Is Motivation a Myth or Curse?

Is Motivation a Myth or Curse?

No one can do it for you. Not another soul, only you. Even the idea that someone else can motivate you is, in itself, de-motivating.
It immediately abdicates responsibility. It taints any genuine desire to learn, or to listen, to improve or change a situation. It can even feel like an entitlement when engaging a coach, a tutor or mentor, or other professional, especially if a fee is involved.

To expect another to motivate you is like chaining your seat to the passenger side of the car, never to touch the wheel of your destiny.

It creates:

  • brakes in your thinking
  • roadblocks in your understanding
  • roundabouts of indecision
  • an anxiety, one that you may never exit

Choice of destination flies out the window as the driver of the vehicle will lose interest, very quickly, in determining attractive scenery for your voyage. They will be intent on getting to the next refuelling stop to change driver for the next chapter of the journey with you. What you have done is not drain the car of gas, you have drained the driver of any expectation of navigating beyond a bare and barren terrain.

Tyres deflate rapidly, especially if they are pumped up with only other peoples’ ideas.

You cannot motivate another. 

What you can do though,
is ‘inspire’

We all influence.

We influence whether we like it or not. We all have the opportunity to inspire at any moment, in any moment.

Our task, and maybe only our task, is to create the environment that arouses interest, an atmosphere that may inspire.

A real risk of expecting someone else to motivate you, is that they may not show up, today or ever again.

Where do you now look for the next motivator in your life?

Often today, with busy managers, teachers and parents, another adult may be the only person to spend time and offer guidance over partner or parental nagging.

You may appreciate this story.

I vividly recall parents of a senior student in his final year saying to me, “That is why we hired a tutor, YOU – to motivate him!”. Despite all my best efforts to explain that was not indeed possible, they persisted.

In fact the young man, a typical 17 year old was highly motivated. He had no trouble commandeering his mother’s new SUV, show up at school to be with his friends, go out to parties each weekend, take on a part-time job, go to the gym, train and play soccer and be on his phone until the wee small hours in the morning to his girlfriend and play online games further into the dark.

All of that exhibited keen, dedicated and solid motivation. Wouldn’t you agree? He even convinced his parents to buy him a fancy video camera for an assignment so he could take that to the beach during the summer vacation and film for his drama subject. 

Yet when it came to writing an essay for English, even read the novel, or tackle some problems in math, it somehow became my sole role to motivate him to see that all was completed, submitted and passed at grade level. All of which could be achieved in one short hour a week, certainly according to his parents, and him.

Something must have changed over several weeks because his parents declared that it was now up to me to ‘further motivate’ him to eat a good breakfast, arrive at school on time, stop eating pizza, go to bed at a reasonable time and cease his online gaming. Clearly my message was not being heard – or – that I had achieved some level of success and now I had been promoted to even more duties of ‘motivation’.

I genuinely liked this young chap. Over time we ended up having some great conversations about his English texts, and with much prompting, wrote some paragraphs that would draw a curious smile from Shakespeare himself. We even chewed, patiently, over certain maths problems as if we were sitting in a Greek forum listening to Pythagoras.

We laughed, discussed life in general; I was happy to share any vague wisdom, whenever I could, which was almost most of the time. He would listen, pleasantly, and enjoy the treats I always provided. He showed up, most of the time.

You see, I am the eternal optimist. I am not a quitter. I am dedicated to the purpose of educating our young, one child at a time, despite the odds. I love kids. I love my work. It matters to me.

Yet what I have learnt in my many decades of educating is this:

Indisputably, you cannot motivate another individual.

What always gives me hope and forms the foundation of all my work as an educator and tutor, is the knowledge of this one fact. 

You can only successfully be focussed to ‘inspire’, never ‘motivate’.

If you hand the responsibility of motivation like a sacrificial cup which another is expected to grasp with both hands, you in fact turn that chalice into poison. A poison that YOU swallow.

To place the role of motivating you to another is to disempower, often disengage and reduce your ability to stir yourself to action and change any behaviour. You curse yourself, not correct yourself.

I am reminded of that wonderful adage, “When the student is ready, the master appears”. Ultimately, you become the master of yourself, perhaps inspired by another.

Motivation is an attitude that you can awaken, stimulate and develop, just like a muscle. 

It becomes a behaviour and part of your demeanour. Other people read it. The more they see in your line of questioning, your curiosity, your willingness to help yourself, and others – the more others do for you. It becomes reciprocal, in a magical way.

And by-the-way, did he pass …? What do you think?

For more articles by Jill Sweatman visit or email her directly at

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