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Note: this is the second article in the series about kids being brilliant… and how that relates to why we, as adults, succeed or fail. If you haven’t done already so, you may want to start at the start… Part 1.

So, why does it seem that kids can stick with one thing (a skill, art or process) a lot longer than an adult, relatively speaking’, which in turn allows them to experience all the wonderful fruits that come along with excelling in something? Whether that be a sport or musical instrument.

In this article, let’s welcome ‘human motivations’ to the conversation. It’s fascinating to consider the activities and jobs we are currently doing and why we (whether we know it or not) have chosen to spend our life time doing them. I’ll go into why I currently find going to the gym easier than being a virtuoso pianist after a tiny bit of background.

Apparently, there are a number of different human motivations.’Motivations’, being the reasons why we choose to do what we do. Not only that, there are a number of different theories and models on just why we choose to do what we do.

How does this relate to success or failure?

Daniel Pink’s awesome book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us mostly covers the difference between ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivations, which are:

  • Intrinsic motivation – the self desire to do things
  • Extrinsic motivation – influences outside the individual

You can watch this video for a deeper understanding but, to summarize, Daniel goes on to say that intrinsic motivation is brilliant, and extrinsic motivation isn’t, well, quite as brilliant.

He mentions that if we’re intrinsically motivated, whether that’s encouraged by…

  • Autonomy – the desire to be self-directed
  • Mastery – the itch to keep improving at something that’s important to us, or
  • Purpose – the sense that what we do produces something transcendent or serves something meaningful beyond than ourselves

…we’re likely to stick with it, be more satisfied and excel in what we’re doing.


So that leads us to the question: is it that kids (and those that excel) are encouraged, or hardwired, to embrace these intrinsic factors more in life? Or, that they are lucky to choose activities that stimulate the creation of these factors within them?

Either way, it gives testament to the notion of ‘do what you love’. It also supports the topic I covered on beliefs and why it’s savvy to be conscious of our environment and how it dictates our choices in life. i.e. if we’re doing something because “I fell into it” or “because it seem like the right thing to do”… we’d probably be more successful doing something else.

For me, I feel like my most dominant factors are autonomy (I have a hard time being told what to do) and mastery (I am obsessed with positive development in all areas of life). For example, my new bodyweight gym routine is something I find easy to show up for. I feel the ever increasing strength benefits (mastery) and I am choosing what I do when I get in the gym (autonomy). In stark contrast, being able to ‘play a bit of John Legend’ was clearly all a bit too ‘extrinsic’ and led to me jacking in the ‘old joanna’ after a couple of weeks.

As a teacher, this is powerful information. Everyone is different, as are our motivators. Deeper research is required, but figuring out what’s driving students and being able to guide motivations, can only deliver positive results.

Lastly, I’ll throw it to you, the reader. Is there something you think you’d like to do, but you just feel like you can’t commit to it? Understanding why you want to do it and what’s motivating that choice might be just the thing you need…

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