What makes some people more motivated than others?

Alex Molton ponders what it is that makes some of us self-motivated whilst others seem to need motivation from outside themselves.

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Our daughter is a force of nature. Whatever she puts her mind to, she is pretty likely to succeed at, which for one so young is pretty darn impressive. This week she has been getting into animals – reading about them in all of our fact books; watching back to back Deadly 60; ingesting all of the information she can find about the world’s weirdest and most wonderful animals and reciting facts gleefully to OH, who is himself a big animal fan.

Perhaps most impressive of all, this is all completely self-motivated. Sure, she loves the opportunity to show off a bit of knowledge, especially to her older, academic, super-achieving brothers, but actually it is very much a character trait of hers in general.


Having started playing football with me during Covid, she quickly decided she enjoyed it, was good at it and wanted to be a goalie. Despite rarely playing with her brothers (people always ask me if that’s how she got into it, but the boys are not sports fans), she was adamant that she was going to dedicate herself to being the best goalie she could be, join a local team and play as much as possible. And so she has. In the two years she has been playing she has joined a mixed team (as the only girl), gained the admiration of many an opposition coach or parent and forged herself a reputation as one of the best goalies in their league. She is truly amazing.

Looking at her brothers, both very successful in their worlds and achieving well at school, I struggle to see the same innate sense of ambition, drive to succeed or self-motivation. In fact I sometimes worry that they don’t try hard enough because a) they realise early on that they cannot be the best or b) they are pretty confident they are already one of the best. They are competitive with their friends and are motivated by accolades and applause from teachers, but both simply don’t have the same resilience to challenge or inbuilt tenacity to keep going as their sister.

The effects of Covid

This certainly wasn’t helped by the madness of trying to keep going during Covid. Son#1 lost most of his Year 6, including his SATS (which I don’t necessarily rate, but may be good practice for later school tests and exams) and had a very disrupted Year 7. Contrary to many 10 and 11 year olds, he could only communicate with his friends via text and video call and this has definitely affected his social life now; despite living within 10 minutes of two of his best friends and not much further from the rest, he chooses to chat with them on a group call or whilst playing video games rather than meet up in person. Like many of his friends, growing up in this digital world so early on has made them reliant on screens in a way that those before them (and after, it turns out) aren’t and I do worry that this has altered his ability to be self-motivated in a very basic way as the online world is so instantly available to them and no effort is required to access it.

Is it genetic?

Speaking with a friend this week we were discussing the ways in which our children were like us – or not – and how this makes a difference to how we parent them, whether we clash with them more and how well we understand them. Son #2 is almost a carbon copy of OH in my eyes. He looks more like my side of the family, but has the same sense of humour, the same cerebral approach as OH and enjoys his own company.

Son #1 is trickier to pin down – he’s a bit like my super chilled brothers, but also quietly academic as I was as a child, and similar to me he has a close-knit circle of friends and isn’t too worried about being alone, but he has OH’s dry sense of humour.

Our daughter is a combination of my sister and two very strong-willed grandmothers, with a dusting of me on top. I can be quite driven and focused and can understand her point of view so it’s easy to assume that her ambition and drive is a combination of genes, rather than the effects of external forces. We tend to clash less, as I understand where she is coming from and can often see a potential argument brewing where OH cannot, plus growing up with two stubborn women, I learnt how to get along with them. Like all perceived negative traits though, this obstinacy and persistence means she has an incredible ability to keep going in the face of adversity and pick herself up, dust herself off and try and try again when faced with challenge.

Having had a bit of a crisis of confidence and self-belief over the last couple of years I am inspired by her resilience and confidence. I hope 2024 might be the year I rediscover my passion and excitement for life and find that fearlessness that’s in me somewhere. And in my daughter.

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