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The Reward of Feelings

If you were competing in a race, which part would be the most difficult: the beginning, middle, or end? Most people, including the kids, chose either the middle or end. Why is that the common answer? "Because we use a lot of our energy so we're getting tired" answered one of them. And to that response I asked, "so if it's so difficult, why is it that we keep going and finish the race?" As expected most of the kids showed their motivation through the prize: winning first place. That was their motivating factor.


But in life, will there always be some kind of reward for the effort and hard work we do? Realistically, no. Yet, why are we so driven by those tangible rewards and prizes then? This is the concept I wanted the children to explore; finding the motivating factors that extend beyond materialistic satisfaction but instead focus on the internal rewards we give to ourselves to accomplish a goal. Before we really hone in on this type of motivation, which is also known as intrinsic motivation, the children had to learn what motivation was exactly.


"I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

- Michael Jordan

To understand the motivation in ways that we can relate to, the older kids watched a clip of Michael Jordan describing his motivation for basketball. Never once did he mention that he played for the money, trophies, and titles; but rather he played because he loved the game. He was driven and passionate, and he had a goal. It was all about how it made him feel, not the endless rewards he received.


Similarly, the little kids watched a short animation to obtain a visual idea of what it means to be motivated by the proud emotion we feel when we achieve our goals.

In realizing how both the man in the film and Michael Jordan achieved their dreams, big or little, through the pure motivation of accomplishment; the children were slowly learning how rewards and prizes only provide meaning if we put meaning to it. It's not about the actual trophy, but about how we feel receiving that trophy. To reflect this learning, both groups thought of difficult challenges in their life and what pushed them to overcome those tribulations. We categorized their answers by rewards/prizes and emotions to obtain a clear distinction between the two types of motivation.

Our older kids researched other figures that motivates them to understand the kinds of factors that can contribute to self-motivation. Some chose pop stars, tv characters, and others researched a family member they highly admired.

Our littles had the opportunity to further reinforce their knowledge by playing the "Why Am I Motivated Game" in pairs where they read scenarios-which included names of our AYTEF children-and decided why the person within each context was motivated to accomplish a task.

To end our fun and education-filled day, we played egg-and-spoon race with two teams. I never offered a prize of any sort, but they were fired up and ready to win. Although the kids didn't realize it, what they were doing was working hard to accomplish a goal with no intention of a materialistic gain. Not only were they putting forth the effort for themselves, but also for their teammates who depended on them. Having this fun game helped to bring practical experiences with their learning, making it more personal and easier to apply.


We All Possess Intrinsic Motivation...We Just Might Not Be Aware of It!

To get an idea of whether the children had grasped the importance of intrinsic motivation, we discussed an imaginary situation where they placed 2nd for the first time ever in a competition as they had only been used to the bottom 10. The caveat was that no trophy came with this achievement, only first place was given a trophy. How did they feel?


"I still feel happy and good because it was my first time getting 2nd place and that's really good. A trophy doesn't matter because I did something good!"


Then I changed the rules: all places get a trophy even if you're in 50th place. You just made 10th place and they give you a trophy. How did they feel now?


"I would be like, what's the point? The trophy doesn't really mean anything because everyone has a trophy so I don't feel like I worked hard."


These answers here demonstrate that prizes and rewards only hold meaning when we, ourselves add meaning to it. If we don't feel that we've worked hard for something, then it won't make us feel accomplished, and if we feel that we've put forth our utmost effort, then a trophy isn't needed to validate that feeling. These answers showed how the kids took what they learned and applied it to a scenario that normally, the tangible prize is the most valued possession, but in this case, their most valued possession was the proud emotion that drove their accomplishments.


To really put this to the test, I told the children they would have to participate in a competition. They would produce their best drawing with specific details, an abundance of colors, and most importantly, their greatest effort. They were motivated by a prize, yes I know contradictory, but they didn't know what the prize was. And with that, the kids were concentrated to win. I had never seen them so focused and silent because this project was something that was so important to them.

But do you wanna know a secret? There is no prize. The prize will be in their creations.


How am I so sure they won't be disappointed about this? Because not once during the competition did they talk about the prize. Not a single question was asked about what it would be. But what I did observe was the display of accomplishment. With each beautiful detail created, they just had to share it with a peer. You won't believe the shocked faces I saw because, really, I don't think they knew they were capable of producing something so wonderful. Preston, one of our little kids, drew Sonic, and boy was he proud. Every one minute and every new detail he drew, was another chance for him to show me and his friends. He was so proud that all I kept hearing was, "Wow this is actually really good, guys!"


Although their initial drive was with this one secretive prize, they no longer cared about it. Many wanted to take theirs home so they can ensure that it was the best quality before we "voted" on it. And some just couldn't stop working. Being with these kids for a couple weeks now, I have never seen them put so much effort into something, because they really experienced just how capable they were. I just needed to do some pushing for it to happen.


And although they don't know yet, I am confident when Monday rolls around, they will only be fixated on their wonderful work and how proud they feel for producing it, rather than that materialistic reward I offered. Stay tuned to see the beautiful artwork that is produced with the talent at AYTEF driven by pure self-motivation!

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