What motivates us to change?

As a practitioner in the field of human development and transformative healing, this question has carried me for a long time. Before we can look at what to change into, we first must look at what are the benefits with staying with what we are doing now. A behavior is sustained because we rely on it to get things done in order for us to feel a certain way.  We feel or get a particular reward from that behavior. That could be feeling relaxed, or being fast and efficient on the short term. It is not about external judgment of how it looks but rather on how the outcome of that choice feels to that person. Whether that is the best method or even the healthiest is beside the point. It has somehow worked and produced the desired results for that individual. Not until the ratio of cost to benefit shifts dramatically, however, are we ready to really look at change.


We start with the short-term reason for taking an action, but the journey to change is itself beset with change. The long term reason to change will be different from the short term so we must be flexible, discerning and listen well for we may not know yet what these are.  We also don’t know how the journey will unfold. You might like it to be a straight line, but the process of change is often creative and circuitous. What is required of us is patience, acceptance and hard work.

I’ve always believe change is internal. I also have seen that we can influence each other in changing. Human beings are social animals and are motivated by the group they are part of for support, encouragement and motivation. 

If you want someone to change, you must look at yourself first and the ways you take that person’s behavior as his character. Let me repeat, behavior and character are different. Behavior is learned and changeable. Human beings are wired as learners. When we confuse behavior with character, however, we often get stuck. This is true whether we are looking at ourselves or another.

The more someone’s behavior is frightening or unacceptable to our ways of perceiving and value ordering, the more we will judge, label, conflict, distort, ostracized and isolate our loved one. Consequently, we also will do the same things to ourselves. The result is far from love and support. If you want to be on the same side, then it is imperative that all involve know this to be true by words and action. The ground to move forward with change becomes easier if there is stability in love.

Current neurobiological research points to the plasticity of motivation as well as the plasticity of  the affect people have on each other’s behavior. You can affect and have a great impact and influence your loved one’s choices in his/her behavior. And vice versa. We are not islands. We do change each other.

How do you do this best?

Help him/her associate his/her positive experiences with positive actions of relationships. We all respond well to kindness and respect. Positive communication skills help and allow for lower defenses. This means there is more room to accept a change in behavior, rather than fight it because the way it is delivered is an attack and confrontation. The suffering of change is softer when there is kindness and love. Both people in the dialog have to be willing to engage and put aside a black and white approach of “my way or the highway”. With awareness, there are moments of spaces to recognize. These gaps allow for a non-habitual way of responding instead of just reacting. When you know your limits well, you can set clearer boundaries sooner, gentler and more effectively. You can ask for what you need without force or a sense of diminishment. You can hear clearer what the other feels. The relationship becomes a dynamic fluid give and take based on mutual respect. The journey to acceptance of self and others is easier. Change can then have more of a possibility of excitement, rather than fear and coercion. It becomes a gift one welcomes with more joy.



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