Saturday, August 29, 2015

How to motivate your child?

I often meet parents who want me to talk to their children and 'motivate them'. They feel that their children have a drained battery that can be charged by some outside source of 'motivation'. True, sometimes we need a kick in our butts to do something. But that kind of external motivation works only for a short while and only for one-time tasks like preparing for a speech, or preparing for a difficult exam one day before the exam.

Map: To set the paths to reach next destination
To achieve our goals in life, we need an  internal motivation within ourselves. The key of motivation must be inside us. A student cannot remain motivated long by hearing a motivational speaker or by reading something inspiring. That motivation lasts for a day or a week at the most. To remain motivated, he requires much more preparation. He needs to get his mind focused.

To motivate his mind on a constant basis, a student must take two steps. He must determine the next destination and develop a map to reach it so that he is ready to traverse the important cross roads and hurdles that is expected on the chosen path. But this is not enough. He must also 'make' a compass that will guide him to the right direction when he is lost, confused, or faces unexpected hurdles ( or opportunities) on his path..

Why do you need both map and compass ?
Compass provides What and How direction

Imagine you are travelling from x to y. You need Map (coordinated set of actions) to help you prepare for crossing the inevitable & expected hurdles that may emerge on the path. But you also need Compass to act as North Star to find your path whenever you are lost. If, for instance, the student has set his direction of 'psychology', his Map should include a plan of which college to attend, why, what marks to get admission in the chosen college, how to get those marks and so on. Without a map, intentions cannot be converted into reality. But he also needs Compass to face unexpected hurdles and opportunities. Without the compass, one is likely to lose oneself on the path because one does not know how to react to the unexpected surprises. Let us understand how.

Compass provides 'what' direction ( of what to do) but it must be re-calibrated again and again

While travelling, the 'North' direction in compass is fixed. In real life, one has to constantly recheck if the 'North' direction set by the compass is right. This is the process of calibration.

For instance, a 10th class student may set North direction in choosing his discipline, say psychology, based on his native abilities. However when he starts working with schools during graduation, he starts liking 'education' very much( an unexpected event). Now should he re-calibrate his compass to change the 'North' direction to 'education' or should he keep the compass settings of North same as 'psychology'? In other words, should he use 'psychology' as a means to work in 'schools', or should he use 'schools' as a means to master 'psychology'.

Means and ends get exchanged midway and therefore we need to re-calibrate the compass accordingly. Although compass acts as a North Star, one has to constantly ask oneself if the "North star' is set at the appropriate direction. Or in other words, even when compass provides the 'what' direction initially, as 'end goals' and 'mean goals' change later due to our experience, we have to keep on calibrating the compass again and again. Psychologist call this as nested goals. Because of the nature of these goals, we cannot live our career with long-term goals.

Compass is however more important because it provides 'how' direction ( guidance on how to put the effort)

Compass setting also includes our values. Values are beliefs which we hold close to our heart and therefore they guide our actions. For instance, when the student is compelled to work deeper in a subject, say History, he should overcome the desire to 'work for marks' and study it deeply, even when his effort is not going to produce measurable result. He can do this only if he has accepted the value of 'mastery' or also called as growth mind set. For more details on this value, read this.

Or when a student is forced to work on a subject like English language, which does not fit in his plan, his compass should provide him the 'reason' to study English. I know of a parent who tells his children that 'Studying language is a waste of time'. Without compass offering appropriate 'how' direction, the student almost always gets derailed from his path, and fails to reach the destination.

Some parents unknowingly demotivate a child with wrong value. For instance, they may teach a belief such as ' Result based philosophy'. In this philosophy, parents advocate that 'results' are important irrespective of how they are achieved. For instance, they do not 'value' hard work if it is not resulting in 'high marks'. A student with such 'misdirected' compass ( values) cannot reach his goals, because he is so stressed with the possibility of failing that he fails to put in the requisite efforts.Or he may do 'anything' to achieve his goals, such as educated and highly paid Enron executives did.

Infact, success or failure of our careers depend on these 'how' direction, and therefore more on these 'values' which we accept without any questions. And they can derail us from our path without our knowledge. In this way, compass provides the 'foundation' in taking such small but  important 'decisions'. Without an appropriate compass therefore, a student cannot achieve his goals.


Most of the students lack internal motivation to reach their goals. Even when they are scoring high marks, they are not aware of what to do in their life and why. Depending on external motivation alone, they keep on chasing other's goals till the end of their life or chasing visible 'results' of success like cars, gadgets and foreign travels, but remaining dissatisfied with their lives.

How does a student with internal motivation behave? He manages his time actively. Knows how to use money. Whenever he does not know anything, he is confident to ask for help. He knows what he wants and why, which itself may change. He pursues what he likes even though it may not be part of academics. He is member of some group: meditation, clean drive, anti-corruption or something. He likes to read or see movies. He may even play some musical instrument. He reads newspapers. He has friends and he knows which friend can do what. He may not be 'talkative', but he can communicate his ideas and thoughts. He expresses his emotions and knows his triggers. And more importantly, he actively probes his 'values and beliefs', because he knows that they determine his success or failure more than anything else.

Maintaining internal motivation however is not a quick fix. Maintaining internal motivation is a constant effort. If you are serious in achieving anything meaningful in life, constructing a map and making a compass is the only known way to maintain your internal motivation. There is no short cut.

In the next blogs, we shall list down the steps in 'making the compass' as well as 'constructing a good map'.