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Motivational Interviewing

We’ve all been there. You’re lying in front of the television. You know you need to finish that assignment, post some CVs, clean the dishes, exercise. In your head, you make great plans. But you just can’t get up. For parents, they get the double duo of having children who won’t leave the couch also. You know how much they will benefit from getting outside and exploring the world but they rather sit in front of the magical electronic box. Looking at the situation objectively, everyone has values. For example, I am a healthy human that can operate well in society. And then people have their current behaviour. Cue the couch. The belief is that motivation is what minimises the gap between the our values and our current behaviours. So why can some people reduce the discrepancy while others can’t? The golden question. But what if I told you that you already have this widely sought after motivation? It's not in some of us. It's in all of us. You’ve just chosen to lose access to it by changing how you think about it. Let me explain it further through a psychological technique know as motivational interviewing.

Motivational interviewing started as a technique to treat addiction and substance abuse but over time, empirical studies have demonstrated its uses across various settings. It is a type of therapy but it can be beneficial to anyone. It believes that if we can begin verbalising our reasoning behind why we need to be motivated, then we can begin changing behaviour. This would then mean that motivation is not something that appears out of nowhere or something that is external to us but rather; it is just something we need to persuade ourselves of. Therefore, if your family and friends told you to give up smoking (external), you’re not going to give up but if you can continuously express that you want to give up smoking and verbalise WHY you want to give up smoking, it makes you more likely to give it up. This is related to cognitive dissonance, which is a state of inconsistent thoughts or beliefs. If people believe that smoking causes lung cancer and they want to live longer, then they’re going to stop smoking. Secondly, we need to explain what is preventing us from being motivated. We refer to these as resistance behaviors. These might be making excuses or other defence mechanisms. I'm not giving up smoking because my grandad smoked and lived until he was 90. We need to question these so awareness is essential. You can’t complete an obstacle course if you don’t know what the obstacles are. So a useful method to take away. If you or your child is lacking motivation, rate how motivated you are to do the task at hand on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is not motivated at all and 10 is very motivated. In most cases, it might be low but it will never be 0 because deep down, you know you should do it but you just don't know why. So let’s say you choose 2. Then ask yourself why it isn’t 1 or 0. If you answer seriously, you explain why you have to do the task, you become aware of any resistance behaviours or thoughts and you know it won’t be that bad. What this does is that is unconsciously reasons with the act of doing the task. Simple but effective.


Sounds a but too simplistic really. Tell yourself to do something and then you’ll do it. Look at all the smokers who know smoking is bad and they still do it. So let’s take it a step further. We have two types of motivation. Internal and external motivation. If you are externally motivated, you need outside forces to help you do things. For example, if you plan to go to the gym, you need a gym instructor or a friend alongside you. If you are intrinsically motivated, you try to better who you are yesterday. For example, I want to go to the gym because I want to lift a heavier weight than I did yesterday. Over time, we should all want to be internally motivated because this means that we don’t need outside forces to determine how we behave. Remember what was said. We already have motivation but how we think about it sometimes puts it out of reach. External motivation is almost a fake motivation that will not last forever. It makes us less independent. This includes the motivational quotes, the bonus commission and pictures of Jesus. And a note to employers, the employee who is motivated internally by being better at their job will always perform better than the employee who is motivated by pay increases. They might help us now and again but they make us dependent. If we feel we are externally motivated, we need to use that as an aid to eventually become internally motivated. Have a personal trainer now with the aim of being able to go to the gym alone in the future. Have you ever noticed that gyms are packed in January but slowly empty out by March? This is because people are externally motivated. They are going to the gym because they want to impress others (external). They imagine themselves on the beach in shape. However, the ones who are left are the ones that go to the gym because they want to be better than they were yesterday (internal). However, there are dangers to internal motivation. If we couple this with pressure to ‘have to’ be better, we create an arena for shame to manifest, so be aware of that.


So if we are dependent on external motivation, how can we then transition to developing internal motivation? We do so by making simple achievable steps. Therapeutically speaking, lack of motivation is also one of the most prominent symptoms of depression. I have worked with clients who are unable to get out of bed no matter how much they try. This situation becomes more complex as motivation is attached to self-esteem. People with low self-esteem are less likely to have motivation. Therefore, these steps are extremely basic but for the regular Joe, start wherever you feel you need to. The aim here is not to change the behaviour yet. Instead, the aim is progress. If we can start progressing, then we can start to see change over time. Returning to motivational interviewing, if we can identify our values and then our current behaviours, then it makes it easier for us to not only verbalise why we need to motivation but how we can narrow the gap. For example, if we want to start getting out of bed, we do not make an immediate plan to get out of the bed. Instead, we plan to begin waking up at certain times. Routine is extremely important because routine affects our circadian rhythm, which affects our mood. So we need routine. So start by waking up at 11 on Monday. Then 10:55 on Tuesday, 10:50 on Wednesday and so on. This might seem insignificant but remember depressed people haven’t experienced any sort of achievement in months, possibly years. And if you fail, emphasise that the important goal here is that they are able to fail and come back the next day. A good template of goal setting is SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound). This is how we build resilience and self-efficacy. Then over time, this progress will lead to getting out of bed for a short period. And then the long term goal is to get out of bed and stay out of bed. The long term goal is broken up into several short term goals. And this is how we change the behaviour. Slow, patient steps. Now I advise you to write down your long term goals and then break them into more manageable short term goals using the SMART technique. Use extrinsic motivation if you need to but if you can begin progressing and having little bursts of achievement, then this will develop into intrinsic motivation.

People are waiting for the right moment. Once they become motivated, then they will change the world. But that’s not how the trajectory works. We have to tart something and then motivation is the outcome. So start by starting. Yours Sincerely. The Motus Movement.

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