Fostering Motivation

Students and parents can enhance student motivation by working together to establish long-term and short-term goals that are challenging, measurable, and attainable.  Students and parents should also work to set up systems of incentives and disincentives for both kinds of goals when intrinsic motivation fails [See our article on “Types of Motivation.”]  Parents must enforce these systems in order for them to be effective.  Parents should also discuss the positive aspects of education with students on a regular basis and help the student to understand and embrace this positive vision and philosophy.

Students: Set measurable and attainable goals.

We know that you want to do well in school, but how do you convert an aspiration of academic success into motivation for the everyday work grind?

You should start out by outlining long-term goals, whether it is to graduate from high school with a certain GPA or whether it is to meet the academic standards required of the college you’ve always wanted to attend.  When you know what you want in the long run, you can remind yourself of these goals when the everyday work gets tough.

For most students, long-term goals seem so vague and distant that it is difficult to translate desire to achieve them into motivation for the everyday tasks that must be completed to get there.  This is why it is important to set short-term goals.  Short-term goals must be reasonable and have concrete guidelines for measuring success.  For instance, a great short-term goal might be to decide to spend at least one hour on math homework/studying every day as soon as you get home from school before watching TV or doing other activities.  This is a much better goal than simply “doing better in math” because you have outlined strict requirements for fulfilling the goal.

Reward yourself when you meet short-term goals.  This might mean that after you finish that hour of math homework, you take a thirty-minute break to watch your favorite TV show.  Maybe it means that you buy yourself that video game you’ve wanted if you get an “A” in English.  Sometimes, you may choose instead to take a privilege away from yourself if you do not meet your short-term goals.  For example, maybe you will choose not to eat dessert on an evening when you neglected to do an assignment.  By establishing consequences for your actions, you will be more likely to meet your goals.  For long-term goals, the awards are often intrinsic.  Achieving a high class ranking will make you a more competitive college candidate, and you will be more likely to get in to the school you’ve always dreamed of attending.

No matter how much you want to reach your goals, we know that on a day-to-day basis it isn’t always easy to keep up your motivation.  As tutors, we can help you by setting up a structured studying routine, which will make studying a habit rather than a big chore that you have to face anew again each day.  And most importantly, try to engage yourself in the subjects that you enjoy!  As you get older, you will have more freedom in choosing your classes.  So, for now, try to have fun with the classes you like, and this will make it easier for the classes you don’t.  Homework doesn’t always have to be a boring or difficult experience.


  1. Outline reasonable long-term goals for which you are willing to work hard in order to achieve.
  2. Outline short-term goals that are both reasonable and measurable.
  3. Set up an incentive/disincentive system for yourself by which you know you can abide.
  4. Try to enjoy what you’re learning about!

Parents: Foster intrinsic motivation by articulating a vision and philosophy for success.

As we detail in our article on “Types of Motivation,” intrinsic motivation is the most ideal motivator that you can foster in your student.  Intrinsic motivation is best because it is innate; it is the result of a person’s genuine interest and like for a subject; no external motivators are required. 

Should you despair when your student doesn’t exhibit intrinsic motivation in an area that you find critical?  Absolutely not!  You can seek to foster intrinsic motivation by helping your student to articulate a vision and a philosophy for academic and personal success.   The vision should be a tangible, measurable, and attainable destination.  The philosophy should be an articulation of the method, the ways to reach that vision.  For example, you might outline a vision that your student improve in mathematics by improving his successive quiz grades by five points each time.  The philosophy for this example would be that he should spend one hour a day by correcting his homework and working through additional, unassigned problems.

In order for you to succeed in articulating a successful vision and philosophy, your student needs to “buy-in” to the idea.  There are two ways to secure this buy-in.  The first and most enduring method is to actively include your student in the crafting of a vision and philosophy.  You need to engage him in open conversation about the benefits of reaching the vision and come to an agreement on the best way, the best philosophy for getting there.  By engaging your student in this process, you are more likely to create buy-in.  In the event that this engagement doesn’t work, you also have the option of extrinsic motivation and mandatory compliance, which although less successful and enduring, is better than nothing at all.

For example, if he doesn’t turn in an assignment, his TV privileges are cancelled for an entire week.  Incentives/Disincentives can also be good motivators to achieve long-term goals. For some families, this may mean a student can go on a summer program abroad or his parents will contribute financial assistance towards a car if he graduates with a certain GPA. For others, it might mean removing a TV from a student’s room if his final grades aren’t up to par.  You must enforce this system for it to be effective.  Students can set up their own incentive/disincentive system for themselves, but they are less likely to enforce it than you, and you also have far greater resources to create powerful motivators.  However, you should consider extrinsic motivation a long-term solution, as the motivation will cease once you stop enforcing your philosophy.  Ultimately, you must work to ensure that your student comes to see the value of reaching for your vision by following your philosophy; at this point, he will become intrinsically motivated to succeed.


  1. Leverage your student’s intrinsic desires; engage him in establishing a tangible, measurable, and attainable vision and philosophy for academic success.
  2. If intrinsic motivation fails, set up and enforce a system of incentives/disincentives that will motivate your student to reach his goals, but know that extrinsic motivation is not enduring.
  3. Read our article on “Types of Motivation.”

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