Motivating the Unmotivated

Motivating the Unmotivated - Leaner drivers - lad smoking leaning on car “Hi Ged & Claire.  What do I do about a pupil that doesn’t seem to want to learn?  He keeps paying me for lessons, but pulls up and demands to get out for a smoke when things aren’t going so well.  I think he spends more time smoking than he does driving.  I really feel like I’m wasting my time with him and I hate feeling like this.  I love my job and I just want to teach!  But how can I motivate him to want to learn?”

Motivating the Unmotivated Learner Driver

This is a great question, and is an issue that I’m sure many ADIs have encountered, myself included. Let me first share my story of ‘Marc’ (not his real name) – a pupil I taught to drive about 13 years ago – and then I will offer a few suggestions on how to address this problem.

Marc had been learning to drive with me for about 6 months.  I had always been very proactive in encouraging my pupils to study towards their theory test, and Marc had scored really well on all the mock tests that I had given to him after each lesson.  But actually getting him to book his theory test was another matter.  “I know, I know, I’ll book it tomorrow” was Marc’s usual response.

image descriptionDuring his lessons, Marc seemed quite disinterested.  He seemed to ‘plateau’ for a few lessons, and I was struggling to help him to improve.  At the end of one particular driving lesson in which Marc hadn’t really shown much improvement, we pulled up outside his house.  He wasn’t forthcoming with his feedback when I encouraged him to self-reflect on his progress.  So I chose to ask him, “Why is it you want to learn to drive, Marc?” “I don’t”, came his reply.  “So why are you having driving lessons?” I asked him.  “Cos my dad wants me to”.  Marc’s dad ran a successful Italian restaurant and a takeaway pizza parlour.  It turned out that Marc’s dad had him lined up to do the pizza deliveries, hence was financing Marc’s driving lessons.

Marc didn’t want to learn.  And neither I nor his dad could make him learn.

Tips about Motivating the Unmotivated Learner Driver or Anyone!

Instinctively, I took out my A4 notepad, removed a page, and wrote at the top, “What passing my driving test will mean to ME” and then wrote the numbers 1 to 5 down the left-hand side.  “Marc, I want you to take this home and think about five opportunities that passing your driving test will open up for you.  Think about the benefits to YOU – what positive changes will it bring?”  Marc grimaced at my request but took the piece of paper, folded it up untidily and pushed it into his pocket.  “OK, see you next week” he said, as he walked down the driveway to his house.

energy-vampireTo be quite frank, I didn’t enjoy teaching Marc.  He was the perfect definition of what I would term a ‘mood hoover’ or ‘energy vampire’ – over the course of a 1 hour driving lesson, he had this amazing ability to suck every piece of enthusiasm out of me and turn me from a happy, inspiring, smiley driving instructor to a sullen-faced, unmotivated instructor, who felt like packing it all in and getting a ‘proper’ job.

On the morning of his next lesson the following week, my heart sunk when I saw Marc’s name pencilled in from 3.30pm – 4.30pm, straight after he finished college.  Whilst I waited for him in my usual parking spot, I rehearsed my end-of-lesson advice – to stop his driving lessons and save his dad’s money.  After all, if his heart wasn’t in it, then he was unlikely ever to succeed.

But as Marc appeared from the college gates, there was something different about him.  He had a spring in his step and a smile on his faceThis wasn’t the Marc that I knew… As he opened the door, the first words of his mouth were, “I did that thing you asked me to do”.  “What thing?” I asked (I had forgotten all about it).  “The thing about why I want to drive.  I did it.”  He took the folded sheet of paper from his trouser pocket and proudly passed it to me.  I prepared myself to read the 5 things that Marc would gain from passing his driving test.  But instead of just 5 things, Marc had FILLED the sheet of paper with positive outcomes.  I was absolutely GOBSMACKED.

