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What’s Your Motive?

What motivates you? How do you motivate others? Is it even possible to motivate others?

Motivation is an interesting phenomenon. Here at the beginning of a new school year, we teachers try to think of ways to motivate some of our less enthusiastic students to try harder in our classes. Not necessarily an easy thing to do. If you read the "experts" in the field, you find a wide range of ideas and suggestions — instructor's enthusiasm, reasonable expectations and goals, showing relevance of the material, asking engaging questions, active involvement and participation of students, building self-confidence, variety, rewards and privileges, rapport between teacher and students, and on and on it goes.

There's a whole industry out there whose goal is to help motivate people. One of their products is the motivational poster. You've undoubtedly seen them. They generally have a symbolic picture, a keyword, and an inspiring or motivating saying or quotation. Here's an example…

motivational poster on destiny

Here's one on persistence…

motivational poster on persistence

There's another whole industry that is a spin-off of the motivational posters. They call their products demotivational posters. Here's their version of persistence…

demotivational poster on persistence

Their whole premise is that "motivational products create unrealistic expectations, raising hopes only to dash them." They go on to say, "…we created our soul-crushingly depressing Demotivators® designs, so you can skip the delusions that motivational products induce and head straight for the disappointments that follow!"

This poster of theirs pretty well sums up their philosophy…

demotivational poster on motivation

Some of their posters are quite cynical, but many are downright hilarious. Sometimes the picture is indispensable and other times their wording is enough. Here are a my absolute favorites…

demotivational poster on apathy

Blame - The Secret to Success is Knowing Who to Blame for Your Failures.

demotivational poster on burnout

Challenges - I expected times like this - but I never thought they'd be so bad, so long, and so frequent.

demotivational poster on cluelessness

Defeat - For Every Winner, There are Dozens of Losers. Odds are You're One of Them.

Dysfunction - The Only Consistent Feature of All of your Dissatisfying Relationships is You.

Failure - When Your Best Just Isn't Good Enough.

Futility - You'll Always Miss 100% of the Shots you Don't Take, and, Statistically Speaking, 99% of the Shots You Do.

demotivational poster on incompetence

Ineptitude - If You Cant' Learn to Do Something Well, Learn to Enjoy Doing It Poorly.

Mistakes - It Could Be that the Purpose of Your Life Is Only to Serve as a Warning to Others.

Pessimism - Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Lining, but Lightning Kill Hundreds of People Each Year Who are Trying to Find it.

demotivational poster on tradition

Trouble - Luck Can't Last a Lifetime Unless You Die Young.

Underachievement - The Tallest Blade of Grass is the First to be Cut by the Lawnmower.

Wishes - When you wish upon a falling star, your dreams can come true. Unless it's really a meteorite hurtling to the Earth which will destroy all life. Then you're pretty much hosed no matter what you wish for. Unless it's death by meteor.

You can see the whole Demotivators® collection on their website despair.com and maybe even decide to buy some of their funny products.

Before leaving despair.com behind, I'd like to highlight a couple more of their posters. Here's one that goes to the very heart of this French teacher…

demotivational poster on effort

I wonder if anyone has shown these two demotivational posters to Obama…

demotivational poster on hope

demotivational poster on change

Ever since I first found the Demotivators® website, I have been saving things that others have put together, following the same basic template, satirizing a number of areas of life. Here are some of the ones I've collected…

demotivational poster on cleaning

demotivational poster on committees

demotivational poster on individualism

demotivational poster on misspelling

demotivational poster on uniqueness

demotivational poster on unity

I found one that I altered — I thought that the blank image with nothing but the word Alzheimer's was over the edge, so here's my softened version of it…

demotivational poster on senior moments

I hope that you were more amused than demotivated by the preceding posters!

Anyway, back to motivation… What motivates you? If you are in a position to try to motivate others, what works for you? Like those posters above, what has demotivated you at times?

As cute as it may be, would the following "motivational" poster be enough for you or those around you?

demotivational poster on awesomeness

I fear that that is what is happening in many classrooms today — teachers telling their students how great they are in an effort to motivate them.

