Autonomy is Key!

Drop controlled motivation, support autonomy

It is controlled motivation that trains the childhood mind to persist into adulthood as the red zone.

Controlled motivation means using rewards and punishments to control behaviour.  This offers a very wide spectrum ranging from violent coercion at one end to offering conditional love and affection at the other (with gold stars somewhere in the middle).

If we don’t want our children to develop into adults with an active red zone (and clearly, none of us want that) then we need to minimise and then drop controlled motivation and replace it with support for autonomous motivation.

Autonomous motivation has two key components.  The more obvious one is that we are autonomously motivated when we do something which is interesting and enjoyable.  A focus on curriculum and pedagogy to meet this way of supporting autonomous motivation is necessary – but not sufficient.


It is not sufficient because the second component of autonomous motivation is that we can be autonomously motivated to do things that are NOT interesting and enjoyable if the doing of them links to a deep value.  And there are a lot of things we may need to do in life that are not, on the surface, either interesting or enjoyable.

This deep value can be because the activity links to a personal goal that we have: we want to be a professional sportsperson, so we do need to get up early every day to train.

However, the more important deep value is our connection to someone else.  We do this activity – that is not interesting or enjoyable – because it matters to someone else and we do not want to disappoint or let down this person.

It is leaders and educators who can inspire that motivation in others who have the full range of capabilities to help young people develop autonomously into adulthood.

John Corrigan