Debunking Myths of the Mind

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Anxiety and Second Generation Amotivation

Ways to motivate your children

America is a land of immigrants. It was built into the superpower that it became with this energy - the energy that comes with a blank canvas and people eager to make their mark. Why then, has America slumped into the debt crisis that it had, and why does this not necessarily motivate more people to rise to the occasion? One aspect of this relates to the motivation of the current generation.

In my practice, one of the fairly common referrals that I get is "children from highly accomplished or energetic families." In these families, the parents have worked hard at creating a life for their children - whether they are business people, doctors, lawyers or electricians. But somehow, their children are stuck and can't make it on their own. The parents are at their wit's end to try to understand why this would be the case. What are some of reasons that children do not rise to the occasion of their own capacities and what can we do about this?

1. The Blank Canvas Syndrome: Having a blank canvas is important to any artist. It encourages creativity. But the mind of a child with accomplished parents in a world where so much has already been developed finds no easy way out. After all - we have already developed electricity, gone to the moon and broken world records all over the place. What is a child supposed to do when there is not that much more to create, or when it seems this way?

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Suggestion: Find a blank slate for your child and ask them to improvise on it. Help them identify areas where few people have tread. Ask them what they would do in these areas. If all they do is sit and play computer games, ask them what they would make better in this world of computer games. Ask them if they as an avid consumer might improve on anything. Essentially, this entails identifying areas where little has been done. There are any such areas: alternative energy, stopping terrorism, alleviating loneliness, dealing with corporate stress-if you really look at this more closely, there is still much left to do. Ask your child to engage in this exercise and see if they feel more motivated.

2. Intrinsic motivation deficits: It is so much easier to be motivated externally. Intrinsic motivation is hard to come by. If you look at how children operate, they love winning video games, and love achievement of any kind. But in the current "educated" environment, parents who have been burned out by competition discourage this in their children. They are afraid that their children will turn out to be monsters.

Suggestion: Distinguish between healthy and unhealthy competition. Unhealthy competition is not competition that create stress; acute stress can be very helpful (apart from increasing calorie consumption.) When competition causes longstanding health problems (insomnia, anxiety or other medial problems), the focus should be on converting this to healthy competition- not no competition. Children raised by parents who discourage competition often feel guilty about their drives. This often paralyzes them. Parents may want to explore this with their children by encouraging competition and teaching them when unhealthy limits are reached.

3. Disappointment prevention syndrome: I see this so often. Parents have been disappointed and are afraid that their children will suffer similarly. So instead, they encourage minimal effort or aiming low. This does not increase motivation - it decreases it. Children who are afraid of disappointment avoid action altogether. They find themselves unable to try anything out. We live in a hypervigilant society full of disappointment prevention strategies. Why not focus on how to manage disappointment and recognize that all powerful efforts at changing important things often result I disappointment. Disappointment is simply information - not a signal to stop.

Suggestion: Make disappointment part of your teaching with your children. Do not avoid this. The more you discourage this, the less the motivation. Hardship can inspire change - learning to respond this way is critical for children.

In conclusion then, I believe that so many children suffer from amotivation because they do not have a blank canvas of their own, feel guilty about competition and avoid disappointment. It is time to change our attitudes about these variables if we want our children to rise to the occasions of their own histories and face the world with the courage that will build the world in which we live.

Srini Pillay, M.D., is the author of the book: Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School.

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