I'm really looking forward to getting some reader input on this whole area of motivation.


"When I choose to sin, it's like taking a spoonful of death because sin and death go together." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

In the world of political correctness, people aren't lazy, they're only selectively motivated.

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15 Comments on “What’s Your Motive?”

  1. #1 Jason Harper
    on Aug 25th, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    This post, and specifically talking about school got me thinking. My freshman year academically was horrid. I think what motivated me to do better was one, the love my teachers showed, and two, their steadfastness in giving me the grades I deserved. For example, in one class, I missed passing the course by less than one percentile. I was upset, obviously, but I couldn’t get myself to blame the teacher because I knew her heart for all her students, including me. It was both the love and the fairness, however harsh it felt at the time, that I saw in my teachers that motivated me to do my best, because I knew they had my best interest in mind, but if I slacked they wouldn’t give, so whatever consequences there were had to be my fault.

  2. #2 Heather
    on Aug 25th, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    I used to supervise freshmen in the Dining Common, so I got quite a bit of practice trying to motivate disinterested students. I observed that a combination of two efforts seemed to work most of the time.

    First, even though several of my workers got tired of being fussed at for corner-cutting, I noticed that morale almost always went up when I made a point to notice when the work was done correctly (or even mostly correctly). That way I knew the student understood what I expected. Also, that way the student knew I believed in them.

    Second, there’s always that one student (or maybe several) who just doesn’t want do the job at all. I saw that when I tried to converse with the student at least as often as I had to scold, morale went up. That is, if I had to correct a student for poor work once every week, I tried to make conversation with her at least once every week. That way the student knew that even though I disliked her work ethic, I didn’t dislike her personally. Besides, it was a wonderful way to get to know my girls and minister to them.

  3. #3 Rob
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 6:01 am

    Thank you, Jason and Heather, for getting the ball rolling. You’ve each made some good observations, and I see a common thread in your two comments. I’m eager to see what others add to the mix.

  4. #4 Hannah Joy
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Thank you! I’ve always despised all that “motivational” claptrap. If that really motivates you, you probably are a robot! I’m glad to know I’m not the only realist around here ; )

  5. #5 Matt
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Hehe. I love that site. I’ve been planning to buy their materials for awhile. My favorite ones are these: http://despair.com/demotivation.html & http://despair.com/madness.html & http://despair.com/sacrifice1.html

    Then again, if you know me, you’d completely expect this. 😀

    As for my view on motivation? I suspect that their are several issues. First, not everyone responds to the same motivational techniques, but generally as Christians, we should do our best.

    Second, teacher/parents/influencers should seek to understand what interests a student. Find their interests and fan the flames. I have yet to meet a person who finds knowledge boring. I have met people who didn’t yet know that knowledge was interesting. My brother doesn’t read much, but he does read certain military & explorer type books. So I buy him that type of stuff. 80-90% of what he reads each year, I bought for him, but he loves to read it and is interested in learning. The point is, you might not inspire a student to directly like your material, but you can inspire the student to enjoy learning and peripherally improve their interest in your class. I’ve also had teachers completely kill a subject that I was interested in by their poor teaching….

  6. #6 Brian
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Here’s a “de”motivational poster my dad saw once: “There may be no ‘I’ in TEAM, but there is a ME!”

  7. #7 Michael
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    In my classroom I don’t believe I’m telling my students they’re awesome all the time. I do try to be positive in my approach, but I will let them know if they are in error or have made a mistake. This whole idea of telling people that they’re awesome is something I see a lot in the extracurricular activity I work with. I coach the mock trial team at my school and often when we go to a competition, the person acting as the presiding judge will congratulate everyone on how good of a job they did. It’s especially frustrating when we know there was a clear difference between the two teams, and the judges compliment and praise both teams as if it was a great round. I don’t believe that’s helping the other team very much. But, the judges are instructed to be very positive and very general in their comments. So, the not so good teams are praised for being mediocre and the teams that want to be the best are frustrated since it seems like all their hard work was for nothing. Also, there’s one judge we’ve seen on multiple occasions who says at the beginning of the trial that everyone competing in the round is already a winner for having made it that far. The only problem with that statement is that he makes that comment at the very first competition of the year. So no one has won anything as of yet. Too many people are afraid of hurting other people’s feelings. I’m not saying we should harsh or cruel or anything like that. But, the truth spoken in love is what we all need to hear more of.

