What’s Your Motivation?

by UMaineCLASAdvisingCenter

Students attend university for various reasons, but the most common reason is that, on average, a student with a college education will make more money throughout his or her lifetime than a student without one. A college degree means increased earning power. Not only does it command more earning power but it can open the doors to many desirable opportunities and professions. According to the Institute for Higher Education, college graduates enjoy…

  • Higher savings levels
  • Improved work conditions
  • Increased personal and professional mobility
  • Improved health and life expectancy
  • Improved quality of life for offspring
  • Better consumer decision making
  • Increased personal status
  • More hobbies and leisure activities
  • Personal satisfaction and accomplishment
  • A More open-minded outlook

With all of these future benefits is should be easy to stay motivated while in school right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, almost a third of first year students do not make it to their second year. The reasons for this can run the spectrum from personal issues to money problems, but undoubtedly the number one barrier to student success is lack of motivation! Student’s who experience Lack of Motivation (LOM) may exhibit various symptoms such as:

  • they arrive late to class, if they even show up
  • they turn in assignments late (perhaps sloppy quality) or not at all
  • they miss appointments with advisors or faculty
  • they ignore campus resources such as the writing center, the tutor center etc.
  • they do not participate in class activities or discussions

All of these symptoms can lead to a widespread outbreak of first year students vanishing from college within the first year.

The good news it you don’t have to be one of those students, you can improve your resistance to LOM and thrive in higher education! Successful students learn to create their own inner motivation, providing the drive to persist toward their goals. They design a life plan and commit to their dreams. Think about it, if your life was as good as it could be, what would it look like? Design a road map that takes you where you want to end up ten years down the road. Keep this map in mind as you make your way through the next four years. The most important thing about motivation is goal setting. So begin to set small goals for yourself such as earning an A on your first Math test, or meeting with your academic advisor early in the semester, or plan on turning all your papers in a day or two early. Once you tackle and master these little goals the larger ones seem more attainable.

It is also equally important to identify what type of motivation works for you, is it extrinsic or intrinsic motivation that keeps you going through the tough times? The primary difference between the two types is that extrinsic motivation arises from outside of the student while intrinsic motivation arises from within.

Examples of extrinsic motivators include:

  • Studying because you want to get a good grade
  • Attaining a high GPA in order to see your name on the Dean’s List
  • Participating in a sport in order to win awards
  • Competing in a contest in order to win a scholarship

These motivators are fine and usually work for students, however they often lack a much needed internal desire to participate in an activity for its own sake.

So What exactly is Intrinsic Motivation? Here’s how some experts define it:

“Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation to engage in an activity for its own sake. People who are intrinsically motivated work on tasks because they find them enjoyable.” –Paul R Pintrich & Dale H. Schunk, Motivation in Education

“Intrinsic motivation is the innate propensity to engage one’s interests and exercise one’s capacities, and, in doing so, to seek out and master optimal challenges.” –John Marshall Reeve, Motivating Others

“Intrinsic motivation is choosing to do an activity for no compelling reason, beyond the satisfaction derived from the activity itself–it’s what motivates us to do something when we don’t have to do anything.” –James P Raffini, 150 Ways to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

“Intrinsically motivated action is that which occurs for its own sake, action for which the only rewards are the spontaneous affects and cognitions that accompany it. Intrinsically motivated behaviors require no external supports or reinforcements for their sustenance.” –Raymond J. Wlodkowski, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn

Intrinsic motivation is not only a harbinger for success, it is also more psychologically rewarding. Psychologist Edward Deci completed research with two groups of children to see the effect of extrinsic rewards on learning. Group one received an extrinsic reward (money) for solving a puzzle; the second group received no rewards. Afterwards, both groups were left alone and secretly watched. The group that was paid stopped playing; the group not paid kept playing. Deci summarized his findings: “Stop the pay, stop the play.” He concluded, “Monetary rewards undermined people’s intrinsic motivation…. Rewards seemed to turn the act of playing into something that was controlled from the outside: It turned play into work, and the player into a pawn…. Rewards and recognition are important, but as the research has so clearly shown and I have reiterated many times, when rewards or awards are used as a means of motivating people, they are likely to backfire.”(Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do)

So what works for you? Immunize yourself against LOM, find what keeps you moving towards your goals and cultivate these actions. Know your motivators; whether they be extrinsic, intrinsic or a combination of both.