We live in a world that rewards frivolous behaviour with fame and fortune, so it is no wonder that some students expect their motivation to come from the outside, in the same way that reality show contestants expect to win a million dollars, simply by “showing up”.
How can we change this? What impact can we have on millennial, tech savvy students expecting instant gratification in our classrooms?
We start by reminding students (and ourselves) that motivation begins on the inside. We show students why external motivators will never sustain them. The overjustification effect is just one example of this fact.
Better yet, we tap into students’ own life experiences to ignite long-term commitment and motivation. Students often forget the feelings of joy and anticipation they felt when they first opened their acceptance letters to school.
In the midst of going to class, applying for OSAP, juggling family, work, and school demands, and paying bills, students often forget why they applied to their programs in the first place.
There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why. William Barclay
Sometimes, igniting motivation is as simple as asking students “Why?” they are at college in the first place. “Why?” exercises help students get to the heart of what motivates them, guides them, keeps them going. From early morning classes to late night study sessions to unexpected academic costs to making it through final exams.
How I incorporate “Why?” exercises into lectures:
I ask students to relax, sit back, close their eyes, and take a deep breath.
Next, I ask them to visualize the day they applied to college and ultimately received their acceptance letters.
Finally, students are asked “Why?” they wanted to go to college in the first place – what’s their ultimate mission and motivation for getting a diploma in their chosen field.
Student answers to this simple, yet complex question of “Why?” is so varied, so unique to each student. Yet, each answer is united by the same ideal, the same belief: Hope
Students are searching for something better, to change for the better, to make the world better. They want to save lives as nurses, to design hybrid cars as engineering technologists, to help children who are abused as child & youth care workers, to inspire their own children by being college educated, to be independent and self-sufficient, to do what they love, and most of all, students yearn to make a difference in this world.
Sustaining Motivation and Commitment
Once written down, I encourage students to carry their answers (in one word, if possible) in their wallets, post them on the bathroom mirror, on their phones, in their cars, and look to their “Why?” every time they need inspiration.
Their answers remind them “Why?” they choose to study for midterms, “Why?” they choose to write research papers, “Why?” they choose to attend class rather than do something that brings instant gratification.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. Nietzsche
Intrinsic motivation can be taught in so many ways. During “Why?” Exercises, students teach me. They teach me that hope is enough to sustain us through the hard times. Hope is enough to push us through life’s challenges. And the most important lesson of all is that hope mixed with drive, self-determination, and hard work changes lives for the better.