    Thanks for the demotivators! Always entertaining.

  8. #8 Rob
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Matt, there aren’t many on that site that I don’t like … except the really mean or cynical ones. I just had to show some restraint so that my blog post wasn’t their whole site. 🙂

    You make a good point about finding an area of interest and tapping into it. The problem lies in getting someone to see something of interest and/or value in what you’re teaching. I think we teachers have a responsibility to present enough variety in as interesting a form as possible to give our students an opportunity to find something interesting or useful to them.

    Brian, thanks for that one. It make me feel almost like part of the team.

    Michael, your experience with mock trial sounds like lots of stories that I hear about many educational settings. Our kids are told they’re awesome so much that they don’t see much room for improvement. It’s basically redefining mediocrity to be excellence, and any honest person knows it isn’t.

  9. #9 Matt
    on Aug 26th, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Rob, I approach this idea more holistically. As a teacher, there is a limit to how interesting a class in mathematics is to a elementary education major. If every teacher/leader/whatever worked on tapping into the student, someone would eventually hit on the area the student loves. Once tapped, most people will quickly learn (or should be taught this) that they can learn to appreciate learning. They may not love your subject, but they have learned to like learning.

    I think that is the key in an educational situation: teach them to enjoy learning in general.

    As for work? We should strive to place people in positions that enable them to do what they like to do. If you hate your job, you will not be very motivated. I’ve been discovering (in my life and in others), that if you can match someone’s skills and interests with a job that uses them, the person will rise above your expectations. Is it always possible? No, and every job will have things we dislike, but overall, we can push toward this end with those that work beneath us.

    In other words, if you enjoy the outdoors, consider an outdoor job. If you have severe allergies, start by looking indoors for work. If you are handy, try working on a maintenance team and so on.


  10. #10 Rob
    on Aug 27th, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Matt, thanks for your good ideas and examples. As I implied in my post, this whole area of motivation has no easy or pat answers. The ingredients in the mix — personal aptitudes, tastes, prejudices, experience, personal baggage, etc. — make each situation different. I agree with your earlier comment that generally as Christians, we should do our best. I firmly believe that that is my responsibily as a believer — the Lord expects and deserves my best. But there are definitely factors that make that a challenge. As one of the demotivator posters hints, sometimes my best is still inadequate. But, my best is my best, and my best can’t be better than my best. (Wow! How profound is that!?)

    I agree that there’s a limit to how much certain people will enjoy certain things. For instance, I could take a class that I find interesting initially, but because of my lack of aptitude or ability, I might do poorly. That could (and probably would) affect my level of motivation, which at the beginning was fairly high. The interest and even the motivation were there, but my inability to grasp or perform could/would cause my motivation to decrease. A teacher could work with me until blue in the face, but my limitations would still keep me from doing well, being motivated, being interested, etc. On the other hand, if I did well in such a class, my motivation would probably remain high. Of course, a poor teacher or poor practices could change all that too.

    I could also take a class that I had to take and quickly find uninteresting and unmotivating. (That’s what you’re talking with an elementary education major in a mathematics class.) A good teacher could try to tap into things that interested me and possibly change things for me. But if that teacher couldn’t succeed in connecting with me, what then? Or if that teacher had a classful of people like me, would he or she have sufficient time, energy, and even motivation to try to tap into the individual interests of each of those unmotivated students?

    I try to make my French classes as interesting and personally rewarding as I know how, but there are still always going to be some students who don’t do well because their language skills/gifts are just not there or they don’t have enough personal drive or commitment to the Lord that pushes them to do their best. I try to let the kids lacking ability know that I love them. I love them because of who they are, not because of what they can do. Sometimes my love for them moves me to suggest exploration of other areas of study that don’t require a foreign language. My love for the slackers moves me to challenge them on their own personal lack of initiative. I reach out to them and try to connect in some way with them. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between those two types of students.

