Is your teenager really lazy or is there something else going on?
Motivation is a desire to accomplish a goal. People behave in certain ways because of their motivation. It’s one of the most influential factors in the choices we make. Every. Single. day.
There are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic is when people are inspired and incentivised by outside forces – other people or rewards. Intrinsic motivation is when the desire and drive comes from within. One lasts longer than the other.
Extrinsic, or external motivation, has the appearance of success because it works in the immediate and sometimes short term but over time it loses strength and studies have shown leads to poorer long-term rates of success, in all domains of life. Intrinsic, or internal motivation, is an excellent predictor of long-term success and people who have it perform better in all areas.
In our teens we often see a significant slide in motivation. There can be clinical reasons for this slump, such as anxiety or depression. But ruling that out, the causes are often because teenagers lack the cognitive problem-solving skills to break down tasks and create a clear roadmap to achieve a goal.
It’s also a fragile time for their self-concept. Self-doubt can creep in and even the most organised and disciplined of teens can suddenly find themselves languishing on the couch whilst the assessment task remains untouched (and overdue).
It’s easy to jump to the ‘lazy teenager’ conclusion but the story is often bigger than that. Get a little more curious about the back story and shift your paradigm even just a little to see what else might be behind the behaviour. Easier said than done?
Enter Motivational Interviewing.
There are many ways of working or ‘modalities’ in counselling and psychotherapy. We’re trained in lots of different ways to help lots of different clients with lots of different issues.
One of my most successful counselling methods is called Motivational Interviewing. It involves enhancing a client’s motivation to change by means of four guiding principles, represented by the acronym RULE: Resist the righting reflex; Understand the client’s own motivations; Listen with empathy; and Empower the client.
MI is a hidden gem when working with teenagers in a clinical setting. But having two of my own, it’s been incredibly helpful in guiding my children to affect positive change when needed.
What are the 4 main elements of motivational interviewing?
• Open questions. This looks like asking questions that draw out and explore drawing out experiences, perspectives, and ideas. You really don’t seem to like History, what’s the hardest thing about it?
• Affirmation of innate and learned strengths and past successes in order to encourage and offer hope for effective change. Remember when you thought you’d failed the History test and you ended up topping the class?
• Reflections this involves deep empathy and a genuine attempt to understand what is being said. You can show this by repeating, rephrasing or offering a deeper guess about what the person is trying to communicate. I get it now, OK. I felt that way recently about a project at work.
• Summarizing to confirm a shared understanding and highlight important points that have been made. So, the teacher moves quickly through the work and you’re also not clear about their expectations. You feel like you’re falling behind and you often disrupt the class because you’re annoyed and a little bored. Got it. Makes so much sense that you would feel overwhelmed and want to give up.
When it comes to motivating our kids, the best place to start is with the relationship. And relationships are all about communication. Find that gentle place where we can guide with good listening, offering information and ultimately empowering them. You don’t need to be a therapist for that.