Carl Mays: Teach your own brand of motivation, persistence

Dec. 05, 2013 @ 11:56 PM

This past summer I read an article in The Atlantic magazine titled “Motivation Matters More Than Ever.” Just recently I picked up a new book titled “The Smartest Kids in the World – And How They Got That Way.”

The magazine article claims it used to be that someone could go to a trade school or college, pick up a few skills and ease into a career. The writer says now that information is updated hourly and is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime, everyone must keep on learning or will be left behind. The author goes on to explain, “One thing we know about learning is that you can’t do it if you aren’t motivated.” Meanwhile, the book emphasizes, “Self-discipline predicts teenagers’ academic achievement better than IQ.”

Both works were written by investigative journalist and author Amanda Ripley. And both works, especially the 320-page book, have drawn extremely high praise from renowned educators, major media and other high-profile sources. Regular readers of my column know how much emphasis I place on motivation, persistence and goal-setting, whether it be in education, business, sports or any phase of life. Ripley stresses the same thing in a more literary, investigative manner.

She writes, “Motivation is a battery pack of skills, from passion to perseverance to self-control. Statistically speaking, boys and low-income kids have less of it. But a little-known fact about motivation is that it can be taught. It’s not harder to teach than reading, and, in the end, it’s probably more important.”

The author says she has always been involved in sports, but also says that in her research she saw some incredibly persistent kids and they didn’t learn those skills through football, basketball or any other athletic endeavor. She said they learned them by wrestling with challenging classroom work, making mistakes, getting help and doing better, day by day.

She goes on to explain how Stanford University’s Carol Dweck has found that teaching kids their brains are muscles that get stronger with use will significantly motivate and boost the kids’ perseverance. Research has proven there is no doubt character skills and academic skills are related, and there is no better way to teach these skills than through rigorous learning in the classroom.

Ripley writes that training children in the classroom not only to set a goal, but to devise a plan for overcoming specific, inevitable obstacles to that goal, increases self-control and leads to ingrained lessons on building persistence. She says according to research by the University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Lee Duckworth, these lessons should be the new ABCs, taught from a very young age, repeated often and made impossible to forget.

Today, I have shared mere tidbits from the article and, especially, from the rather lengthy book. However, I feel compelled to share a couple more of Ripley’s points, which I have consistently emphasized and found to be true.

The first is when she says research shows parents who read for pleasure themselves and have read to and with their children tend to raise children who enjoy reading and will likely emulate their parents in other ways.

The second tidbit is when Ripley claims parents today are busy and work long hours, but parents don’t necessarily need to be more involved in their children’s classroom education in order to raise smarter kids. Generally speaking, parents can help their children expand their interests and knowledge and become better critical thinkers by emphasizing reading in the home and by discussing books, movies and news of the day, while also becoming involved and directive in their children’s interests and in their duties around the home and in the community.

Ripley has supplied some quite interesting and thought-provoking material.

© 2013 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author of over a dozen books. The free mentoring and self-help site is based on his A Strategy For Winning book and program. E-mail or view