Raising Boys

The Secret To Motivating Boys: Neither Too Easy Nor Too Hard

If you have a teenage or preteen son who doesn’t seem to be interested to do well in life, this post is for you. In our enthusiasm to challenge boys to achieve, we may be tempted to place bigger and bigger challenges before them. Will this work? Does it matter if the work your son is doing is too hard or too easy? Absolutely. We’re all too human not to be affected by the mediocrity or enormity of a challenge thrown at us. Consider this classic test carried out by researchers years ago.

The setup was like a game called the “ring toss game.” A group of people were asked to take turns to throw rings over a peg. They were not told the real purpose of the game. The distance from where they should make the throw was random and left entirely up to them. A group of researchers watched the people. The researchers observed that a certain group of people behaved differently from the rest. Instead of rushing to throw their rings, they took the time to pause and choose their random spots carefully. These people, it seemed, made it a point to make quick mental calculations, perhaps at a subconscious level, to stand and throw their rings from a spot where it was NEITHER TOO EASY NOR TOO HARD for them to stand a realistic chance of getting the ring onto the peg.

The distance they chose was right at the end where they could toss the ring onto the peg. That is to say, they stretched themselves to the limit.

When the researchers compared the personal details of this particular group of people with the others, they made a remarkable discovery. These people tended to be most effective in their lives. The rest of the people who chose a spot which was either too near (too easy) or too far (too difficult) for them to score, tended to be less effective in their lives. It would appear, from this experiment that two things set the effective people apart from the rest of the pack:

  • They clearly wanted to succeed. They had an ambition to score.
  • They had a strategy in mind. The task they chose was just at the right level where they had to stretch themselves.

Among boys themselves, there is a subtle difference between boys who achieve more and boys who achieve less. Boys who achieve less either choose or are given tasks that are too hard or too easy for themselves. Boys who achieve more have learnt how to stretch themselves to the limit. They pace themselves such that the work they do is neither too hard nor too easy for them to tackle. It’s just at the right level of difficulty. When this happens, work becomes exciting for them. It makes them feel good and smart.  If it’s too easy, it becomes a bore. Too hard and they become anxious and tense. It makes them feel like a failure. They “lose face” with the other boys, peers whom they see as competitors. Not only that, when the work is too difficult, they feel incompetent, which is no good for their self-confidence.

THINK ABOUT IT: How well does your son pace himself? Is he given work at the right level?

ACTION: Aim for challenges that make it possible for your son to achieve small breakthroughs and hence, a steady sense of achievement.


Featured image by dimitrisvetsikas1969


About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 543 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

Discuss your thoughts below!


[banner group='ads-300x300']
To Top