    Through the years I have had students who had bad experiences with high school foreign language and who were convinced they would hate my class and French. It’s been fun and rewarding to see many of those people discover that they could love and use French.

    It’s been puzzling too to read course evaluations and find there were people in the same room for a semester, some of whom say it’s obvious that I really care about my students and others who say I’m mean and uncaring! Some say I’m always available for help outside class and others who say I’m not. (For those latter, I wonder if they even tried to get together with me.) There’s great variety in perceptions and motivation. I’m not sure how to “tap into” people who won’t let me tap into them.

    So what makes the difference for each person? I’m not sure there’s any one answer. Each case is different because of unchangeable personal factors and interpersonal factors.

    This has gotten long! My thanks go out to anyone who’s read this through. Such personal motivation you must possess! Please share your secret with us! 🙂

  11. #11 Dave
    on Aug 28th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    I’m a very laid-back person so it’s tough to get motivated about some things. My key to getting motivated about different things is figuring out how it applies to what I love doing.

    I’m a writer, and I’m currently writing a book and maintaining a blog – two things that I enjoy doing. My wife teaches Spanish, a subject I was never good at. Whenever she tells me about Spanish, I try to learn as much as I can because it may give me a good topic to write about. I also don’t enjoy managing finances, but it’s extremely motivating to realize that effective management allows me to continue writing in the comfort of my home and not in the comfort of a jail cell because I didn’t pay my taxes 🙂

    Those are my thoughts. Very funny and thought-provoking post.

  12. #12 Rob
    on Aug 28th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Interesting thoughts, Dave. I have found that sometimes the oddest activities spark motivation in me. I’m the type of person who likes to try new things – even things that I don’t think I’ll like – often just to see if I will find a new interest. I’m motivated by a natural curiosity, I guess. Sometimes, like you say, something new will tie in nicely with what I already like doing. But other times something new causes frustration because I have found something else I don’t have time to do as much as I’d like to.

    I guess I just don’t fully understand bored, unmotivated people. The Lord has given us so much to enjoy and allowed us to live in times when so much is available to us. People need to enjoy more and not be so self-limiting.

    I also share some of motivations that you do – those negative results of lack of motivation that spur me on to avoid those negative results. Maybe it’s like students who study hard so that they don’t get bad grades?

  13. #13 Jason Harper
    on Aug 28th, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Talking about _having_ to take classes got me thinking. Another thing I think that motivated me in school (or, i guess, is motivating me in school) is seeing the big picture. I think my philosophy of education class helped me understand this… there are some classes that I did not want to take (i.e., speech, English). I don’t feel like I’m good at specifically speech, and during my freshman year, I did not really care about those classes. In Philosophy of Education, the teacher talked about how education is for the whole person, bettering me in every way, so that I might be effective. As I started maturing, I began to see how the setup of my classes did that. My junior year, I had to take a second speech class, and though not excited about it, I chose to try to see the value in it. And you know what, I enjoyed it thoroughly and did a whole lot better in that class than in freshman speech. That train of thought starting in Philosophy has led me to the realization that I am here for God, and God placed me in the classes He did for a reason, so I sure better do my best, or else risk missing something important that God wants me to have in my brain.

  14. #14 Rob
    on Aug 29th, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Jason, they should get you to be a special speaker for Freshman Orientation class!

    I think I do agree with the statement on despair.com that motivation is from within. Your Philosophy of Ed. teacher said something that the Lord used to trigger that je ne sais quoi within you that motivated you to do your best – something that was missing before.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  15. #15 Karen Milligan
    on Dec 10th, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Loved the motivational/demotivational posters! I’ve been teaching for 35 years and the one idea I toss out to my students is: learn this now because you do not know in 20 years what God will be asking you to do. Work hard now on English and expository writing to be prepared for prospects down the road of life. Some students get it, others never will.