There has been an ongoing conversation in our house about motivation. It seems that there are two ways that people try to motivate others toward action. The first and most often used are negative instructions. I simply mean that you try to motivate someone to better action by pointing out their faulty action. This is the motivation I see used the most in sports. An athlete does not do something correctly then the coach yells at the player to do the right thing. This motivation can go several directions from yelling and scolding to punishment or it can be the withholding of benefits and praise or even removal from the game.

The other type of motivation comes from positive reinforcement. In this model you catch the person doing something well and praise their work. The idea is that they will feel the joy of praise and pride will swell or maybe there is even a reward. Then the next time the action comes up they will do the right thing again to regain that feeling or prize. I also see this motivation in sports quite often. Awards are continually given to the best player of the game or of the week or of the month or of the season.

None of this is new information but my discussion with my family has led me to several thoughts that all of us need to explore.

1. What motivate you the most? Are you more influenced by positive or negative reinforcement?

2. What motivates those I care about? Is your child or spouse more influenced by negative or positive reinforcement? We have discovered that my children are motivated by positive reinforcement. Criticize them and they will break down and sometimes give up. Praise them and they will run through walls. This has huge ramifications for all your relationships.

3. How do you try to motivate others? I think this question has huge implications for the Church. If we are called as believers to spur one another on toward love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), then how are we going to do that? How have we been trying to do that with others? Positively or negatively? Is it working?

4. How has the motivation of others affected you? I have wondered how many relationships have been damaged by improper motivation. Someone said something negative – thinking they were being helpful and motivating you – and it was taken wrong. It could have been your parents, your siblings, your spouse, a great friend or a church member who said it but your life was altered by their words. Honestly, depending on who it was, this may have been the biggest factor in your answers to 1-3.

There is enormous power in the words we use. I think as Christians we need to be very careful about the words we use. They can hold the power of life and positive action or the power of death and defeat.

I hope this post motivates your thinking.


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