Motivating Yourself To Study Is Not Always About If And Then

By Lachlan Haynes

Have you ever heard of "If-then" rewards and punishments? Well if that's the case then good for you! Get it? That was a joke in case you were wondering.

"If then" rewards and punishments are simple to understand. If something happens, then something else happens as a result. For example, if you don't go to school, then your parents will ground you. If you help clean the backyard, then your parents will end the grounding. Makes sense doesn't it? There are punishments for "bad" behavior and "rewards" for good behavior. It's motivation 101!

Unfortunately, motivation 101 ("if then" motivation) doesn't always work. It also creates harmful long term problems. Why? Well how on earth do you become self-motivated and inspired by life when all you are doing is responding to threats of punishment or the delights of rewards? Your motivation levels are just being manipulated. In fact, it's not really addressing motivation at all it's just seeking to change behavior.

"If then" also has a tendency to promote harmful behavior. Behavior such as seeking only to achieve the objectives set out without worrying about how it will be achieved or how that may impact others (for example, you may need to cheat or lie to achieve the outcome), or taking action only based on being rewarded or punished with bigger and bigger items each time (which creates a loop of rewards or punishments that can't be sustained).

This is not what motivation is really all about. Motivation is something that should come from within you and drives you to action based on a desire to achieve something. If someone has to reward you or punish you in order for you to do something, you are not actually motivated. Instead, you're just responding to an external stimulus (i.e. you take action in response to the belief that something good or bad may happen as a result).

Behavioural scientists Harry Harlow and Edward Deci identified the true formula for motivation. They found that the motivation formula is = Autonomy + Mastery + Purpose.

Harlow and Deci found that if you want to be high performer you need to be in an environment that promotes all three elements (or be striving to achieve it). The desire to be in charge and decide what you do and how you do it (autonomy), the desire to constantly improve our skills, abilities and knowledge (mastery), and the desire to act towards a project bigger than our own basic needs (purpose) are what gives us the feeling of true motivation. This is the environment where real motivation occurs.

These three elements are extremely important to being a motivated person and are extremely important to understand as a student. In order to become far more motivated from within, you must take control of how you spend your time, take control of how you study, take control of who you study with, discover and understand why what you are doing is meaningful to you and something you want to master (e.g. good grades, please parents, self-satisfaction, to show everyone you're awesome etc) and to actually spend time doing something that creates a positive impact in the world (you don't have to always be doing school work you know). Do that and you will have found your motivation.

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