Girls, Carrots and Motivation

I miss my boys since they started school this year, early on-set of the empty nest syndrome I suspect after eight years of unschooling.  It is a real adjustment I must admit.  But, watching Riley and Casey take charge of their lives is pretty amazing.

Going to school each day is their choice.  They do not have to go, but they crawl out of bed every day, put on their thinking caps and go anyway.  A typical day for them looks something like this:

  • 6:15 am wake-up, 6:20 am second wake-up, 6:25 last call
  • Long ass-commute for Casey, Riley drives himself
  • Deal with a really annoying football player in English class
  • Sit through a Math class with a teacher that treats them like Kindergartners
  • Lunch, flirt with girls
  • Casey conservatory, fall asleep
  • Riley home at 3:00
  • Casey home at 6:00
  • Hang’n and chill’n time, texting girls, video games, Facebook, jamming, and dinner
  • Get down to homework
  • Hi Ho Hi Ho off to work Riley goes delicately swirling yogurt into Styrofoam cups at Golden Spoon, Casey has basketball practice
  • Bedtime anywhere between 10:00 pm to 2:00 am.
  • Get up and do it all over again the next day

I am truly impressed with their enthusiasm and drive.  What makes them get up every morning at 6:00 am and go to school when they don’t have to?  What motivates them?  Besides girls that is.

It seems that unschoolers have known all along what M.I.T. professors are just figuring out.  For better performance and personal satisfaction whether in the work place, at school, or at home, true motivation comes from autonomy, mastery of skills and purpose.  Check out the youtube link to, “Drive:  The surprising truth about what motivates us.”

The big surprise:  external motives such as money, grades and dangling golden carrots do not truly motivate us.  It may work for simple mechanical task as shown in the studies, but when it comes to more conceptual and creative ways of thinking, motivation runs deeper than that.  It is intrinsic.  It is funny that they call it “the surprising truth”.  It is not surprising to me.  I see it firsthand with my kids every day. 

And it is even less surprising to me that one of the motivating factors that lead us to better performance and happiness is autonomy! Everyone wants the right to direct their own lives and make choices that are best for them.  This is true freedom.  To school or not to school, it is my kid’s choice.  Most kids don’t have that choice.  They just do what they are told.  This freedom of choice, this self-determination and independence is a huge driving factor that truly motivates all of us to do things we don’t have to do.          

Second is mastery, or the desire to get better at stuff.  Riley and Casey want to be good at something and they are willing to work hard.  Casey wants to be a better writer.  He also wants to learn another language, master the drums and make the perfect jump shot.  He felt school is a good place to learn some of these skills.  Riley plans to go to college soon and he knows he needs to learn algebra and trigonometry to pass the SAT’s.  They both know that they can learn all of this without school but prefer some guidance and structure right now in their lives from an outside source. High school is their source of choice.  It is free and yes, there are lots of girls.

Third is the desire for purpose and meaning in their lives.  Having a goal in one’s life and working towards that goal gives you a reason to get up in the morning.  Some people believe that if you let a teenager, especially a male teenager, decide what they can do with their day, they would simply choose to play video games and text girls all day long.  I can assure you that this is not the case.  They will get bored fast (at least with the video games not the girls).  They may choose to play “Call of Duty, Black-Ops” for an entire weekend, don’t get me wrong, they have this amazing stamina to play for hours on end, but eventually that intrinsic drive to achieve something more purposeful and meaningful will take over.  My kids are living proof.

John Holt, the father of unschooling and author of many books including “How Children Learn” and “How Children Fail” believed, “Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives.”  It’s funny that so called experts need to perform studies, gather statistics and conduct experiments to understand what we all know in our hearts.  Autonomy, mastery and purpose are at the heart of motivation, performance and satisfaction.  Not a carrot.  Not money.  Not that “A” on a math test.  It’s not a difficult concept.   Maybe that is the problem.  It’s too easy.  We expect that true learning and outstanding job performance is based on some complicated secret formula when in actuality, motivation to perform is ingrained in all of us if the parents, teachers and bosses of the world just step aside and let freedom reign.  If that doesn’t work, there are always girls.

3 Responses to “Girls, Carrots and Motivation”

  1. Shawn Johnson Says:

    …. riley is driving?! … i feel old and i’m only 21…
    I’m really glad to hear that they have the drive to better their knowledge and in turn better themselves, so young and so far ahead of many their age. BRAVO hats off to you little cousins.

  2. Raundi Says:

    Great blog Deanne. Coincidentally, my kids both decided to stay home from school today. Everyone is feeling a bit under the weather. I am very thankful even though I still have to drive carpool. They need a break. I have been asking them to take the day off for about a week now. No takers until today. To them taking a day off from school is blaspheme. I was getting worried that their school is actually a cult. Thanks for clearing that up; ) Over the years I have had to defend my “hands-off ” approach. Now I can just give them a link to your blog.

  3. Mom Says:

    Another great article Deanne.

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