Gravity is a natural force that we work with or fight against. By the time we are 2, we have figured out how to work with it.
I see the emotional equivalent of gravity each day I teach violin. It is a student’s desire for competency.
My students want to be good at music. How good they desire to be varies. For some, nothing short of perfect will do. For others, simply making it to the end of the song qualifies as success. But I never see indifference.
Feeling competent is fundamental to being human. We love feeling good at the activities we undertake and hate the feeling of incompetency.
As we get older, we become skilled at so many things, from cooking to driving to reading to quantum physics, that we forget what it is like to not be competent.
Young kids are so use to not feeling competent that they take the difficulty of learning the violin in stride. Kids relish the smallest steps of progress.
Adults, on the other hand, are masters of their universe. By the time we get to be adults, we are taking on fewer and fewer new activities. We forget what it is like to be at the bottom of the learning curve. And while adults learn faster than a young child, we are much harder on ourselves about our rate of progress.
When we ask what motivates a student, we are talking about their desire for 3 things: competency, relatedness and autonomy.
One of my main responsibilities as a teacher is to help students manage the need for competency. Too much leads to perfectionism. Too little leads to mediocrity. While I can’t control how much any student may feel, I can help them recognize the feeling and hopefully become more self-aware.