On the afternoon of May 19, the Xinya Conversation Salon kicked off in the Xinya Building first floor lobby. Xinya College Dean, Mr. Mei Ciqi, the initiator of the gathering, met with more than 20 students from the Colleges of Xinya, Humanities, Xingjian, and Tanwei to discuss how to foster internal motivation. Their discussion lasted more than two hours. Professor Liu Junqiang from the School of Social Sciences also attended the event. Teachers and students present expressed their opinions and views freely, shared their experiences and had enthusiastic discussions.
The conversation began by touching on the feelings of confusion that can so often face students as they embark on their university careers. There was general agreement that the introduction of external incentives in the form of punishment or reward mechanisms into the education system often resulted in students doing things less on their own initiative and gave rise to this feeling of confusion. Given this fact, the question stood as to how college students could foster stronger internal motivation.
During the event, the relationship between "leisure" and "internal motivation" was discussed from the perspective of time. All agreed that leisure time represented the possibility of fostering internal motivation. Leisure time and the opportunity to act beyond external and social ties mean more freedom to explore one’s own interests, think about the meaning of a certain action, and thus foster internal motivation. One student shared a sense of strengthened internal motivation following a choice to opt for a system of "flexible education". However, the teachers and students also affirmed that leisure could not simply be defined from an objective perspective, being understood rather subjectively. You may do something you love, dedicate yourself to the resolution of a problem, or find a goal for your present life, but while doing these things may keep you busy in a sense, they are, in fact, a kind of leisure. Mr. Mei stressed that leisure was not a mere idling away of time but a period when you are free to explore.
The gathering also considered the relationship between "internal motivation" and "choice" from the perspective of ego. In this respect, both the teachers and students considered it essential that people learn to create leisure for themselves in the face of heavy academic and social pressure. After all, external pressure comes down to subjective feelings and learning to reduce some unnecessary competition maybe can create more leisure for fostering intrinsic motivation. At the same time, the decision to succumb to external motivation is also inextricably linked with our ability to foster internal motivation. Being excessively subject to external constraints and tying yourself down to your "public persona" can make us conspirators in external motivation disabling internal motivation.
The talk eventually came round to the relationship between "internal motivation" and "external evaluation criteria". During the discussion, the teachers and students found the influence of external evaluation criteria on internal motivation to be two-fold. On the one hand, external evaluation criteria can help individuals choose their own direction for development. One student shared his experience with scientific research, saying that he had gradually come to realize that although he was not good at the GPA evaluation system, he did excel at exploring the unknown, for example, in scientific research, and that increased his confidence. After we have chosen the right direction, positive feedback from other external evaluation systems can motivate us, resulting in stronger internal motivation. On the other hand, the teachers and students also noticed that too much attention to external evaluation criteria could bog one down and result in influence of a negative kind. Shifting our attention from GPA to other external evaluation criteria can also create a new problem with insufficient internal motivation. As Mr. Mei said, "Don't let the world get full hold of you." So as we adapt to different evaluation systems, it is important for us to stay true to what we want and retain our yearning for the world. This allows us to be mindful of the purpose of our efforts so that we do not falter because of confusion. Keeping a certain distance from evaluation criteria may help us create a space of self-satisfaction, crucial for fostering and maintaining internal motivation.
This led the teachers and students to another question: Can we find a way to foster internal motivation without relying on external evaluation criteria? Mr. Mei thought it impossible to separate internal motivation completely from external evaluation criteria. Human beings are not made to be alone. Likewise, internal motivation cannot be completely separated from external motivation. Pursuing internal motivation that is completely separated from external motivation risks leading to nothingness. That's because the sense of meaning generated by external evaluation criteria is such an important way to foster internal motivation.
Many students also shared problems and challenges internal motivation had caused them in their studies and ideals. Invoking the concept of the pet project, Mr. Liu encouraged students to find where their passion lay and use their internal motivation to take whatever they do and do it well. Mr. Mei referred to the famous saying by Gu Yanwu, "Begin with interest and end with perseverance", to remind all that interest and perseverance must be combined if we hope to go further. Mr. Mei also mentioned the preparations for Xinya College's newly launched "One Thing Plan" event and invited the students present from other colleges and schools to participate in the series of activities launched by Xinya College, including "One Thing Plan". Appealing to the analogy of "avoiding boiling water repeatedly", Mr. Mei encouraged students to engage in college life by "doing a thing well with internal motivation."
The conversation ended with a lively discussion among the students. Mr. Mei wrapped up the discussion by summarizing everything they had covered and encouraging students to take a reasonable view of external motivation and stimulate internal motivation with the help of team strength, urging them to maintain a dedicated attitude and to be brave in compromise.