Motivation — Inner or Outer?

By Cathy Eck


How to Motivate Others

Until 1997, I owned a technology business.  I learned so many lessons from running that business — I’m incredibly grateful for the experience.  But one of the problems that really dumbfounded me was motivation.  I had employees and clients that were clearly internally motivated.  I only had to give them a little direction, and they were off and running.  On the other hand, I had employees and clients that didn’t make a move without external motivation.  Then I had to figure out what it was that motivated them  — money, time off, approval, or fear.

Wanting to understand motivation led me to enroll in a Master’s Degree Program in Transpersonal Psychology.  I thought perhaps more education would answer my burning question.  It didn’t.  But that school got me to the amazing library that was crucial for the research that I would do in the future.

I loved that school so much.  I realized that school could be a place of freedom and joy.  There were no tests; our teachers graded our speeches, papers, and projects.  There was no memorization; our grades were based on our ability to dig into something and see it with fresh eyes.  I was a duck in water and completely inner motivated.  That prepared me for what would happen next.


Free At Last

In 1999, my children decided that they wanted to unschool.  Unschool means learning outside of a school — it isn’t anti-education.  We’d moved to the country and visited all the available schools.  They didn’t like any of them.  A book had come to our attention called “Free at Last,” by Daniel Greenberg, a man who inspires me to this day.  He realized that children have internal motivation until we teach them external motivation.  In his school, “The Sudbury Valley School,” the children aren’t taught anything until they ask to learn it.  Sometimes they go for years without asking; but when they do finally ask, they learn at incredible speed because they’re motivated — one student learned six years of math in six weeks.  Obviously, these children also have enormous time to ponder life, explore passions, and just get to know who they are.

We decided to model Sudbury Valley at home.  My two younger children dove right in.  I could see what Daniel was saying.  When they didn’t want to learn something, it was impossible to teach them without force.  I realized why schools need so much discipline, rules, shame, and fear of disapproval to get kids to learn outside of their natural learning cycle.

My oldest son had been in a private school until the sixth grade.  He was already institutionalized.  He begged me to please tell him what to learn.  He couldn’t think for himself.  He couldn’t find his inner motivation.  It took about two years to decondition him, then he remembered his natural desire to learn.


My Real Lesson

I thought I wanted to learn how to motivate others.  What I really wanted to learn was how to support people in finding their inner motivation, their True Self.  I wanted to understand how I could nurture inner motivation in my children and myself.

To get to inner motivation, one must strip away all the external motivation.  We have to stop wanting what others have; and look at what really lights our fire.  Our True Self is the source of internal motivation, and it rarely pleases other people’s agendas.  It can look quite unsocial and rude when it simply doesn’t buy the beliefs of other people or join popular groups.  It knows what it needs, and it’s bored or uninterested in anything that it doesn’t need.


A few differences

The True Self is motivated by win-win; the false self is motivated by win-lose.

The True Self is what it is; the false self wants to fit in and be accepted.

The True Self is self-reliant; the false self wants support from others because beliefs have no power without attention.

The True Self is unique; the false self is a good clone.

The True Self leads; the false self follows and obeys.

The True Self enjoys the journey; the false self enjoys only the result.

The True Self loves to give its gifts; the false self loves to get rewarded.

The True Self has no fear and doesn’t see risk; the false self is fueled by beliefs and their related emotions.

The True Self does what feels calm and good; the false self does what relieves its emotions and satisfies its beliefs.

The True Self thinks about creating; the false self thinks about profits or marketing.

The True Self learns for fun and expansion; the false self memorizes and repeats.

The True Self loves when another succeeds; the false self is jealous or envious of others.

The True Self is motivated from the heart; the false self is motivated from the head.

The True Self is motivated from within; the false self is motivated from without.

The True Self is Daniel Greenberg; the false self is Bill O’Reilly.


Living From Inner Motivation

Most teachers simply offer more beliefs to stuff into our already clogged minds.  There are only a few Daniel Greenberg’s in the world that offer a space for the True Self to expand, explore, and invent.

My favorite Daniel story was about a kid who only wanted to fish.  He fished every day for years — no motivation for anything else.  His father wanted to take him out of the school.  He wasn’t learning anything.  Daniel calmed the father and said, “That child knows everything about fishing.  When he finds something else that motivates him that completely, he’ll excel at it.”  Eventually that child found computers.  After graduation, he founded a technology company.  Two years later, he had twenty employees.  He learned the thing that almost no one learns in school.  He learned how to learn, effortlessly and on his own.  And, most important, he learned how to follow his heart and live from inner motivation.



6 thoughts on “Motivation — Inner or Outer?

  1. danny says:

    Love this Cathy ….I have moved my kids to Montessori school too about 2 years ago. Sometimes I wonder if I could do homeschooling too with my kids. I salute you for doing that.

  2. Ben says:

    How would an adult rediscover this sort of motivation?

  3. Helle says:

    I had never heard about this but it was really interesting. The complete left-brain focus on regular schools is crushing to anything other than logic and reason (blame the ancient Greeks! They were the ones who became obsessed with that).

    But – how would a kid from such a school ever get into a university or college? Without track record of grades and subjects how many schools of higher education would be available to these kids?

    It really gives you food for thought though – it would seem that just about everything we work-wise do we do to get money. Our motivation is money and recognition. Lord knows I’ve never had a job for any other reason!

    My child would be my little dog Luke. Luke doesn’t need motivation to chase squirrels : ) He can hang out all day in the back yard keeping track of their movements through the trees and power lines. He loves agility because he loves to run and jump. He is entirely inner motivated and we just let him show us what he likes to do and then we give him all the opportunities we can to do exactly that.

    : ) Helle

    • Cathy says:

      A very interesting thing happened regarding your question about college. A family wanted to meet to discuss unschooling their very smart child who was in high school and bored as hell. They came to our house and the mother was ready to go. But the dad insisted that his child must go to University of VA, and this would prohibit him from getting in. So the mother went to the Director of Admissions at UVA and asked him if her child would get in if unschooled fully expecting a lot of uncertainty and doubt. Instead, the Director said that any university admissions director that is worth his weight would fight for such a child. The biggest problem that higher education has today is lack of motivation. So if the child did well in the interview and had decent test scores (SATs), they would be given priority for admission. The father still didn’t allow the child to unschool, and the mother wrote to me saying the child was suffering from severe depression and hated school.

      • Helle says:

        Wow, that is great to hear that the education system is open to that : )
        Now, the mother, on the other hand – sounds like she needs some sessions with you so she can learn to not be bullied by her husband and instead act according to what she knows is right.
        It always comes down to power, doesn’t it : ) What makes a woman obey her husband when her child is so clearly in distress? It is sad, isn’t it, that the child is paying the price for her fearful beliefs and his bullying.
        I hope to hear of some progress in this case at some point.

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