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Internal Drive Theory - Book Review

1 April 2013
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book "Internal Drive Theory," authored by A Ph.D. expert from Singapore under the pen name Petunia Lee and published in 2012, focuses on strategies for cultivating inner motivation. The intriguing subtitle, "Motivate Your Child To Want To Study," sets it apart from typical motivation literature, targeting parents looking to motivate their children.

Under normal circumstances, I might not have come across, read, and summarized this book. However, having a personal acquaintance with the author, who kindly gifted me the book, piqued my interest. The lady is knowledgeable, with her expertise and doctoral dissertation revolving around employee motivation, derived from management theories and applied to personal strategies within the home.

The need to motivate children to study in Singapore stems from the local education system. Crucial tests are conducted at the end of the fourth and sixth grades, significantly influencing a child's future. The pressure is substantial, and the author herself temporarily set aside her organizational work for a year, prioritizing her child's studies in collaboration with her husband.

Interestingly, many of the book's strategies can be adapted for organizational contexts. Thus, reading the book proves insightful on a personal level and as a management resource.

The book explores the following topics:
  • Action Strategies for Internal Motivation

  • Propulsion Involving the Process

    • Structured Choices

    • Process Focus

    • Setting Goals

    • Responding to Learning

      • Informational Feedback

      • Reward (Reward and Punishment)

  • Propulsion Centered on Emotion

    • Self-Desecration

    • Self-Concept

    • Empowerment

  • Resilience

    • Emotional Attachment

    • Failure Management

  • The Physical Aspect

    • Vowel

  • Summary

The book is engaging and instructive, catering to parents and, equally importantly, school principals. It is highly recommended!

Action Strategies for Internal Motivation

The axis of human activity can be examined through the lens of propulsion:

  1. Necessity – Individuals act because they are compelled or instructed to do so. For example, I'm completing an unwanted task because my manager assigned it to me; young children do their homework.

  2. Extrinsic Motivation – People engage in an activity because they rationally understand its correctness or importance. Example: I am learning English because I know it will benefit me in the future; I help others because it aligns with proper behavior.

  3. Intrinsic Motivation – Individuals act because they find emotional fulfillment in the action; they may derive enjoyment from it. Example: playing a game.

Evidently, activity driven by internal motivation is optimal and is the desired state. Actions stemming from internal motivation are carried out more willingly, exhibit higher quality (as a byproduct of intrinsic interest), and endure even when external pressures diminish.

Propulsion Involving the Process

The suggested strategies predominantly address the individual's psyche; however, some strategies also touch upon the learning methodology itself:

Structured Choices

Structured choices are decisions made within permissible options, offering controlled alternatives. For instance, a parent might permit their child to choose the order in which lessons are tackled but not whether to do them. The significance of structured choices lies in two key aspects:

  1. People naturally seek control over their actions, and the act of choosing provides a sense of limited control over the task

  2. Making a choice establishes a subtle commitment to the task and the achievement of the goal

Both factors contribute to an individual's internal motivation to complete the task. Recommendations for implementing structured choices include:

  • Resist the temptation to abandon structured decisions, as it may be easier for parents (as well as principals) to enforce tasks

  • Genuine intent behind the child's (or employee's) choice is crucial; avoid influencing their decision subtly through hints or body language. Present options early to allow peaceful coexistence with any choice

  • Consider the level of openness – provide enough options without overwhelming or offering choices that seem inconsequential to the performer. The number and definition of options depend on the child's age, maturity, demonstrated abilities, and position for employees. Existing decision-making skills are also a critical parameter.

  • Exercise patience, as the ability to choose and make decisions is a skill that is developed over time

  • Assist in skill development by defining choice boundaries clearly and discussing the selection process with the child (or employee), teaching them how to make reasonable choices

  • Provide support and positive reinforcement for the child's (or employee's) choices

Process Focus

The process systematically collects actions and behaviors we develop to accomplish a task. Even when the process is correct, there may be unfavorable results, and vice versa. Encouraging and achieving long-term success involves promoting the right actions and behaviors rather than solely focusing on the outcomes, as success depends on external factors beyond our control (based on concepts from Jack Welch, the renowned former CEO of GE). Emphasizing the process also aids in building the resilience and fortitude necessary to weather disappointments related to results, as there is always room for examining and improving the process instead of despairing over the outcome.

