How to Motivate my Intelligent but Unmotivated Teen?
There are hundreds of books about motivation out there! I am not going to write another one but give you some keys about what works and what doesn't with teenagers.
Some people are temperamentally goal-oriented in a methodical way, people who can set an objective and work towards it in a diligent fashion. But this is not your teenager, or you would not be reading this newsletter. And those people are actually difficult to find!
What doesn't really work?
(in other words, what are the things we all tried thinking will work? I have 4 teenagers, I've been there)
Carrots and Sticks (no need to explain, you know what I mean). This external motivation might work on the short term but in the long run it's exhausting and inefficient.
"I know you can do it", "I trust you", "make me proud".... and so on motivational, pumping up or cheerleading speeches.
Analogies with your experience or friends and siblings (your teen is not a mini-you nor someone else's clone).
And now what works?
One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes after starting a new behavior, not before! Performance precedes motivation. It is in the doing of the act that we discover the motivation. Thus the key is not to try to get your teenager motivated (which has previously involved ineffective consequences and useless verbiage) but to instead do something different to try to get them to perform. Your concern is to get the desired behavior started, not to change the mind of your teenager (a difficult if not impossible—but thankfully unnecessary—task). And a common bonus is this: when behavior changes, mind changes.
Ok now what makes you change? I read this great book about change: "Switch. How to change things when change is hard".
3 steps explaining how to change
Here is a quick video that sums up the book in 3 steps and explains how to change ( I recommend you read the book though!)
Direct the rider:
Set a specific, measurable and achievable goal. And most importantly, a goal that you can achieve by yourself (without involving someone else). For ex: I want to get all A's. It doesn't work because who grades the test? the teacher. You can't control the teacher. A better goal would be I want to return all my homework on time. It depends only on you. It's specific, measurable and achievable. Clarity dissolves resistance. Change is possible when you know where you are going and why!
Motivate the elephant:
What do you want to achieve? Visualize the result. Feel the satisfaction. Find the feeling. Knowing what you want to change is not enough, you have to feel it. Give your elephant a sense of progress with small wins, milestones you can easily reach. If the goal is too big, you will give up. See the Goldilocks rule below. In our ex: this feeling of finishing your homework, of not being stressed the next day. If you don't return any of your homework, choose one subject at least for 2 weeks. One step at a time. Your parents would like you to return all of your homework, but it might feel impossible to you. One subject is more realistic. One is better than none!
Shape the path:
Make your journey easier and try to build new habits. When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. If the right habits are in place, good behavior follows. In our ex: you might need to change something in your agenda to make space for completing your homework every day. You might have to put down your phone to finish your homework, without being interrupted. You might choose to stay at the library each day to complete your homework. You know what you need to do in order to complete your homework!