A little while back I was commiserating with a cycling friend about our respective difficulties in losing weight. We decided there was only one solution for it – a competition to see who could be the Biggest Loser. The spoils of victory would be the utter humiliation of the person who lost the least weight.
The ‘loser’ would have to clean the other person’s road bike on a Saturday morning in front of our 70 cycling friends. Given my belief I would find it easier to lose weight than my female friend, I upped the stakes by saying the loser would not only have to clean the other person’s bike in front of our friends, but do so dressed in a G string. She agreed.
So the great weight race of the chubby cyclists commenced. When the three month deadline arrived, I was pleased to announce that I had lost 7kg. But my friend had lost 7 ½ kg! Now while you are contemplating that picture of me in a G string cleaning my friend’s bike, someone paid me a lot of money to stay fully clothed.
But my experience caused me to reflect on what was motivating for me to persevere in losing weight. Was it that I would live a longer and healthier life? Or was it more that I didn’t want to lose and be publicly humiliated? Sadly, it was the latter. Apparently I am not alone in being motivated by wanting to avoid negative consequences. Life should not be like this, but many of us only take action when the status quo becomes very uncomfortable or we are threatened with a very uncomfortable consequence. Now thankfully we are also motivated by other things, but I would like to reflect for a moment on discomfort being a motivator for change.
When I was studying counselling at University, I was never told that part of my job would be to make people feel uncomfortable and, by doing so, motivate some to explore change. But that is the reality of what I found. For some, the sheer thought of seeing a therapist, motivated them to start taking action. Other times, I found I would deliberately make people uncomfortable.
For example, when I worked with young women with anorexia, I would on occasion explore their likely hospitalisation unless they began to put on weight. With people who were suicidal, I often explored the lasting impact of their death on their loved ones. When I worked with men who did not see their controlling behaviour as a problem at all, I would explore the likely consequences on their relationship of no change – either being miserable together or a likely separation.
This was more than just a simple question about the likely consequences. But more an in-depth discussion about how that experience would affect them.
Whether people are motivated by the benefits of change, discomfort with the status quo, or both, the key is to find motivators that are meaningful to the person concerned and to link this to the desired behaviour. The question is not so much ‘Why is this person not motivated?’ but more ‘What is this person motivated for?’ Everyone is motivated for something. And it is not always the logical.
You would think that all separated parents who are caught in prolonged conflict would be motivated by the impact such conflict has on their children. But one Family Law solicitor said to me that, in her opinion, some of these people were only motivated to change when their legal costs reached a certain point.
Of course, with all attempts to influence change in yourself or in others, it is important to have a backup plan. Human beings are creatures of pattern and we like returning to the familiar even if it is not taking us in a good direction. We need to have a way of thinking that helps us to learn from any setbacks and recommit to our plan for change. When I relapse into my old pattern of eating, for example, I remind myself ‘tomorrow is another day’ and I picture myself in that G string!
About the Author: Ken Warren is a Relationships Specialist who can show you how to turn difficult customers and co-workers into pussycats, make great teams even better, and achieve better outcomes with challenging clients. Check out his free resources at Positive People Solutions.