At the recent LDA conference a keynote speaker was Dr. Philip Zelazo, a researcher who focuses on executive functions. In my notes I wrote: “It takes effort to activate your executive functions.” I had never thought about executive functions quite that way.
This made me think of that law of physics I learned in high school: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. For our brains to activate the use of our executive skills, which are required to take purposeful action, a motivational force is required. Lack of motivation is a phrase often connected to those who have executive functioning challenges. A brain can easily get stuck in a state of inaction.
The difficult thing about activating and sustaining motivation is that it has to come from within. Research shows that external motivators of carrots and sticks don’t result in sustained motivation.
In fact, for many of us the best motivator is experience – often a negative one. This is why I counsel parents to use their child’s struggles as a point of learning. Shortly after the fact, while the pain is still remembered, it is the time to debrief the experience. Have a quiet conversation and answer the question: What could you do differently next time?
Recently my adult daughter was doing research on urban childhood obesity when she texted me this:
Your commitment to go running in the morning, come rain or shine, or going to the gym or yoga when you were not your skinniest, made me see that it was possible for myself to get out and exercise. Thanks for setting a healthy example for me!
That text message meant the world to me. Reading it sent me hurtling back through years to a dark “stuck” time in my life. It was a low point, a very low point, when I could find nothing positive to say about myself. My self-esteem was nonexistent.
One day, I was hiding on the bed in the guest room when my daughter found me. Her bright bubbling three or four year old self climbed up on the bed to talk with me. I recall thinking, ‘this is not the mother I want her to remember. She deserves more. I want to be the mother, the woman, she can respect and admire.’
At that point I found my motivation to change. It didn’t happen overnight. First, I wrote down who I wanted to be and why. I still have that piece of paper. It took years of concentrated effort across many aspects of my life, including losing over 30 pounds and keeping it off with an exercise habit.
At almost 64, my daughter’s text made me feel like I had reached that goal of becoming the woman I want her, and my son, to remember. As I did my three-mile run in the rain this morning, I mentally thanked my daughter for continuing to be my motivation.
What motivates you to make and sustain positive changes in your life? Share your stories with us.
Little by little, change happens.
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.