I’ll be able to drive to my girlfriend’s house
I’ll be able to drive to college and back
I won’t get piss wet through in the rain waiting for the bus
I won’t have to listen to Radio 2 on the way to college ever again
I’ll be free to get out of the house whenever I want
My mates will respect me more
It will give me my confidence back
I’ll be able to get a job and earn some money…

This list went on and on, and some of the reasons honestly brought a lump to my throat.  “I’m ready” he said.  “And I booked my theory test – it’s on Monday after college”.

I have to admit, this was a real moment in my life as an ADI.  Through one simple exercise, Marc TRANSFORMED.  And that’s no exaggeration.  He finally had his own reasons for wanting to pass his driving test, and none of them involved his dad.  He passed his theory test the following Monday, then passed his driving test at the first attempt a couple of months later.

I am fairly convinced that had I not encouraged Marc to find his own motivation, he would still be having lessons today.  And his dad would probably have sold the restaurant and pizzeria by now in order to pay for his driving lessons!

You CANNOT motivate others!

This has been a well-researched theory, and I believe it to be true.  We cannot make people change.  All we can do is help open them up to change.  We cannot directly motivate our pupils to want to drive, in the same way that their parents cannot make them want to drive.  I have been to see a fair few motivational speakers in my time – last year I spent a week in the USA in the presence of several wealthy motivational speakers.  The fired-up, ‘I can do anything’ beliefs that we leave such events with are only short-lived.  Before too long, we return to the way we were.

What motivational speakers do succeed in though, is in encouraging us to take the next step.  The next baby step.  And sometimes this is all it takes to start the ball rolling.  In effect, this is what I did with Marc.  I started the ball rolling.  Don’t get me wrong – Marc wasn’t magically ‘fixed’ by this single exercise – we worked hard together over the following few weeks and I regularly had to help him to re-focus on his main motivational ‘drivers’.  But the exercise was the catalyst that sparked the change.

Motivation versus Inspiration

Whilst working with my personal coach, she helped me recognise that our aim should not be to motivate, but instead to inspire.  Which led me to explore the differences between ‘motivation’ and ‘inspiration’.  There are a few different schools of thought on this, but here’s how I would define each:

Motivation is EXTERNAL
– It relates to the things we think we should do or that we’re supposed to do

Inspiration is INTERNAL
– It’s all about the inner desire, our passions, our calling

Motivation is the PUSH
– It is usually only very short-lived

Inspiration is the PULL
– Nothing can stop us from taking action
when we’re inspired!

The short exercise I asked Marc to carry out encouraged him to become INSPIRED – to find and act on his inner ‘pull’, not the external ‘push’ from his Dad.



6 Steps to INSPIRE your pupils to move forward

Step 1:  ASK
Help your pupil to get clear about what they want.  I’m not simply talking about ‘passing the driving test’ here – we want the pupil to focus on what it MEANS to them to gain a full driving licence.  What positive outcomes will it bring to THEM.  It’s imperative that they focus on their OWN desires, and not those of their friends, parents, or even us!  Most important of all, get your pupil to write them down.  How will it benefit them to have a full driving licence?  How will it positively affect them as a person?  What opportunities will it open up to them?

Step 2:  LISTEN
Actively listen, pay attention to what your pupils are saying and how they are saying it.  Notice any body language cues.  People feel great when they are truly listened to, especially teenagers – many have strained relationships with their elders, often having been pushed by parents and teachers.  Give them the time and space they need to let you know what drives them.  Most importantly, leave your thoughts and opinions out of it – this isn’t about you!

Step 3:  REMIND
Even though inspiration will drive us for longer than motivation, we often need a reminder from time to time.  If you’ve listened to (and made notes on) your pupil’s innermost reasons for learning to drive and passing the test, then you should be able to use these throughout the pupil’s lessons with you.  Creating empowering pictures, sounds and feelings in relation to these goals will drive the pupil to success much faster.  To use Marc as an example, I could ask, “how will you look, sound and feel once you’ve passed your test and you’ve got your confidence back?” or even, “so when you no longer have to listen to Radio 2 in mum’s car, what will you choose to listen to once you’ve passed your test?”

