Internal Drive Theory - Book Review

Life as a parent of schooling kids isn't a bed of roses.
After a hard day's work, you've got to become teacher, coach and mentor to your precious ones. You need to find ways and means to nurture in him or her the joy of learning while fighting fatigue. Exams. Tests. Music. Dance. Sports. CCAs. The list appear to never end.

And then, of course, there is the dreaded four-letter word - PSLE - to contend with.

What can parents do to ignite the passion of their kids to study?

Enter Internal Drive Theory: Motivate Your Child to WANT to Study. Blending theories in human motivation with practical tips and personal anecdotes, the book by motivational parenting blogger Dr Petunia Lee provides strategies to help parents motivate their kids to study. Armed with a PhD in Business Studies and years of experience in management consulting, Dr Lee's approaches are rooted in the fields of organisational psychology and behavioral economics.

Trademarked the "Internal Drive Theory", the methods described in Internal Drive Theory instructs parents to raise their kids' educational game from "level 1" (I study because my mother wants me to) to "level 3" (I study because I enjoy it). Collectively, these techniques seek to raise internal drive, motivation and energy levels for kids in studying.

According to Dr Lee, emotional support is critical. It is the source of emotional energy that helps one's kid to overcome difficulties during the journey. This is highlighted in the chapter on "Emotional Connection".  

Having a strong emotional bond with one's kid allows one to strengthen his/her self-efficacy (the ability to resolve issues using one's own strength), overcome difficult victories, and learn to see failure as an opportunity for learning. It also helps one to nurture and develop a positive "self concept" in one's child, and stretch him or her to set and achieve seemingly "impossible" goals.

To reinforce desired behaviours, we're encouraged to use Random, Intermittent and Variable Reinforcement (RIVR) ie unpredictable acts of intense expressions of love when a kid does something good. The flip side is RIVP - Random, Intermittent and Variable Punishment - when your boy or girl fails to follow through. Research shows that such interventions work better than anticipated ones.

In the chapter on "Structured Choices", we're urged to give our child a work goal choice, allowing him or her to make an unconscious commitment to focus on that goal. This has to be finely calibrated to the age of the kid and his/her prior training while providing lots of support.

We're further taught in other chapters to "focus on study process, not grades", as the right process accompanied by specific "informational feedback" helps a child to do better over the long run. Here, it is important to control one's emotions and not flare up if a child's results are poor so long as he/she adheres to the process.
The final two chapters focus on the need to "specify and magnify" incidents of positive behaviours (as opposed to fixating on the negatives), and to allow one's kid to engage in "physical movements" that help him/her to receive that shot of endorphin and feel recharged during gruelling sessions of study.

Written in an easily digestible first person narrative, Internal Drive Theory was a godsend for frazzled parents like my wife and I. What I especially like about the book are the personal anecdotes showcasing how Dr Lee inculcated internal drive in her son (codenamed "Little Boy").

An especially memorable story was the one where Dr Lee "psyched" her son to memorise 2,000 word Chinese essays during the school holidays, helping him to overcome his natural weakness as a "potato" child. Another anecdote exemplified how she helped Little Boy to erase his negative self concept of being a "poor student" to one who eventually topped his class.

While the lessons contained in the book are targeted at primary school kids, its universal principles can probably apply with older or younger kids. With their roots in HR and organisational psychology, I believe that such concepts can easily apply in the office.

To purchase a copy of the book, check out this link from Dr Petunia Lee's blog

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