Q: Can I Teach My Son to Motivate Himself?

Q: “My teenage son struggles to self-motivate for anything that doesn’t personally interest him. This shows up in doing homework, chores, exercise… almost everywhere in his life. Consequences haven’t worked, nor have ‘carrots’ and rewards. I am just not sure what to do. Additionally, he is 16 and I worry that he will struggle to get and keep a job as an adult – and somehow, it’s my fault for not figuring it out before he becomes an adult. What can I do to help him when he says he is fine and he will figure it out? Should I just leave him be?”  –Mooney443

Hi Mooney443:

I’m curious. You say that your son struggles to self-motivate for anything that doesn’t interest him – in almost every area of his life. So I need to ask: What does motivate him? What is he interested in? Is he a music lover? Sports fanatic? A master chef in the kitchen? A trick I suggest to my students when they’re faced with a dreaded task is to pair something they love with something they don’t.

There is a reason I do laundry Monday nights while I watch “The Bachelor!” I hate folding laundry and find it much easier while indulging in my favorite reality television program. Pairing something you love with something you don’t just makes that pill so much easier to swallow! What can he pair with the tasks he dislikes with the ones he enjoys doing?

Though I don’t know your son personally, I am wondering if there are other factors at play that are interfering with him getting into gear.

Here are a few possibilities.

  • Does he have perfectionist tendencies? Perhaps he’s not confident in his abilities and fears doing poorly which is keeping him from mobilizing.
  • Maybe he’s confused or overwhelmed when it comes to getting started?
  • Or maybe he thinks he is lazy and is using that negative self-taunt to stop himself from getting started?