Recommendations and tips for correctly focusing on the process include:

  • Break down tasks into actions and behaviors to define a structured process. Ensure the child can perform each action independently (similarly for an unskilled worker). Focus on including only the significant actions and behaviors, avoiding unnecessary details

  • Monitor and control the execution of actions to verify that the process is being implemented before considering adjustments. Define processes with activities and behaviors that are simple enough to be carried out and monitored. Teach the child (or employee) to self-monitor and ensure compliance with the process.

  • Maintain emotional balance; excessive emotional involvement hinders the ability to concentrate on the process

  • Recognize the difference between the need for process adjustments and more perseverance. Reflect on whether a lack of skill requires strengthening through perseverance or if the process itself needs improvement

  • When facing a lack of success due to non-compliance with the process, maintain firmness and avoid giving up prematurely. If there is no success despite adherence to the process, assess whether a change in the process or a different action is needed (such as increased adherence, perseverance, or other factors)

Setting Goals

A goal serves as a statement indicating something we aim to achieve. A well-defined goal is focused, challenging, yet achievable. Goal setting holds significance, as studies dating back to the 1960s reveal that individuals who set goals tend to achieve more. With the same amount of resources, a person with a goal-oriented focus is likelier to succeed than someone without clear goals. Goal setting is rewarding, as achieving a defined goal brings satisfaction, creating a positive, addictive cycle that motivates individuals to set and achieve subsequent goals.

In her exploration of organizational dynamics, Dr. Li delves into the ability to motivate goals that are considered nearly unattainable, highlighting examples where seemingly impossible goals are successfully achieved. In an organizational context, the addiction to this challenging process and the subsequent success surpass the satisfaction derived from achieving ordinary goals.

Recommendations and tips for setting goals, especially (almost) impossible goals, include:

  • Establish a difficulty level suitable for the purpose, avoiding too easy or unattainable goals. The goal should be challenging yet realistic in the eyes of the individual

  • Clearly define and focus on the goal

  • Avoid using punitive measures as tools to enhance the achievement of (almost) impossible goals

  • In cases of extreme demotivation, start with manageable goals to initiate a positive trend and experience short-term success

  • When necessary, set goals that might go against the wishes of the individual, using a gentle approach without compromising the unequivocal statement that the goal must be achieved, even without internal desire

  • Ensure an emotional connection, trust, reasonable internal motivation, commitment to the goal, parental (managerial) support, and a clear understanding of the benefits and costs of achieving the goal.

Responding to Learning

Informational Feedback

Information feedback is not just ordinary; it provides the child (employee) with accurate and objective information about their actions. Studies indicate that informational feedback serves as a motivating factor, directing and redirecting energies and attention toward the task at hand.

Practical recommendations and tips for providing informational feedback include:

  • Information feedback serves as a motivating factor when there is evident progress, even if it is minimal

  • Thoughtful consideration is required when providing informational feedback on topics that are less objective and more challenging to measure

  • For younger children, more frequent feedback is appropriate. Similarly, more challenging tasks and less skilled individuals (children or employees) benefit from more frequent feedback.

  • Informational feedback can be delivered quietly and without unnecessary fanfare

  • It is essential to have a clear understanding of what you want to convey before providing informational feedback

Reward (Reward and Punishment)

Remuneration can be categorized into two types: positive rewards and negative rewards. The book's author emphasizes reinforcing rewards by varying their intensity and timing. This approach doesn't suggest that reinforcement and rewards should be sporadic; instead, when the child (or employee) is uncertain about the timing and intensity of the reward, it creates a constant motivation-inducing tension.

Essential tips and recommendations for positive rewards:

  • Carefully plan the appropriate reward, recognizing that preferences vary from person to person

  • Be attentive and seize the moment when it is fitting to provide the reward; tardiness can diminish its impact

  • Share in the child's (or employee's) success and happiness, reinforcing positive behavior

  • Avoid resorting to "bribes" as a means of positive reward. Prefer rewards related to learning or work and prioritize non-material rewards over physical ones.

