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Stubborn Mules: Motivational Interviewing for the Completely Unmotivated

Stubborn Mules: Motivational Interviewing for the Completely Unmotivated

An unmotivated loved one can drive us all to the brink. When someone we care about continues to make “stupid” decisions, or simply won’t get off their butt and do what needs to be done for their own benefit, we often despair. So what is motivation? And why is it so hard to force someone to change?

Motivation is essentially a combination of two emotional states: courage and desire (sometimes referred to as “confidence” and “importance”). If both of these emotional states are strong, then motivation will be high. If even one of them is low, motivation is adversely affected.

In most of the cases I’ve dealt with people were naturally tuned towards being anti-authoritarian. This is why trying to force motivation into someone doesn’t work. It’s also why giving advice to an unmotivated person only makes them less likely to take action. By trying to force your idea of what is “right” on to them, you are triggering their defense system, and they will feel a strong impulse to do the opposite of what you advise.

When you try to force someone to act, you reduce their desire; to them it feels like a chore. Or, you end up reducing their courage by making them feel like it’s too hard. Either way, you both lose.

So if you’re ready for a different approach, try my six-step Motivational Interviewing pattern, as follows:

Step 1: Listen

The philosophy behind Motivational Interviewing is that you are not the one telling the unmotivated person what to do. Ultimately, you want to encourage them to tell themselves what to do. This is how you develop powerful, intrinsic motivation.

It begins with listening. Somewhere in their mind there’s a reason why they won’t change. That reason is likely to be strongly linked to desire (they don’t want to) or courage (they don’t believe they can), or both.

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Ask them why they don’t want to change, but ask in a non-judgmental way. Be open to the idea that their reasons are valid and worthwhile, rather than just thinking they are being pathetic or stupid. If you feel superior to them, they will sense it, and there goes your window of opportunity. You must take your ego out of the situation.

Enter into the conversation with the attitude of, “I may think I know what this person needs, but they know better than me, so let’s see if I can help them find their own answers.”

Step 2: Reflect

Before someone will take your advice they need to feel they can trust you. More importantly, they need to trust your intentions, especially if they are resistant. If they think you have an agenda – i.e. you want them to change for your benefit – they will dig their heels in.

When you’ve listened to what they have said, reflect it back to them so they know you’ve heard. Try to allow them to hear themselves. This doesn’t mean parroting back their exact words. You could try summing up, identifying the underlying emotion, or even getting quite provocative. I like to exaggerate what my coaching clients say, to help them take a stand and define what they really mean.

If they’re disagreeing with how you’ve heard them, at least you two are having a real conversation. Ask them to correct you; ask what it is you are not hearing. You want to get to the point where you both agree on what they are saying.

Step 3: Create “cognitive dissonance”

Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling caused by two opposing beliefs conflicting. Creating this feeling inside someone else is my favorite and most powerful motivation technique.

To do this, once they are done telling you why not, change tack and start asking questions that get them to reveal what they want out of life, and from themselves. What you are looking for is a conflict between what they want versus this change they refuse to make.

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You’re looking for what I call the “keystone.” It’s the thing they desire in their life that they cannot have unless they make the change. This is where we get to tap into their intrinsic motivation. We have located the internal reward and no longer need external rewards to drive them.

Side note: this is also a great way to get people to truly appreciate external rewards (e.g. money), by making the link between the external reward and intrinsic desires. It’s not just about more money, find out how they want to spend that money to better their lives, and remind them of that.

Let’s look at an example: someone who refuses to stop abusing alcohol. If you can get them to make the link between wanting the best for their children and the negative effect their drinking has on that desire, without telling them, you can create cognitive dissonance. Basically, you want to lead them to tell you that they have to choose between the two: drinking or a good relationship with their children. Help them see that they can’t have both.

Again, it’s crucial you remain non-judgmental. When someone is unmotivated they become hypersensitive to unwanted influence, always looking for an excuse to avoid doing whatever it is they know they need to do. The easiest excuse is to think whoever is trying to help them is actually just an annoying know-it-all.

Keep reflecting back to them so they understand they are saying these things, not you. You’re just asking the questions, don’t give the answers (yet)!

Step 4: Weigh up costs versus benefits

Now that you’ve identified your keystone, it’s time to turn the screws a bit; time to put some positive pressure on. Start asking them questions about the costs and benefits of the two different choices they are now facing. If they “do it” (change), what are the likely outcomes compared to if they “don’t do it?”

If you dig and reflect more deeply on two specific factors – the costs of not changing and the benefits of changingthey will start to convince themselves of what they need to do. You’ve now put them in a position where they can clearly see the consequences of their behavior and choices.

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This is the key driver of Motivational Interviewing in effect: they have now told themselves what they should be doing.

Step 5: Elicit a commitment

Now you finally get to be more direct. Talking about change is all well and good, but ultimately all that matters is taking action. Without that, you’re just chatting.

So ask them: “What do you need to do?”

At this point, if they have bought into this process, they may turn to you for assistance. Lack of motivation is also a huge killer of creativity, so they might need a hand. You can offer your advice now. Just preface it with something like: “I have some ideas, would you like to hear them?”

Don’t rush into this though, give them time and space to work it out for themselves, or just gently lead them to an answer/action. They will maintain motivation longer if they problem solve the situation themselves, and you don’t want to create dependency.

Teach them to fish rather than just feeding them!

They need at least one tangible, measurable action to take. Just one is enough to break them out of the rut or harmful pattern they are in. Then, you can both build on that later, adding more actions as time goes on and motivation increases.

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Most of all, if you are truly dedicated to helping them, prepare to be patient. This whole process will not happen in just one discussion, particularly for the highly unmotivated. It could take days or weeks. It’s up to you, but just know that every conversation helps, even if you give up later on.

Step 6: Follow up

If they now trust you to help them, you need to hold them to account. Follow up with them after the action they were supposed to take happens. Make sure to praise any action, even if it ended in “failure.” Don’t let them off the hook though, ask them, “What next?”

If they didn’t do what they committed to do, ask them what happened. Use the same non-judgmental questioning pattern above to elicit what stopped them and how they can overcome that barrier in the future.

Just remember:

  1. Don’t tell them, get them to tell you
  2. Don’t dictate but do lead
  3. No judgements
  4. Assume deep down they know what is best for themselves, help them to find it
  5. Be patient

One last note

I have worked with some of the most entrenched and dangerous offenders in New Zealand. Some of them were full-blown psychopathic murderers. Others were highly manipulative sociopaths, severe Borderline Personalities, and predatory sex offenders. While I believed they could still be changed one day, some of them were beyond the psychological knowledge of today – too broken to be fixed.

If you have been trying for months to change someone, and they keep making promises without taking action, then it is time to walk away. Either you are not the person to help them, or they simply will not submit to help. While I do believe it is possible to motivate any human who is at least capable of basic brain function, this cannot happen if they really do not want to change.

Don’t burn yourself out on someone who refuses to live a good life. Save your energy for someone more deserving.

Featured photo credit: Brian Smith via flikr

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

That’s where we all should be.

So, answer me this:

How are you, really?

And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

It’s taking control.

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2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

Change will happen.

Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

“Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

“If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

What would you do if you felt you were enough?

By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

Final Thoughts

By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

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Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

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