Where can motivation take you?

Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001
Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001

‘Exams’. It’s the last word anyone of my age wants to hear. The thought of them makes us nauseous, thinking that we’d rather learn all the decimals of pi than enter a sweaty exam room for at least an hour of silence and force ourselves to answer near-impossible questions.

Yet we still try our hardest in exams even though we hate them. Why?

And why is it that once we’ve finished and packed up our regulation black pen, we always feel we could have done better? And why when we don’t get the grade we want, do we next time try that little bit harder to increase our mark?

The answer, of course, is motivation - a topic that affects everyone.

Here’s some background to the subject. In 1948 Edward Tolman introduced a theory known as ‘latent learning’. The principle is that learning is not obvious to a person at the time of learning, but becomes apparent when motivational circumstances appear. Essentially, he claims that humans are born with a motivational drive to succeed but to increase our motivation there must be external forces. In other words, we want to do well, but it’s things around us that provide the levers to make an effort.

Whether this force is money, pride, success or a delight in pure achievement, everyone will realise that they have been influenced by an external desire to achieve an outcome. Take revision for exams as an example. Although we have been absorbing information all our lives, it is at the point when we realise that working harder will get us a better grade in an exam that our accelerated 
revision and learning takes place.

Another researcher, Stanley Milgram, condensed the understanding of motivation into just two states. In the first, people direct their own actions. This encourages hard work and determination as people believe that it is their own responsibility. Most people go through the majority of their lives in this first state. The second state is where people allow others to direct their actions. Milgram proposed that the reason for us not working hard is when we enter this state of mind. In his view – true motivation only comes from us, from our inner drive.

Although psychologists can conduct studies and suggest theories about why people motivate themselves, perhaps we don’t need these to understand why we are motivated. One piece of advice we may all have heard whilst growing up is: ‘If you do something you love, you’ll never feel like you’re working’. Whether or not motivation can be learnt, a clear fact is that you will be motivated to achieve something important to you.

You’ve motivated yourself to read through this article. Was it all for nothing? Did you learn anything at all? Or were you purely encouraging yourself to believe what you are doing is worthwhile?

The answers will differ from person to person. But for everyone that’s reached this point, my question is: where can your motivation take you?

-- Lucy Perrior is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds