Thursday, May 18

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, May 18, 2017 6 comments
image credit: Felicia Santos for morguefile
As the school year enters its final weeks and summer fun is so close around the corner, homework is about the last thing kids feel like doing. I don't know about you other parents out there, but homework battles in my house have gone from bad to worse in my home of late.

Research nerd that I am, I went on the hunt for advice about how to get through the final marking period, ending strong without bloodshed. I tripped across a short e-book by life coach Dennis Bumgarner, Motivating Your Intelligent but Unmotivated Teenager.  What I found most striking in his approach to the whole "movtivating" and "unmotivated" issue is his breakdown of why sticks and carrots rarely work, and also WHEN motivation happens.

Hold onto your hats, because this concept is a game changer:

"Performance precedes motivation." 

Bumgarner argues that beginning a small piece of a task will motivate continued steps. Not cheerleading. Not rewards and punishments. Not lectures or logic.


I think this insight has broad applications for nearly every step of the writing, editing, submission, design/formatting, marketing parts of creating written work.

Trying to "get in the mood" to write or chasing one motivational strategy after another is a waste of time. Simply start a little something. You only discover the intrinsic rewards of writing by actually writing, not by dreaming about writing, talking about it with other writers, pinning pithy quotes on Pinterest, or whatever other supposedly motivation-building (but useless) strategy you've attempted.

Write some words, any words. Flow comes when you overcome that initial inertia.

What do you think of the maxim "performance precedes motivation"? Can you think of instances where this idea has proven true for you?


  1. I actually realized this lately regarding my day job. I tend to put off tedious tasks dreading how long they'll take, but one that deadline approaches and I am forced to start the momentum usually carries me through. I've been telling myself if I just start earlier I can avoid the dread, as well as, the guilt for procrastinating.

    1. Great example. I'm finding the same thing with home organizing projects. Once I started clearing away unused stuff from the spare room for a guest to come stay, I wanted to do more and more in other rooms. The momentum is invigorating.

  2. That's an interesting concept. I can see how it would work. Writing as its own reward.

    1. He argues that one doesn't really connect the activity with a sense of well being in the abstract, but more viscerally, while engaged in the activity. Once you start, you tend to persist.

  3. A lot of my students get overwhelmed by the big picture and are really helped by the setting of small way-station tasks. Today, do this piece. Tomorrow, do this piece. Definitely works for me, too.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    1. He would also argue that big picture is weirdly de-motivating. If your goal is too broad (say, "getting good grades" or "become a success") it won't drive you to tackle the tasks, but to succumb to magical thinking about needing a certain feeling to even start.