You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 53 - my motivation mindset hack - a small but mighty reverse psychology trick that can be super-helpful when your teen has a task that they just don’t want to do and turn it into something they DO want to do, so they finally get it done minus the moaning.
Hey VIPs! I hope you’re doing well this week.
Today I’ve got a bit of a mindset hack for you and your teen. I don’t use the word hack very often - partly because I just don’t feel young or cool enough to even use that word to be honest, but also because I think that tricks and hacks often feel a bit superficial or like a short term fix rather than a long term solution and I’m usually more about long term sustainable strategies and systems and skills that make big impacts rather than solve small little annoyances. However, I do want to share this with you because when I heard someone else use it - I did not come up with this myself - I thought it was REALLY helpful. Or at least it has been for me personally, and every time I tactically share it with a hardworking student when they have something they just don’t want to do - which we all have at times, right? I definitely do - they love how well it works and how it instantly changes their mindset and also - a nice bonus - makes them realise that they actually have more agency over their tasks than they think.
We all have things in life that we don’t want to do but have to do. Or at least we tell ourselves we don’t want to do and tell ourselves we HAVE to do. For your teen it might be an essay they’ve been set. Maybe they’ve been putting off, leaving it to the last minute. Maybe they’re moaning about doing it, saying how boring or pointless it is. Maybe it’s more like dread, because it feels big and long and just not fun. It’s a good word dread. I think it really pinpoints that feeling we get about some things. Especially the more tricky things that we don’t want to do that feel emotionally or technically difficult.
You likely have your own ones as a parent - or just as a human living life! For me, back in my full time teaching days, an example of this was writing school reports. Not the most fun or exciting part of teaching. I didn’t dread it, but it definitely felt long and arduous.
Sitting down to type 120 reports was not something I was feeling excited or motivated to do. But I had to do it. Or, another example for me - an everyday ‘life’ example- is cleaning the bathroom. I hate cleaning the bathroom - I do it, but I just have this mental thing that I just don’t want to do it. And if you’re thinking, I should get my husband to do it - let me tell you I have tried that. But, of course, he doesn’t do it well enough - he doesn’t do it to my standards - I’m sure there are some of you out there who relate to this - and I then have to go and do it again afterwards anyway and he feels like he’s done a chore and I feel annoyed. You know - all the usual couple things.
But that actually brings us to the point of this. There’s a consequence if I don’t clean the bathroom - or if I didn’t write those reports.
I clean the bathroom not because I’m motivated to do it, or because I find it interesting, or because it’s going to help me in my future career, but because I don’t want a dirty bathroom. I wrote the reports because I didn’t want to be fired, or at the least reprimanded by the principal and having to explain why they weren’t done.
This is the key here.
We don’t technically HAVE to do these things, I could just leave the bathroom. I could not write the reports. But we would, in most cases rather do the thing than choose the consequence of not doing it.
Let’s take an extreme example like paying our taxes. Yes, we legally have to do it. But we could not do it. We’d just have to face the consequence of not doing it. A big fine or prison. Turns out, I do want to pay taxes. I don’t want a dirty bathroom, so actually, I DO want to clean it.
Your teen doesn’t want to fail their subject, get detention or whatever the consequence is for not doing their homework or completing the essay, so maybe, just maybe, they do actually want to do it.
Now, I want to add something here. This is only for tasks that your teen is 100% clear on and knows what to do and how to do it. Because very often, for hardworking students, if they’re procrastinating on a task which sometimes feels like not being motivated, but I think it’s actually different. Procrastination is more when you do want to do the thing, but you’re somehow stuck in getting started or getting it done - and that usually happens because either they aren’t clear on exactly WHAT they have to do, they’re not sure of precisely HOW to do it, or they don’t think that the effort will pay off for them. I talk about these 3 reasons in detail in episode 3 - (‘Why your teen’s procrastinating, even though they want to get it done’) so go check that out if that sounds like your teen or just to make sure that one of those things isn’t at play here.
Because if it IS one of those things holding your teen back on a task, and often they can be subtle, then it doesn’t matter how motivated or how much they want to get a task done, they’ll still stay stuck and won’t be able to make the progress they need to.
This motivation hack is for those times when they know exactly what they have to do, they know precisely how to do it, and they know that it’s relevant or important, but they just don’t feel like it. These are the situations I’m talking about today. This is when you can say ‘Okay. Just don’t do it then.’ I have honestly said that to students.
Now of course, you have to be careful about the type of student or situation you’re using this in. I do use professional judgement here. This is not me as a teacher giving a student permission to not do an assignment. This is me as a study coach helping a student get done a task that they’ve been dreading or putting off.
And as this podcast is called parents of hardworking teens, then I think that I’m safe to share this with you and your teen - and I know that for these students it really works.
So, if there’s something they’ve been putting off, leaving to the last minute, or just moaning about, just say in an offhand way, ‘Okay - don’t do it’.
They will then either look shellshocked and wonder if you’ve lost your mind, or they’ll go from unmotivated to annoyed, thinking that you’re an idiot and of saying “don’t be ridiculous, of course they have to do it.”
That’s okay, both of those are all part of this little process. The next thing I say is, “Well, what would happened if you didn’t?’
This is when they then come up with the consequences. And this is important. That they engage with the consequences for themselves.
They say, “well I’d fail the term” or “get a bad report”, or “not get into the course I want”, or “get a detention”, or sometimes, it would just be more like, “I’d be disappointed in myself, because i’m the kinda person who does my homework”.
That is often honestly enough for me. I’m a person who has a clean house. I’m the person who gets the reports written on time. But I’m a bit of a geek and a total rule-follower, so that’s just me. Like I say, use your judgement here and consider what would work with your teen.
And you can totally just use this on yourself. So if your teen’s listening, you don’t need a study coach or a teacher or a parent to do this with you. And it takes literally seconds. You just state to yourself: “I could just NOT do this.” And just sit with that for a few moments in your brain. It will instantly come up with all the reasons why that’s not a good idea. And then just pick the one that feels the best or the strongest for you. Not the one that is simply ‘well I do cos the teacher said so’.
Pick the one that is more about you. Like ‘I don’t want the detention’ or ‘I want a good report card’. For me - and for the students I’ve used this with (and like I say, I am discerning about using this) - that’s enough to make us realise that we DO actually want to do it. And we now have a clear reason that’s personal to us, or maybe even multiple reasons. When we get clear on that, then we can actually realise that deep down, beneath the dread or boredom or drag - we DO actually want to do it.
We’re telling ourselves we don’t want to, but we actually do.
We might not enjoy it, we might not love doing it, but that motivation does go up a notch and we do feel more committed. And like I say, it takes literally a few seconds to make that switch. No time wasted going to find and watch motivational Youtube videos. No energising yet distracting music needed.
Personally, I think that being able to do things even when we don’t want to is a excellent skill to have in life, and the more we practise it, the better we get at it. So there’s an extra little bonus reward in here too. The long term rewards that we’ll get as we get good at getting on with things that serve us, even when we don’t want to. I think that’s an amazing life skill to have.
So, let me know how you go with this. Email email@example.com - if you find a way to use this with your teen - or even with yourself.
And like I say, use your judgement, you know your teen best and know if this will spur them into action or have them lazing around thinking they’ve just been given permission to give up. This is for hardworking and committed teens who are just having a bit of a blip or a low moment. I don’t want any emails from teachers next week saying that I told students they don’t have to do their essay.
Let’s go make this a super-motivated week and I’ll see you back here next Tuesday for another episode. See you then!