What Is Inspiring? (Part 1–Introduction)

When you hear the word “inspire,” what do you think? Do you think of a great book you’ve read or movie that you’ve seen that made you feel good? Do you think about a teacher or a parent who helped you see your potential? Do you think of something spiritual that comes to you, prompting you to do something?

“Inspire” has so many meanings, and most people probably don’t need an exact definition. But if you want to inspire your child to learn something, you’re going to need more to go on than a “feel-good” idea.

So what does inspiring learning look like? Does it mean you step back and let them be in charge? Does it mean you try to make all their learning fun and exciting? Do you plead with them and try to help them understand that you are trying to help them? (And in the back of your mind, are you thinking, “Why is inspiring learning all that important in the first place? Shouldn’t kids just buckle down and do the hard work of learning because that’s what’s best for them?”)

When I first decided to focus on inspiring, rather than requiring, my children to learn, I went to the dictionary. When I found out that “motivate” is a synonym for “inspire,” I was really excited. Suddenly a whole new set of ideas started to flood my brain. I’d read about motivation–at home and in the workplace. I’d tried (with various degrees of success) all sorts of motivation techniques with my kids. I knew what motivated me. Suddenly inspiring seemed a little more attainable.

But I wanted more concrete information, so I started to research how motivation worked. What I found is what I want to share with you over the next several weeks. I learned that scientists have spent a lot of time studying motivation over the years. They break it down into categories. They’ve discovered what works and what doesn’t work. They can explain which kind of motivation is best to use in which circumstances. And what they’ve figured out can actually show us how to motivate–or inspire–our kids to learn.

Next week we’ll get into some of the details about how scientists categorize motivation. Until then, watch how you try to motivate your children. What techniques do you use? How do you try and get them to do something? What do you offer? What environment do you create? What works and what doesn’t?

Armed with the answers to these questions, you’ll be ready to dive into the exciting world of motivational psychology. See you then!

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