Self-Talk That Sabotages… #2 Motivation (part 2)

In a recent trial at the University of South Florida medical students in the field of obstetrics were randomly assigned to one of two groups: 1) either a traditional lecture on performing baby deliveries or 2) lecture followed by a hands-on computerized, life-size delivery simulator using realistic mannequins. In the simulations, students had the hands-on opportunity to deliver as well as observe professionals deliver many high-risk births including breech deliveries, postpartum hemorrhaging, and babies stuck in the birth canal.  It’s probably no surprise to you that students who practiced on the simulator scored significantly higher scores on confidence assessments as well as written and oral examinations. This adds to the growing body of evidence that simulation training simply helps us master skills faster. As a former professional trainer, I can attest to the fact that simulation training is indeed very effective.

But what does delivering babies have to do with our topic on motivation? Since we know that simulation training (as opposed to lecture) helps us master skills better and faster – why not employ this effective approach in your parenting? Helping your children develop internal motivation seems to be as good a topic as any for me to introduce you to this concept…

In my previous post Self-Talk That Sabotages… #2 Motivation (part 1) I mentioned that, “Finishing even the smallest project will give you the inspiration and motivation to dive into the next one. But here’s the key: Don’t move on to the next task too quickly. Rather, take a moment to be grateful for the work and assess the accomplishment so that your brain has time for its lollypop (explained in my previous post as the neurotransmitter, dopamine) which in turn naturally motivates you to seek that wonderful feeling of accomplishment again.” Now, to pass this knowledge on to your children, you could just tell them how it works (lecture) or you could setup a simulation like this:

Scenario: Your child’s room is a mess and it’s time for a cleanup job. Clothes are piled everywhere on the floor and all over the furniture. You see scattered books, toys, trash and even a few “science projects”. After several “inspections” on your part (let’s be realistic) the room is finally clean. Our simulation begins after the final critique and instruction time is over because we are not teaching how to clean a room. Instead, we want to help him/her develop internal motivation to keep it clean themselves…

  • Parent A praises the child for a job well done.
  • Parent B (that’s you) praises the child too but you also help the child “take in” a job well done knowing that doing so will give the child’s brain a reward. You strategically take the time to say, “Wow, this looks great! Show me what you did.” Help the child notice clothes neatly put away, books and toys aligned, trash discarded, etc. You may even put an arm around the child, walk outside the room and then re-enter with him or her so they get that big-picture feeling of accomplishment. Depending on the age of the child, you could even explain God’s design for his/her brain and that it just received a “lollypop.”


  • Parent A teaches the child to honor a parent’s request (a great thing!) but the danger is that the child learns to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments through the approval of others. They connect the feel-good dopamine lollypop to pleasing others rather than achieving a goal. People pleasers can become like puppets on a string seeking the approval of others in order to feel good about themselves.
  • Parent B teaches the child to honor a parent’s request too but by helping a child step back to assess an achievement; your child progresses towards developing a healthy internal motivation system necessary for many areas in life. Obviously, parents must rinse and repeat several times before the real benefits sink in and the child independently pursues goals but trust that it will happen according to his or her design.

Final thoughts: Simulation training provides safe places to make mistakes. Training also involves observing a more experienced person so it matters how you respond to the circumstances around you. Also, imagine a pilot instructor in a simulator who crashes the plane but insists, “That’s how it’s done.” It’s important to practice what you preach because your children need to see the things you teach them working in your own life and when your own plane crashes… they need to see you admit the mistake and try again.

Question: I gave one scenario for setting up simulation training, what are other examples we could use to teach children/mentees/friends/employees, etc.?


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