‘Work towards excellence; don’t try to deliver perfection.’

Award-winning Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Nihara Krause presented to the GDST Talks series, explaining the psychology behind motivation and sharing tips and advice to help parents support their children as we emerge from the pandemic.

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Dr Nihara Krause joined our growing list of expert GDST Talks speakers last week when she addressed parents about the psychology of motivation, and how we can help keep our young people remain motivated despite not having the impetus of exams this summer. Dr Krause, whose talk attracted over 800 participants, told parents that humans are by nature problem-solvers and innovators. ‘We are fuelled by goals and dreams,’ she explained, ‘and in the absence of this, we become restless.’


“Humans are by nature problem-solvers and innovators, fuelled by goals and dreams. In the absence of this, we become restless”


Across the world, we are in the same storm, but not in the same boat: whilst some may show extraordinary resilience in the face of school closures and changed routines, others have struggled. We are coming out of our third lockdown, and we have been through a lot. ‘The more we go through, the more despondent we risk becoming,’ explained Dr Krause, ‘and the more difficult it is to motivate ourselves to thrive.’


Motivation comes in different forms, but will depend on how the individual feels about herself. At the core of finding the impetus to achieve lies our self-esteem. High self-worth has a positive effect on motivation: a child who believes in herself, when faced with a new, unfamiliar task or situation, is more likely to give it a shot, based on the assumption: ‘I haven’t done this before but I am sure I can.’ Low self-esteem can lead to a lack of direction, or the desire to create a completely different and new version of ourselves. ‘It is not about changing or improving ourselves,’ Dr Krause states, ‘but rather learning to like the aspects of ourselves that we want to change.’


“The pandemic has helped us to get used to discomfort and unpredictability: we can channel this to help ourselves to stay on track and to keep motivated”


This said, exceptionally high levels of motivation can stem from a desire to please, rather than from the desire to stretch and develop a better version of ourselves. Highly able young people may find their motivation levels dropping in the present climate for different reasons. When motivation and self-esteem are founded on performance, and the opportunity is taken away through the cancellation of exams, some young people’s motivation and self-esteem can plummet. ‘They can no longer compare themselves favourably to others, which in turn can have a negative impact on self-esteem and self-image,’ explains Dr Krause. 


Linked to this is the phenomenon of perfectionism with which many parents are familiar. Young people who believe themselves capable of pushing boundaries become dissatisfied with themselves and demotivated if they attain anything less than the perfect outcome. ‘Aim to work towards excellence,’ suggests Dr Krause, ‘and don’t deliver perfection.’

It’s all very well to note that motivation is intrinsically linked to self-esteem: but how can we build self-esteem in our children? High self-worth comes about from the messages children hear and understand from their parents, from unconditional love and  acceptance, and from acknowledging the tasks they accomplish. Their self-esteem will also be influenced by their parent’s self-view. ‘What kind of statements do you as a parent give about yourself?’ asks Dr Krause. As ever, you set the example. Since motivation is so connected to self-esteem, you as a parent have to show that you have self-respect and value your abilities, thus modelling this for your child. 


The Stages of Motivation

Dr Krause summarises the three stages of motivation as:

  1. Activation: the process of becoming motivated to achieve something.
  2. Persistence: having the tenacity to keep going and stay on track. 

Dr Krause explains: ‘the pandemic has helped young people to get used to discomfort and unpredictability and for some, this has proven helpful in the persistence cycle in motivation.’ Overcoming and learning from failure is an important part of this, too. ‘The GDST is good at teaching their students to engage with the concept of failing forward,’ explains Dr Krause, who has had four daughters go through Wimbledon High School. 

3. Flow: staying on a roll, the effortless enjoyment of knowing ‘you have got this’. 

This final phase involves the young person engaging and learning to do things they know they need to do. ‘They develop a mastery, a sense of effectiveness, and self-belief,’ explains Dr Krause, ‘which, in a nutshell, is what confidence is.’


Dr Krause’s Top Tips

  1. How can parents strengthen self-esteem? Notice the things your children do. Use descriptive praise, and not just for successes. Focus on what your children find hard, and praise how they got over it.
  2. Be a positive role model to your children. It’s not about changing the parts of ourselves we don’t like. We all need to work on liking the parts of ourselves we don’t like, instead.
  3. Acknowledge that sometimes, life is really hard. Unsurprisingly, upon the announcement of the third lockdown, many young people felt a sense of injustice. ‘It’s not fair! Poor me!’ It is hard to get yourself motivated when you are experiencing self-pity. To young people I say : hippos wallow. Allow yourself a hippo mindset for a moment. Acknowledge it has been unfair and unpleasant. And now ask yourself: how do you get yourself out of it?
  4. Lockdown will not last forever and schools are reopening. Some children will regain motivation by returning to school and enjoying the motivational aspects that school brings: ‘unity, connection, goal-setting, excitement, moving forward.’ These elements of everyday school life can serve to boost students’ self-esteem, and, with it, the motivation to discover and re-engage with the possibilities of post-pandemic life.


Full recording of Dr Krause’s GDST Talk below:

Suggested Reading

  • Martin Antony: When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: strategies for coping with perfectionism
  • Brene Brown: Daring Greatly
  • Sean Covey: The seven habits of highly effective teenagers
  • Alicia Drummond: Why Every Teenager Needs a Parrot
  • Melanie Fennell: Overcoming low self-esteem
  • John Maxwell: Failing Forward
  • Rachel Simmons: Enough as She Is’
  • Damon Zahariades: The Mental Toughness Handbook: a step-by-step guide to facing life’s crises, managing negative emotions and overcoming adversity
  • Eimear Zone: The little book of good enough; Quiet your inner critic, Ditch the doubt