Pull Your Own Weight: Is systematic self-motivation for students possible?

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A column by Rick Osbourne

For some time now we’ve argued that the lack of intrinsic or self-motivation is the missing link in the ongoing battle with childhood obesity. In other words, it’s one thing to lead a horse to water. But if that horse doesn’t want to drink, odds are he’s not going to drink..

Kids are the same when it comes to eating right and exercising enough to avoid obesity. We can talk, promote, threaten, encourage, cajole, advertise, and incentivize until we’re blue in the face. But if the kids don’t want to eat right and exercise enough to avoid obesity, it’s all for naught.

On the other hand, we’ve also argued that any intervention worthy of being labeled legitimate must be capable of being applied SYSTEMATICALLY, across the board, with expectations of generating predictable, positive results. For example, the Salk vaccine represents a legitimate intervention for polio because it can and it is being applied systematically, across the board, and the positive results of doing so are highly predictable.

Doesn’t One Position Contradict the Other?

Given these two scenarios, the question becomes, how can we claim both at the same time? In other words, if an intervention is applied systematically, across the board doesn’t that mean THE SYSTEM is controlling or manipulating the individual? Isn’t systematic self-motivation the oxymoron of oxymorons? How can we systematically encourage and cultivate self-motivation without undermining the individual’s self-control and self-determination?

The answer to that question is, if the system encourages kids to do something they’d not do of their own accord, then it is manipulation, indoctrination, and it is indeed the oxymoron of oxymorons.* On the other hand, if the system recognizes what kids want to do of their own accord and it puts them in positions where they can regularly explore and fulfill those possibilities, I suggest that systematic self-motivation is within the realm of possibility.

Systematic Self-Motivation Within the Realm of Possibility

In that light, I contend that every kid on planet Earth wants to be strong at everything and weak at nothing. In a certain sense they want to be like God, like Superman, like Mike, or like Batman. After all, strong is always cool and weak is always un-cool. I’ve personally never met a kid, or a human being for that matter, who wants to be weak at anything. Have you?

That being the case, if we start young, preferably in kindergarten, and put kids in positions where they can explore and develop their natural potentials, they’ll grow stronger in all kinds of ways (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, economically), and I contend we’d be systematically cultivating intrinsic or self-motivation, self-worth, and self-respect.

We’d also be cultivating their natural tendencies to see other kids in the same light as they see themselves, and to treat other kids with the same high regard that they want to be treated themselves…a.k.a. the golden rule. In these ways, I do would argue that systematic self-motivation is within the realm of possibility.

*Behaviorists’ use of extrinsic rewards, whether grades, food, trinkets, or money are always and forever manipulative, and they inevitably undermine the possibility of self-motivation.


Rick Osbourne is a former physical educator and a pioneer in the field of functional childhood obesity prevention. He currently serves as President of the Pull Your Own Weight Foundation which is an Illinois based, 501c3, not for profit organization whose focus is functional childhood obesity prevention. He’s written and published three books in this field, the latest of which is entitled Beating Childhood Obesity Now: A Simple Solution for Parents and Educators. He’s the Examiner’s national childhood obesity prevention correspondent. He writes an online column for The Edvocate. And you can connect with Rick via Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook.

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