child is struggling with their motivation, whatever the objective, encourage them to just start — no matter how small the first bite.

Because often times, the thing holding us back is the perceived size of the task at hand. But almost everything that intimidates us can be broken down into more manageable pieces.

To quote Dr. Wray again,

“When it comes to motivation, I think a lot of students have things backward.

They think that they need to be motivated before they can start working…but in fact, it’s usually the opposite: they need to get started and get a sense of progress before they’re going to feel motivated to continue.

So, I would argue that while motivation is nice to have, it’s actually more important for students to develop the willpower and self-discipline to get started with their work, whether or not they’re feeling highly motivated to do it.”

Dr. Wray’s point above is another one of our core principles at Everydae. See…

Hopefully you agree that action leads to motivation, not the other way around. But you might still be wondering how exactly you can get your teenager to act. Maybe these tips will help…

🥡 The Takeaway:

Three strategies students can use to self-motivate and make progress toward their goals:

  1. Start small. Break your task up into the smallest possible pieces. Ideally, something that can be accomplished in just 10-20 minutes. For example, if you’re working on a 500-word essay, start by jotting down a list of random talking points in a stream of consciousness style. Then come back later to organize those thoughts. Or if you’ve got an AP exam in the spring, commit to just 10 minutes of practice today (then repeat that practice tomorrow, the next day, and so on).

  2. Move around. Go for a walk. Play with your dog. Do 10 jumping jacks. Move your workspace to another part of the house. The intensity of your activity doesn’t matter. Just get up and get your blood flowing, and if necessary, change your scenery.

  3. Build a habit stack. Humans are creatures of habit. We all create little routines throughout our day that we rarely think twice about - brushing our teeth, walking the dog, the exact route we drive to work, etc. Our brains are wired to minimize effort whenever possible, so it’s second nature to create this mini routines. Stacking newly desired habits on top of these existing routines is often the most effective way to get our inertia going with whatever new objective we want to make progress toward. Want to know how to build a habit stack? Read this.

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