From my discussions with various people, I discovered that there are many different sources of motivation:
1. Other people whom you love The main theme here was not wanting to "disappoint" the people in their lives - parents, spouse, children. People also want to provide the best they can for their families. "I want my mom to be proud of me."
2. Proving something to other people It's an "I'll show them" attitude.
3. Themselves There is an internal push to be better. The emotional high from the sense of accomplishment is addicting. "Yesterday I did 17 push-ups. Today I am going to do 18!"
4. A prize or reward "I want that promotion so I'm going to work hard until I get it." "If I lose ten pounds I'm buying that dress!"
5. Fear "I don't want to have to use a walker, so I'm going to physical therapy even though I'd rather stay home and watch TV." "I don't want to lose my car, so I'll volunteer for overtime to catch up on the payments." "I don't want to get grounded or yelled at for bad grades so I'm going to study."
6. Faith The desire to please God. Gaining strength through scripture. An act of praise or thanksgiving for all that God has done for you.
7. Passion Enjoying doing something so much that you'll do whatever it takes to get to do it. I can ask my son ten times to unload the dishwasher and he doesn't move. As soon as I say "You can't play video games until the dishwasher is unloaded," he's right on top of it.
Several people gave me more than one answer when I asked them what motivates them. There are different sources of motivation for different aspects of life. The reason I strive to do well at work is different from the reason I lace up my running shoes.
From my reading, I looked to answer the question "Is a sense of motivation something we are born with or that we learn?" The conclusion that I came to is that motivation is learned, but - as in all areas of life - some people will have to work harder at it than others. Some people are very easily self-motivated while others will need to be pushed a little harder.
Motivation comes from two internal perspectives - seeking success or avoiding failure - that we learn early in life. Wanting to be the best - "I want to be the one asked to stand up in class because I got the highest grade on the math test." Not wanting to be the worst - "I'm going to practice throwing the kickball up in the air and catching it a hundred times so that my team doesn't get mad at me and tease me for dropping the ball and losing the game ever again."
My research leaves me with several questions to think about: What kind of example have I been for my kids? What kind of example am I now? What have they observed motivating me? How do I handle success and failure? What kind of motivator have I been for them? What other examples do they have around them - their dad, extended family, teachers, friends?
I obviously have a lot to think about. In the meantime . . . back to the project that prompted all of this thinking about motivation . . . the Ice Cream Challenge. After one week it is going well! My kids are marking their physical activity on the charts and playfully competing with each other to see who will earn their ice cream first. However, I've been happy to observe that ice cream does not seem to be the main motivator in getting them moving. The main motivator is FUN!
Yesterday, for example, I asked both kids if they wanted to go out and play catch with me. JJ said yes. Ellie said no. JJ and I had been outside for about ten minutes when Ellie came out and joined us. She had been watching from the window and knew she was missing out on something. When we were heading back inside I asked both kids, "Did you have fun?" They answered yes. It wasn't until later in the evening that Ellie asked, "We get to mark a day off on the Ice Cream Chart, right?" Absolutely!! It wasn't the promise of ice cream that pushed them to come out and play with me. It was the simple desire to have fun.
I'm feeling better about my idea of using ice cream as a reward to motivate my kids to exercise. It's not bribery. I'm teaching them to work toward a goal - I will exercise (defined as a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity) five times. Their reward for meeting that goal? Ice Cream. There's nothing wrong with that!