Step 4:  BELIEVE
chartSome people are naturally negative.  If we’re not careful, these ‘emotional vampires’ can suck out our positivity and belief that they will ever succeed in passing the driving test.  They can even lead us to give up altogether and hope (or suggest!) they go and find another driving instructor to be miserable with.  Don’t let them get you down!  Instead, see them as being successful – able to achieve anything, irrespective of what they may tell themselves.  It’s amazing how your perception of them will come through in your voice, tonality, attitude and body language.  Switch your normally negative perception of them to a positive one, and you will start to notice a huge shift in their confidence.  Try it!

Step 5:  RECORD Earlier on, I talked about baby steps.  And this is important.  When learning something new, we all need to set and recognise ‘mini-milestones’ along our journey to our ultimate destination.  Recording progress of this journey is important. Love them or loathe them, keeping good lesson records is a must (in my opinion).  A written record of progress is so powerful in helping people like Marc keep track of their successes.  It enables them to see their proximity to the end goal.  If (like me) you’ve ever tried to lose weight, taking note of your weight loss progress on a weekly basis is tremendously motivating – it gives us an idea of our chances of reaching the end goal.  Progress is accelerated even further if we ‘track’ or keep a daily record of what we have eaten.  If we just decide one day to lose weight and don’t bother to track our progress, we’ll soon lose interest and never reach our target.  I believe it’s the same with learning to drive and keeping well-structured lesson records.

Step 6:  LEAD
As a driving instructor, you have a much more important role to play than simply teaching someone to drive a car.  You need to lead by example.  Develop, improve, be ambitious, aim to be the best.  Set yourself daily, weekly, monthly and yearly targets.  By being a leader and demonstrating your desire to succeed, your learners will follow.  YOU want to be that person they name when asked in later life, “who inspired you when you were younger?”

down arrowSHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES!  Have you had a pupil that just didn’t want to learn?  How did you overcome it?  What strategies did you try to help inspire them?  What worked?  What didn’t work? Please share your advice and experience – we’d love to hear from you.

Finally, if you liked this article about Motivating the Unmotivated (learner driver) or anyone for that matter, and know someone else that could benefit from it, please hit one of the social sharing buttons below!


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  • Nick


    Thanks for another insightful post, it’s reassuring to know other ADI’s experience these kind of situations.

    Currently I have an 18 year old student from Russia who has done 20 hours of training in his home country. Having assessed his driving for 45 mins, it was clear he had very little understanding of MSPSL, road markings, road position, etc. (twice i had to take the wheel from him!)

    During the 15 minute debrief he informed me he was going to book his test, saying “If you can drive in Russia, you can drive anywhere.”
    As tactfully as i could, and not forgetting to praise the good bits, I told him there was much work to do and explained the reasons why. Since then, the in-car atmosphere has been strained; he resents instruction, rolls his eyes, shrugs his shoulders, tuts and sighs, and ignores any praise i give him. Sometimes i feel like letting him sit a test just so he can see for himself!

    I dread seeing his name in my diary, but don’t want to give up on him either. A “Mood-hoover” indeed.


    • Ged Wilmot

      They can be tough ones to deal with Nick, yes. Have you tried giving a demo drive with commentary? That can really work well in helping them recognise where they are and where they need to be 🙂

      From my experience, pupils like this may be motivated by TIME and COST, i.e. getting through as quickly as possible spending as little money as possible. To avoid directly telling him that by rushing to take the test, not only will he be wasting his money and therefore it will inevitably take longer, consider telling him a related story about another pupil who you’ve taught recently in a similar situation. Or if you like using metaphors, you could perhaps try one of those 😉

      Good luck!

  • Thanks for the post this is a challenge we all face from time to time and your post gives some insights and alternative views and methods to help these people who may just get pushed on from instructor to instructor when in reality we should be helping them realise their goal



    • Ged Wilmot

      You’re welcome, Stuart – thanks for the feedback! 🙂

  • Abdul Waheed

    Thanks for the post,another realisation of things to come.l am sure i will have some idea of how to deal with such a situation with your experience and helpful tips.
    keep up the good work,truly appreciated.