Tips and recommendations for negative rewards:

  • Thoughtfully plan the suitable negative reward, understanding that preferences differ among individuals

  • Be cautious about excessive use of negative rewards (punishments), as it can render the tool ineffective

  • Avoid administering punishment when angry; ensure complete self-control before applying negative rewards

  • Ensure that the negative reward is directly linked to the undesired behavior, with clarity about the specific behavior in question

  • Recognize that sometimes life itself imposes consequences. The goal is to create a negative association with the unwanted behavior rather than proactively seek punishment.

Propulsion Centered on Emotion


Self-efficacy, as defined by psychologists, refers to an individual's ability to achieve specific performance levels. Those with high self-efficacy can tackle more complex tasks and successfully reach their goals. It's crucial to note that self-efficacy can vary across different areas for an individual, with high levels in some domains and lower levels in others. Individuals with high self-efficacy can enhance their performance, even if they initially start at a lower level, surpassing those with low self-efficacy in the same field.

Self-efficacy develops through three primary avenues:

  1. Belief in one's abilities by others

  2. Observation of successful role models performing similar tasks

  3. Personal experiences of overcoming challenges and achieving difficult goals, such as those considered almost impossible

Essential tips and recommendations for fostering self-efficacy:

  • Resist the temptation to provide the desired answer to the child (or employee), opting for patience and tolerance. Encourage independence so that they feel a sense of personal achievement

  • Be cautious of overprotecting the child (or worker), as excessive protection may hinder the development of self-efficacy

  • Strike a balance in task difficulty to avoid overwhelming challenges that lead to failure and frustration. Success through overcoming challenges is crucial for building self-efficacy

  • Assist in challenging stages to prevent the child (or worker) from giving up prematurely.

  • Acknowledge that failures are part of the journey to success and cannot always be avoided entirely if progress is to be made.


Self-concept is our perception, the reflection we see in the mirror of our identity. Research indicates that individuals tend to behave in ways that align with their self-perception. Cultivating a positive self-concept can enhance goal achievement and foster internal motivation to attain those goals. Some studies suggest that altering self-concept becomes challenging once it has been established. Hence, it is advisable to influence children's self-perception early on, though this may be less feasible for employees, given the later stage at which such efforts may begin.

Recommendations and tips to reinforce a positive self-concept:

  • Acknowledge the influential power of words and use them judiciously to bolster positive self-perception. Exercise caution with language to avoid inadvertently producing a contrary effect

  • Refrain from projecting personal shortcomings onto the child (or employee). Personal difficulties or weaknesses may occasionally manifest in their behavior, but perceiving them consistently may be influenced by our sensitivities

  • Leverage the impact of a formative narrative that becomes ingrained in the individual's consciousness. This story should relate to a context capable of strengthening self-perception through elements of success, heroism, or the demonstrated abilities of the person in question. Emphasize positive aspects associated with the narrative to reinforce the desired perception

  • When addressing failures, attributing them to incompetence can undermine positive self-concept. Instead, attributing failures to behaviors that can be improved allows for growth and inflicts less harm, if any, on self-perception in the first place


Empowerment, coined by Dr. Lee as "Specify and Magnify," involves pinpointing certain behaviors and celebrating their success. This approach, rooted in strengthening strengths, originated among organizational consultants and focused on positive events and examples. By praising positive qualities, this method aims to amplify and reinforce them, naturally diminishing less positive behaviors. The significance of this approach lies in its positivity and potential to contribute to internal motivation.

Recommendations and tips for strengthening and empowerment:

  • When it's unclear which behavior leads to success, exercise caution to avoid amplifying different behaviors based on speculation

  • Actively seek opportunities for empowerment. While challenging, especially for parents (or managers) who possess more knowledge initially, it's essential to identify areas where empowerment can make a difference for the child (or employee) who may have less understanding

  • Recognize that not every behavior is repeated frequently, requiring an opportunistic approach to identify and capitalize on relevant behaviors

  • Genuine and intentional empowerment requires patience and is not suitable for times of pressure

  • Guard against losing control due to an excessive desire to please. Intensifying a specific behavior may lead the child (or employee) to focus solely on that behavior, potentially overshadowing other essential aspects.


