In this post, I’d like to take a look at an area that I’m super interested in as a teacher. In my role as a teacher and a leader, I have to be constantly aware of what makes us do what we do, how we do it and crucially why we do it.

I am of course talking about motivation.

What is motivation?

To begin with, this question needs to be fully understood, especially since there is a duality to the definition.

Motivation is quite simply the act of avoiding pain, or painful experiences.

I’m sure we can conjure many examples of times we have experienced something dreadful. This experience no doubt led to an action – or at least a desire – on our part that caused us to avoid that dreadful experience.

But what about when we are enjoying ourselves? How can we possibly be avoiding pain?

Herein is the duality of motivation. Even when we are motivated to do something positive, that is still linked to avoiding the feeling of pain. As long as what we are doing brings us joy, then we aren’t having a bad experience. We are avoiding pain!

That is what causes us so much suffering when things change or worsen, especially when they are beyond our control.

The duality of motivation.

What often blows my mind on social media is the onslaught of people that talk about motivation with no real idea of how it is affecting their audience.

To avoid the status of hypocrite, I must add that I too was one of those ‘talkers’ in the past without really knowing what I was talking about.

Here is the problem.

When people talk about motivation, they talk as though positive motivation, or traction as Nir Eyal describes in his wonderful book Indistractableis something that is innate in everyone. We are led to believe that we should be motivated towards goals and positivity all the time.

The truth of the matter is, this way of thinking is very detrimental to our mental wellbeing. This is because it doesn’t deal with the other side of motivation. That other side is distraction.

Distraction is a type of motivation, too. The difference is that it is a negative form of motivation. Distraction is what we end up doing to avoid the perceived discomfort of what we are supposed to be doing.

Knowledge is power!

As a guitar teacher, I find at times that my students are immensely motivated in our lessons together, which is amazing! However, a select few students see a drop in that motivation as soon as they leave the lesson.

When this drop happens, it often means the individual has somehow put a barrier in place, preventing them from finding comfort in their practise. Oftentimes that barrier is a small one, but because millennials are programmed for instant gratification, a small barrier is often big enough. Parental intervention and support is a very strong tool to help with this.

Should you happen to be a parent, or even a teacher looking for ideas to engage the parents of their learners, please check out my post How you can help your young learners to practise their instrument. No skills required. for inspiration!

This barrier is no doubt thanks to smart phones, apps and video games. They offer gratification and the sense of success with little-to-no effort on the part of the end user. This concoction is the challenge of today’s guitar teachers, instrument teachers and curriculum music teachers alike! It is very hard to work with at times, but far from impossible. We have to constantly seek ways to make our lessons accessible.

As a side note for teachers, the drop of motivation could also be the result of incorrectly differentiated lesson materials, or a lack of understanding and rationale. My advice if this happens – strike while the iron is hot! Don’t just think it will repair itself and the student will magically be motivated to practise. That is highly unlikely.

What can we do if we struggle with motivation?

We are motivated all the time to do something. At least in my eyes, motivation is the fundamental essence of being.

Even when we feel like we are doing nothing, something has motivated us to do that. So even doing nothing, is doing something.

If we happen to notice that we aren’t practising our guitar playing as much, feel like we don’t want to attend our lessons, or generally feel put off by a task to the point of distraction, we need to ask a simple, obvious question.

‘Why am I seeking distraction?’

The question ‘why are they seeking distraction?’ needs to be asked if we see our students, children or loved ones behaving in the same way.

If we can get to the root cause of distraction, that can help us understand how we can move forward. This can help us feel more productive, related and autonomous with regard to the task at hand, guitar related or otherwise.

It could be the very thing that helps you transform your guitar playing.

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