    • Ged Wilmot

      Thanks Abdul! Good luck with your new career – remember we’re here if you need anything 😉

  • Hi Ged.
    Great article. Wish I read it many years ago as I think we have all had pupils like Marc. You’re right n that you can not force anyone to want to learn to drive and they do waste a lot of money in the process. I’ll try your technique next time I get a pupil like Marc 🙂

    • Ged Wilmot

      Thanks Peter – let me know how well it works for you 🙂

  • Thanks Ged, for another really useful piece of insight on how to get meaningful progress with this type of pupil. It provided the trigger for Marc to see it from a totally different perspective.

    • Ged Wilmot

      Cheers Robert! 😀

  • Chris Loder

    Hi Ged, thanks for this article I used your advice today. At the start of the lesson one of my pupils said she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to drive, so I immediately asked about her motivations and reason for learning. We talked about how easier it would be for her to get into work, and also her dad is buying her a new car, which is something she can use as a motivation. By the end of the lesson she was even talking about her Test.

    • Ged Wilmot

      That’s great Chris, well done! It’s a good idea to do with the ALL of your pupils on their very first lesson. If they’re keen on home learning exercises, ask them to write down their reasons for learning – it’s MUCH more powerful when written down than just spoken.

      Keep up the great work! 😀

  • Liz Powell

    Such an inspiring story Ged. A very simple thing to do with such huge impact. I will DEFINITELY be doing this with students that lack motivation. My trainer said to me the most difficult pupils to teach are those that don’t want to learn. I couldn’t really get my head around it but boy is it true!!!!! Thank you for the post.

    • Ged Wilmot

      Thanks Liz! I actually think it’s a great idea to do it with everyone – all our pupils can lose focus every now and again, others will cancel at short notice… helping them discover their own motivation will really drive them forward and reduce the likelihood of them cancelling. Once they feel that burning desire to pass, wild horses couldn’t stop them from having their lessons! 😉

      • Liz Powell

        Another interesting point I hadn’t thought of!! Thanks Ged. 🙂

  • Abigail

    Hi Ged, This article is excellent. I like the idea of getting unmotivated pupils to think about a list of reasons to want to drive, it is a useful idea which I may use in the future. Thanks again. Abigail

  • I’m liking this post! Another useful tool to add to my toolbox me thinks!

  • Hi Ged, thank you for your great post. i am sure it will be very useful , at the moment i have two pupils , one is a very slow learner quite happy to have a laugh every time she makes a mistake!! , she is lovely person to teach but only when she put her mind into it she does well only short lived though , she has booked her driving test in February and she is quite content to take a loads and loads of lessons prior to her test in which i really think she needs them , i feel sorry for her as she is not making quick progress! . i am using the drilling technique with her repeat and repeat so on and she is very happy with it , for example i taught her roundabouts on and on and on she still now and again when i ask her to go straight ahead she try to go on the inside lane and when i ask her what was her reason she replies i don’t know !! she certainly has a confidence issues in which i tried to motivate her at all times i am trying various techniques , what is your take on this Ged? thanks Micheal Alkour

  • Hi GED , my other pupil seem to be very happy of spending the lesson huffing and puffing , tried on a few occasion to make a light out of things but short lived , she comes to the lesson very tired and yawning , she is making a slow progress but not helping matter with her negative approach , i thought on a few occasions to quit teaching her but cant do it as it is not in my nature , i asked her if she is not happy with me i will be very glad to allocate you to another instructor she replied don’t be silly i think you are great instructor , but the fact that it can be uncomfortable when she stays quite and very negative and defensive at all times after 20 hrs she said why am i not ready for test yet? my answer was i don’t create miracles i am trying everything in the book as natural pupils need on average 40 hrs plus and you are making a slow progress i advices her she need to sleep enough before the lesson i feel like i ran a marathon after her lesson it is really draining me so much to the extend of not looking forward to it , when i get out of the car i take a 5 minutes brake before setting of to next lesson because i am exhausted by then!!. what is your take on this GED thanks
    Micheal Alkour