Emotional Attachment

An emotional connection is a profound, unmediated bond between two individuals, particularly emphasized in the special relationship between a parent and child. This connection is evident when a child's pain resonates with the parent, creating a shared emotional experience. (A similar but less intense connection may exist between a manager and a subordinate employee, M.L.) The significance of the emotional connection lies in the support it provides and the ability to derive strength from the giver.

Recommendations and tips for strengthening the emotional connection:

  • Project the feeling that the child is wanted, emphasizing that they would be selected if given a choice from a group. (This is often easier for employees, as they are frequently chosen.)

  • Be mindful of personal emotions. Avoid over-projecting feelings towards children or employees, especially when feeling fear or uncertainty, as these emotions can be unintentionally conveyed to loved ones.

  • Remind children, and sometimes ourselves, that they are more important than academic success. (For employees, this can also be true and should be kept in mind.)

  • Put yourself in the shoes of your children (or employees). This approach makes our actions and the empathy we convey more authentic and appropriate.

  • Offer encouragement

  • Exercise caution to maintain a healthy level of separation. Over-identification can be detrimental to both parties.

  • Avoid strengthening the emotional connection when feeling tired or experiencing a headache. It's essential to choose an appropriate time for such interactions.

Failure Management

The study reveals three approaches to goals:

  1. Promoting Goal Achievement: Encouraging active efforts toward reaching the goal

  2. Avoiding Failures: Concentrating on avoiding mistakes or failures

  3. Focus on the Process: Emphasizing learning and optimizing the process leading to the goal

The findings indicate that individuals focusing on avoiding failures may develop fear and anxiety, potentially diminishing motivation. On the contrary, those who prioritize the process, seeking to learn and refine it, tend to be more motivated. The lessons learned instill hope and pave the way for continuous improvement.

Recommendations/tips for effective failure management:

  • Encourage the child (employee) to learn from failures, emphasizing adherence to the process

  • Refrain from excessive lecturing; allow the child (employee) to discover lessons independently

  • Maintain emotional balance when addressing failures, avoiding heightened emotions compared to the child (employee)

  • Avoid criticism related to intelligence or personality, as these aspects are less changeable,

The Physical Aspect


Movement, defined as physical activity and not remaining stationary, plays a crucial role in discussions on internal motivation. While seemingly straightforward, incorporating movement into a motivational context is not often explicitly addressed. Movement induces a slightly elevated heart rate, fostering a sense of vitality and energy, thereby contributing to motivation. Additionally, physical exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, hormones associated with positive feelings. (It's essential to note that fear-induced heart rate elevation is not the recommended source of vitality and energy.)

Recommendations/tips for integrating movement:

  • Timing is critical; know when and how much movement to incorporate. During active task engagement, abrupt interruptions are counterproductive. However, if progress feels stagnant, introducing movement can infuse the energy needed to overcome obstacles. Prioritize advancing goals rather than solely engaging in the movement for its own sake, preventing unnecessary interruptions in the task flow.

  • Tailor movement integration to individual needs. A child (or employee) with a higher concentration threshold may require fewer breaks for movement

  • Avoid always explaining the purpose of movement breaks, especially with children. Transparency about motivational tactics may be less relevant for older individuals

  • Embrace creativity in the types of movement introduced, ensuring variety to sustain interest. Activities could range from fetching items to checking on something, and for children, even activities like climbing stairs or jumping can be included.


The book introduces 11 motivation strategies, collectively serving as a comprehensive toolbox. Grounded in scientific motivation theories and Dr. Li's personal experiences, these strategies acknowledge that only some approaches suit every individual or situation, with some conflicting strategies. As in many aspects of life, the key lies in discerning when to apply each strategy. Learning from the book's detailed examples (which are not included in this summary), using logical reasoning, engaging in experimentation, learning from mistakes, and subsequent improvements all contribute to effective strategy implementation. Ultimately, a holistic approach that combines these elements is poised to bring about meaningful change.

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