I hated high school. I dreaded nothing more than waking up every morning to trudge miserably to the same classroom I was in every day I would simply stare absentmindedly towards the front, trying to maintain the appearance that I was paying attention, while my mind drifted towards the weekend.
To say I had no self-motivation to go to school was an understatement. I would take every opportunity to skip class or just not go in altogether. It was only the fear my Mother that kept me there until I graduated at 16 from the British public schooling system.
I took what I considered at the time a permanent exit from formal education and thought I would never look back.
By chance, I found myself returning to education three years later. I was given the opportunity to complete a three week course to develop my work-related skills and fats track me for promotion. Attending was a no-brainer.
As the course crept ever closer, my memories of school came flooding back. Promotion sounded nice, but I was dreading the next three weeks.
After the first class and my shaky introduction to the rest of our the students, I was surprised to find that I was genuinely interested in what the teachers had to say. I couldn’t remember ever enjoying a class like this before.
I got stuck into the course materials, aced the final test and collected my certificate. It felt good. I felt accomplished, capable. What’s more, I found I could apply this learning directly to my work. It felt good. I recognized in myself that I was becoming better at what I did.
I wanted to feel keep feeling like this.
I made a conscious effort to search out new courses and qualifications, taking me to undergraduate, masters and PhD level study. The more I did, the more I wanted.
Even now, I’m not ready to stop anytime soon.
I want to get better for me
What had changed?
The difference in motivation towards education between high school me and me of the present is staggering. Still today, it blows me away at the sheer contrast of it. If I could travel back in time and tell my younger self that I was going to do a PhD, he would have laughed in my face.
Motivation is a hotly debated and discussed area in psychology. We tend to distinguish between internal motivation (motivation that comes from within) and external motivation (that which comes from an external source).
Both have their place. Consider the military, an environment that depends largely on external motivators – and as an ex-British Army physical training instructor, external motivators was something I used a lot. Both can motivate a person towards a certain direction, but the outcomes can be very different.
Take high school me, for example. Fear of my Mum’s wrath was the external motivator. Sure, it made me go to school, but what kind of attitude did I have when I was there? Definitely not one that was optimal for learning, and when that motivator disappeared after I graduated, I ran as far away from education as I could.
Nowadays I consider myself very internally motivated. I get myself up early in the mornings with a positive mindset towards my work and research. I am focused and find enjoyment in striving towards and achieving my goals.
Igniting the fire within you
Motivation is a highly debated and discussed topic in psychology, but the evidence is clear in how we can increase our internal motivation.
Make yourself feel competent
Just like how I felt applying my newly learned skills into my work, increasing your feelings of competence will help boost your inner drive.
This can be done in many ways, the important thing being that you feel competent.
A word of warning, however, that where you source these feelings of competence is important. Feeling competent over others will inevitably develop into an external motivator.
What do you think would happen if you depended on the feeling of being better than everyone around you for motivation, only to be eventually stripped of the number one position?
Your external motivator will be gone, and your motivation along with it.
Feeling competent in comparison to your old self is the most effective way to increase your internal motivation. While this may seem tricky, it can be easily done with well designed goal setting.
Ensure your goals focus on you, and your development.
“I will begin my new running programme and participate in my first park run in three months time”
“I will cut down in my caffeine intake by drinking one less cup of coffee for one month”
“I will read one chapter per day of my personal growth book for 14 days”
All of these goals that focus on you and will increase your internal motivation.
Gain a sense of control
I had no control over my high school life. It was the law to get an education. I had no choice.
Now I do have a choice.
Depending on your circumstances, this can either be very easy or very difficult.
Responsibilities, commitments, or a shitty set or circumstances can make you feel trapped. How could someone feel in control when they are buried in debt and forced to work a job they hate just to pay the bills?
On the flip side, if you want to start reading more, instead of spending time on your phone, generally speaking, you are in control of this behaviour.
Finding a way to increase these feelings will boost your internal motivation.
Get to know like-minded people
The mentality of students is varied to say the least. I was fortunate enough to find myself becoming friends with other students who shared my desire to excel in our studies. Feeling connected to people like this helped me focus and continue to strive towards my own goals.
Connecting to others is easier today than it has ever been. Social media provides platforms where groups with similar aims can meet, talk, and share information related to their interests.
This has recently worked very well for me, when I found myself wanting to improve my public speaking. I began to search social media to find any pages related to information about how I can do this. I came across a local group that meets bi-monthly and begun to join in with the sessions. If you doubt how relating to others can boost your motivation, try being in a room with 30 others who all share the same goal as you. It definitely inspired me.
Thanks for reading. I hope this article can help some of you boost your internal motivation.
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