How to Motivate Others: It Starts with You.


As a mental health counselor, a college professor, and a team lead for the psychology department for a university, I am fortunate enough to see the correlation and interaction between motivation and change on a daily basis within my clients, my students, and my team members. There are a plethora of examples in how these two variables can work both positively and negatively together. However, focusing on the positive correlation is way cooler, so let’s do that, shall we?

Whether you are a parent, a manager, a leader, a mentor, or simply anyone anywhere where someone may be watching you to look to how it’s done, focusing on your own behavior and how it affects others is a biggie.

Now, I am not a saint. Not by a long shot. However, I do pride myself on being a pretty good teacher and I’m actually not too bad at supporting other teachers in being their best as well. This came with some hard work and a lot of mistakes. But I have learned a lot in the process and would like to share it with you.

As McCombs & Pope (1994) explained, “almost everything [a teacher does] in the classroom has a motivational influence on students” and these can include the information that is given, the activities used to reiterate the information, the interactions that are encouraged or not, as well as the way the teacher comes across to the students (p. 10). The one area that I find incredibly useful in the positive correlations between motivation and change is in my role as a teacher. I have been teaching for over eight years in various college settings and I am known as the dorky teacher who loves her subject and loves to share it. There is no doubt I have a passion for the subject I teach and I love to get others excited about it as well. I will do just about anything it takes to make my subject relatable to my students. The more I can relate the material to my students lives the more they can use it and make it a tangible thing.

To an extent, I am responsible for motivating my students through modeling. As a parent, you are responsible for motivating your child through modeling. As a leader, you are responsible for motivating those you lead through modeling. You get the point. So, what does this really mean?

I want my students to be on time – I make sure I am always on time. I want my students to be prepared – I better be prepared. I want them to be excited about the subject – I have to find the things that excite them and show my own excitement. It is a running joke that whatever the chapter is that we are on is “my favorite chapter.” Students make fun of me because of my excitement and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

McCombs and Pope (1994) explained that newer theories of motivation involve metacognition and ways in which we can become more self-aware. You have to know what makes your child, your team, your students click.

I recently asked a group of new students why they chose my class and two students’ answers stood out above all others: one explained that she heard you talk about sex a lot and another said that he heard we get to talk about our opinion and there are big debates about cool stuff.

Students want to talk about sex, explain their thoughts, and debate stuff. Count me in. That excites me, too. Let’s do it!

As McCombs and Pope (1994) expounded, I want to “access higher level processes such as insight, creativity, wisdom, and common sense” (p. 13). I want my students to “operate outside the cognitive system” that they are used to. A teacher that talks about sex? A teacher that encourages talking? That appeals to my students and I see the change in motivational levels week by week, when they find that that is exactly how I operate.

I learned this from those teachers who inspired me. I remember also the ones who did not. I remember feeling incredibly unmotivated by certain classes simply because the teacher was not excited, did not appear to care, showed up late, was not prepared, or just had us sit as he or she droned on. Many times, the students were never given an opportunity to even open their mouths, let alone voice an opinion. I was miserable in those classes. Some, I even hated and dropped.

The outcome was simply unsuccessful for me. They didn’t care, so I didn’t care. Even more so, they didn’t care about what I cared about. No one was motivated to even find out.

And parents, managers, and other mentors? This works for you too – not just teachers. Are you excited? Do you appear to care? Do you show up on time? Are you prepared? Do you hear those who are reaching out for excitement, for motivation, even when they are silent?

Sniehotta (2009) discussed the role of the “if-then” plan and I agree wholeheartedly with this idea. When used, this plan can create behavioral changes. I never realized how much I use them as a teacher: If I am on time, then the students will see I care and maybe they will be on time; If I act like a dork and say whatever comes to mind and laugh at myself, then maybe my students will see that it is okay to do so as well. Does it work all the time. Nope. But when it does, it is magic. You just keep trying.

What I’m looking for is the “strong cue response” (Sniehotta, 2009, p. 265). Parents, sometimes, this one is hard to see. Believe it or not, even an eye roll can be enough to get the ball rolling. It means they’re watching – they’re paying attention. That’s the first step.

So, think about it. How are you motivating those in your life? How are you motivating you? What excites you? But better yet, what excites them? What can you get on board with them to create some awesome change? Got an answer? Then go out and do it.


McCombs, B. L., & Pope, J. E. (1994). Goal one: Understanding the nature of motivation. In B. L. McCombs, & J. E. Pope (Eds.), Motivating hard to reach students (pp. 9–25). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sniehotta, F. F. (2009). Towards a theory of intentional behaviour change: Plans, planning, and self-regulation. British Journal of Health Psychology, 14(2),261–273.

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