Motivation is not enough.
I’ve heard it so many times. Motivation is the supposed well-spring from which all wonderful things come to be. Did well on a test? He was SO motivated! Didn’t get the grade you want? Wasn’t motivated enough to study for it. That second part actually highlights the issue with motivation, and that’s that motivation unto itself is based upon feelings. Feelings we all know are as fickle as can be, as evidenced by the pendulum swings in American politics. We can’t exactly count on motivation because we don’t know when it will strike nor do we know how long it will last. It’s even less apparent how we can consistently cultivate motivation.
This is why discipline is the far superior character trait when it comes to getting desired results. When we lack the motivation to do a cumbersome chore, such as washing the dishes, discipline kicks in to remind us of the ‘opportunity cost’ of not doing the dishes (upset spouse) in addition to actually getting us to do the job. Better yet, discipline is almost like a muscle, which can be trained to be at our disposal, especially when we don’t want to do something. And like every other muscle, the more we use it, the bigger it gets.
Now, why does this matter as it pertains to our youth? In working with a variety of students, I’ve begun to see deficiencies in two different areas: 1) effort in studying, and 2) discipline in sticking to the game plan on various tests when things get difficult. These are issues that can be attributed to poor habits developed over a long stretch of time. We can blame the lack of motivation for your child not getting the grades he should but in reality, it’s because he lacks the discipline to study when he doesn’t want to do so. Same issue with test taking. Your child is not necessarily ‘bad at tests’. He doesn’t have the composure necessary to maintain a level head when the questions get tougher. And that once again is a two fold problem: not putting in time behind the scenes and then not sticking to the plan once we are in that situation.
What can you do as a parent to change this? It has to start early! Chores are a good way to develop discipline at a young age. More importantly, set aside ‘study times’ when all your child does is homework and/or some form of work meant to enhance development. This way, a routine forms that will instill in your child the idea that discipline is necessary in order to perform the way he expects to perform. Conversely, when your child is having a good time, allow him to enjoy himself fully. That will serve as the appropriate contrast to the work he does, which will hopefully help the idea of discipline as a tool stand out more in his mind.