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Motivation Away from Bad Stuff vs. Toward Good Stuff

The concept of using motivation away from bad stuff and towards good stuff is extremely helpful for the students who seem to initially do well in their classes, build up stress, and about halfway through the term see a sudden drop in their grades in one or more of those classes. The pattern looks a lot like a roller coaster for students who have A’s in a couple of classes, but then D’s and F’s in others.

Most students, especially when using conditional motivation (their only motivation is the grade), often slip into being motivated away from bad grades as the source of their motivation, which leads to that roller coaster pattern. The problem is that students are merely being reactive rather than proactive in the classroom, or going after the specific knowledge they want for some larger goal. Later on in the Academic Life Coaching program, we will help students understand what their source of motivation is and urge them to be more proactive outside the classroom and focus on positive motivation. For now, this concept is laying the groundwork for that later session.

In the meantime, the most important lesson is for the student to be aware that there are two different kinds of motivation, and two different ways to move forward.

The second example shows the pattern of a given student who is motivated toward a goal. They are motivated toward something with more creativity and less stress because they lack the initial fear of steering clear of an opposing outside force. Being motivated toward something is more sustainable and long-lasting. Helping students develop a system and a sustainable approach to getting where they want to go is a precious lesson.

How to Best Support Your Child

Help your child understand the difference between being motivated away from versus being motivated toward something, and help them become conscious of the motivation style they are currently using as well as the source for their motivation. As a parent, you can model this. Getting things done early and creating a vision for what you want from your own life and for your family is a direct way to model good motivation. The two motivation models give great insight into knowing how healthy your long-term motivation is. The general guideline is that being motivated toward something is proven to be more sustainable over the long run than being motivated away from something. The source of the motivation being positive motivation plays a big role in a student’s success. Positive motivation has been shown to encourage more long-lasting results.

From the Academic Life Coaching Workbook

There are two primary ways to get you moving:

  1. Moving away from what you want to avoid.
  2. Going toward what you want to get.

The first chart is an example of being motivated AWAY from what you don’t want. It could be a bad grade (which could be a D, C, or B – or even an A-) or being yelled at by your parents. Really anything that you don’t want to happen serves as a good source of motivation.

The second chart is an example of being motivated toward what you do want to happen. Notice how it may be difficult to get moving at first because you are so far away from your primary source of motivation. Once you get closer to the outcome you want, you start to pick up the pace because you can see how close you are and the experience of what you really want becomes more real.

In school, what’s your usual balance between being motivated “away from” versus “towards”?

What areas of your life do you find yourself using an “away from” motivation style?

What areas of your life do you find yourself using a “towards” motivation style?




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