“How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one. But the light bulb has to really want to change.”

In my therapy practice I encounter lots of people who are not motivated to change a self-defeating behavior or attitude. They say they want to change, but they can’t seem to get started. If such a problem keeps the individual from realizing his full potential, it should not be ignored.

Parents know all about this. How often have we heard, “Tiffany won’t eat her vegetables … Jeremy doesn’t want to dress himself … Brittany refuses to go to school.”

Couples may also experience this problem.Therapists who work with couples and families often hear, “We have no family time. My husband will not look for a job with daytime hours” … “I can’t get my wife to play golf with me. She feels stupid when she tries to hit the ball” … “My boy friend won’t give me a definite answer about getting married.”

Typically, people on the receiving end of these frustrations react negatively. A parent might say to the child, “If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do …” and then they warn them about the consequences. This might work with some kids, but not with all of them. In the adult relationship, the spouse who is frustrated by the other’s low motivation might react by withdrawing or withholding affection. Again, this might work and it might not. 

In these previous examples one person is frustrated because the other person, or persons, will not do the right thing. But low motivation is also an issue for individuals. If we’re honest, many of us will admit that at various times we have been unmotivated to do this or that. For example, have you ever procrastinated about doing your tax returns? Have you delayed completing your advanced education or training? How about doing the fix up jobs around the house? Some people on their bad days can’t even motivate themselves to get out of bed. As in trying to motivate someone else by threats and warnings, we will probably fail if we try to motivate ourselves with thoughts of dire consequences. 

Interestingly, evidence shows that threats and warnings do not generally motivate others to change a poor behavior or attitude. However, research shows that three elements will motivate change. These elements work in motivating yourself, as well as in motivating others. They are positive, rather than negative. The three elements are: 

Knowing that other people have changed the same behavior, and continue to do so  

When adopting a desired behavior to replace a bad one, you get an immediate reward – a good feeling, a gold star, a compliment – very soon after you’ve done the new behavior 

Giving yourself the opportunity to monitor your progress. For example, a salesperson who is allowed to see a graph showing her steadily increasing sales will be motivated to keep that improvement going. 

If low motivation is creating a problem for you, you may not be able to resolve it on your own. Feedback will be necessary – from a book, a spiritual journey, a training course or consultation with a professional. If you’d like to know more, please feel free to give me a call. I’d be honored to be of service. The number is (219) 309-3928.

For some more ideas on motivation click here Your Own Cage.

Thanks for reading!