My daughter is a teenager. Like many teenagers, her relationship with her parents is stressed by the divergence of priorities. She will tell me that she will clean her room. She will tell me that she will get her driver’s license. She will tell me that she will do her homework. Being a parent, I have a choice to stand over her and watch her do it like a nag, or I can be like Charlie Brown and continually place trust that Lucy won’t pull the football away and I end up in pain on my back.
I almost always end up like Charlie Brown with a pain in my backside.
So I do what I do, and try to understand what the motivations are behind her actions and see if I can be a good father and develop her into a good and responsible adult. I think I am too close to the experience to determine if I am successful, but hopefully there is more success than failures in each attempt.
Regardless, if we understand how our mind is motivated and empowered, we can often use that insight to see where and why we are and aren’t about any aspect of our lives. It is then we can determine if we will or will not make the changes to increase our motivation, and thus empower ourselves to accomplish.
There are four aspects I have identified. Our “should vs shall,” “can I,” “will it do the job,” and “is it worth it.”
It is easy to get anyone to say they “should” do something. I hear people all the time say they “should” quit smoking. They “should” exercise more. They “should” spend more time with their family.
When we use the word “should” in our inner dialogue we are acknowledging our obligations and what is correct. What the word “should” doesn’t do is make a commitment or take an action.
For a teen, (this isn’t an article about teens but they are great examples), it is easy to get them to agree they “should” do or not do an action. But they are creatures of ID, and their desires overwhelm the super-egos ability to regulate what should do into what they will actually do.
Ask a teen why they did something, that afterwards seemed incredibly silly, and you will usually get a “I don’t know” or “It seemed like fun.” Not good answers for a responsible parent or a policeman—but the best answer they can provide since they are not thinking beyond their impulses very often.
It isn’t so far from us as adults. There is almost always some aspect of our lives that we are saying we “should do” but end up not doing; or worse, doing the opposite. We then chastise ourselves for being human and having no will power or ability.
My suggestion is to change the inner dialogue. Practice replacing the “should” statements into “shall” statements. The word shall means to express intent. We intend to do that. This is an action not a desire. It is a verbal (even if it is an internal dialogue) contract with yourself.
When you change “I should do laundry” to “I shall do laundry” there is a measurable difference of experience in the brain. When we make contracts with others and ourselves we are much more likely to follow through with the plan.
Talking with friends who say they “should” do something, a common response for not accomplishing their goal is to say they “can’t do it.”
Is that really true? It is hard to keep motivated when you are already we believe that we cannot achieve our goals. It can be a skill we do not have; a project that seems overwhelming; a goal that is incomprehensible to achieve: whatever it is we have created a reality that it is impossible to achieve.
And with a paradigm that “it can’t be done,” we have developed a sense of learned helplessness: a sense of avoiding that task because of unpleasant or stressful previous experiences. How many times have seen someone try at something and fail and conclude almost immediately “I can’t do it.” Or seen someone say they can’t accomplish something before they try and reply, “I tried this before” or even more generally “I have tried before” as their response.
So perhaps, in our teenager scenario, we find out that when our kids clean their room we have told them too often “this isn’t clean.” It would be reasonable to see that the thoughts process of accomplishing the goal is unattainable. And perhaps the experience of cleaning the room was so boring or distracting from what they really want drifts their brain away from accomplishing the task that it is too unpleasant an experience to want to repeat.
When we believe that as task can’t be done, then until we change that thought, it can’t be done. Or at least it won’t be.
If you think you have the ability to accomplish a goal, the next hurdle is the question, “Will it do the job?”
Our teenager, wants to go to her friend’s house. She knows that you want her to clean her room. If she cleans her room will she be allowed to go to her friend’s house? Every action has a motivation. Andrew Carnegie said, “From the day you are born, everything you do was done because you wanted something.”
“From the day you are born, everything you do was done because you wanted something.”
That is a true statement when we look at motivation and empowerment. There is no motivation if there is no reward (even if it is only self-satisfaction), and no reason for empowerment if there is no reason to need that power.
From inventing the light bulb to taking a bath, if we are going to take self-initiative there has to be a belief that the actions, if accomplished, will serve a purpose towards a goal.
IS IT WORTH IT
Our brain is so efficient that we may not even recognize that we have asked if the job could be accomplished, and if it was accomplished would it serve the purposes we want it to serve. Nevertheless, the last problem your mind must assess is the value of the goal.
“Is it worth it?”
While the first two questions are quantitative, evaluating the ability to do a job, this last question is qualitative, evaluating whether we SHOULD do the job.
For most adults this is a cost versus benefit analysis. “Will the effort put forth return enough dividends to make everything worth the investment?”
It is my opinion that this is where many adults have difficulty, because it requires an understanding of what you want in the world. Sometimes, the choices of which goal to peruse are too close to call. It is also my opinion that this is the question that teenagers address the least,
Teenagers are still developing their frontal cortex, the area that controls reasoning, and so the amygdala (the more impulsive animal area of the brain) has more influence. This is why teenagers tend to be more impulsive, engage in risky behavior and less likely to interpret social cues.
Regardless whether you are a teenager or a senior citizen, if we believe we can, see the functionality of our actions, and believe that they are worth the effort—we will feel motivated and empowered to act.