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Home Understand Yourself NEED THERAPY OR COACHING? What Motivates People to Change?

What Motivates People to Change?

BY ARLENE F. HARDER, MA, MFT

In this discussion and excerpt from my book, Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life, learn what prevents people from changing behavior and what best motivates them to change.

Are you actively working to change some aspect of your relationship, and of your behavior, and can't understand how someone else (perhaps the "significant other" in your life) and either doesn't have a clue that anything is wrong with the situation, or with him or her, or seems inexplicably unwilling to do anything about it?

Why, you ask, are you so willing to change and the other person is not? I've asked myself that many times, since I'm one of those who constantly scrutinizes my problems to see how I might be contributing to the situation. That doesn't mean I've been completely successful in changing some of my more tenacious bad habits, but I do work at it (which can, paradoxically, also be a curse for those of us who are recovering perfectionists). Nevertheless, for many years I found it difficult to understand why others weren't as introspective as I.

Over the years I've learned that basically the reason some people want to be the best they can be, while others only like to complain is because the latter type of person isn't in touch with, or is able to deny the pressure of, what I call "pain, pull, or push forces." Unless people experience one of them, they are pretty well stuck right where they are.


In my second book, Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your LifeAsk Yourself Questions and Change Your Life, this is how I expressed my understanding of motivation to change:


Nothing in the natural world remains the same from one moment to the next. Everything is dynamic, continually changing whether we want it to or not, whether we are a willing participant or not. We are part of that world, and our lives can expand in response to the changing moods of each season, or we can contract by resisting the change we have been invited to make.

Three Paths to Change

Our lives change for three reasons.

The first, which we experience from time to time throughout our lives, comes from being pulled by the invisible force of biology and life-cycle stages to be a different person than we were before. A baby learns to crawl, walk, and run because she is hard-wired to move through those stages. In adolescence we couldn’t ignore our hormones and the changes they bring if we wanted to. And the inevitable act of falling in love dramatically expands our view of life in ways we could not know without that experience. Courtship, marriage, birth of children, the launching of grown children, and the onset of old age each present us with different opportunities to evolve, grow and develop.

Not infrequently, when we have been inspired by a new vision of who we can grow to be, and what the world can become through our efforts, we are pulled to change. For instance, it is hard to read Paradigm Found without feeling compelled to make a genuine difference in the world by following our passion, just as the author, Anne Firth Murray, did when she founded The Global Fund for Women.

Sometimes, though very seldom, we change because we are pushed by someone to become a different person than we’ve been. If that person is our boss, and our job depends on changing some habit or characteristic of our personality, the odds that we’ll modify our behavior are fairly good, provided we’re not asked to make too significant of a shift in how we see ourselves. In some cases, it may be easier to find another job than change long-ingrained patterns of behavior.

Think about it for a minute. How often have you been successful in causing another person to change through nagging, pleading, cajoling, demanding, beseeching, and otherwise shoving that person in the direction of change you wanted him or her to make? Not often, I would guess. I’ve certainly done my share of nagging, and even though I’m convinced the changes I want others to make would be good for them — and would definitely make my life easier — they resist. I’ve tried the push approach. It seldom works.

What does work is the third reason we change, pain. Both psychological and physical pain encourage us to work toward relieving our discomfort and can come from many sources. Your factory is outsourced and takes your job with it. Your spouse announces he is leaving for someone else. You’ve been given a diagnosis of a serious illness. Your business partner’s drinking has escalated. In all of these cases, it’s no longer possible to continue living as you have been.

Some of us are very good in putting on blinders, of course, and in ignoring a situation that would drive someone else up the wall. Yet we all have a breaking point. That’s why the questions in this book are designed to help you no matter whether you are pulled or pushed to change direction, or whether discomfort you have tolerated until now has become too painful to ignore.


If you enjoyed this excerpt, and would like to find out more about Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life, be sure to visit Setting Goals With Confidence.

© Copyright 2008, 2012, Arlene F Harder, MA, MFT

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