Another Perspective on the Motivation Process

Strange Statue

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News considered the stages of change identified by behavioral-change expert James Prochaska and his colleagues. They are not the only professionals who have identified such stages. A while back, we looked at the thoughts of popular media personality Dr. Phil, who authored a “Readiness Profile” quiz that can be taken by people contemplating a life change such as a serious exercise program. Depending on their scores, he sorts them into progressive categories.

The lowest-level stage is being stuck in the comfort zone, pretending everything is fine, and settling, due to fear of change, for a less-than-optimal situation. This mental and emotional condition includes dusting off every possible rationalization for avoiding change. Obviously, the very best guarantee against failure is never to try. Obviously, if one has tried and failed before, the best thing to do is give up and accept. But these self-sabotaging tricks of the mind can be overcome. Dr. Phil says:

If your weight problem is to change, it will be because you changed the way you think, feel, and do. What can I do to get healthy control of my weight and my life? Ask it, answer it, then do it, every day.

The slightly higher-scoring group of quiz-takers reveal themselves to be fence-sitters. A fence-sitter is awash in ambivalence, seeing both the advantages and the inconveniences and other costs of change. Yes, it would be great to fit into those skinny jeans. No, it would be terrible to give up sugar in coffee. Yes, it would be wonderful to impress members of the opposite sex. No, it would be yucky to sweat every day while exercising. The potential benefits are apparent, but so are the drawbacks. Dr. Phil calls this stage a mental tug-of-war, and getting stuck in it can be paralyzing.

This is when courage comes into play, and it might be very useful at this point for a person to do something else, in an arena unrelated to weight loss, to prove that courage is available. The achievement of a different goal can prove to the person that she or he possesses the gumption and fortitude to be strong, autonomous, self-directed, and capable of meeting the weight-loss challenge.

The next stage is what Dr. Phil calls the crossroads. This is where the rubber meets the road, as the old saying goes. Understanding is not sufficient, nor are insight or intention. The only commodity that will meet the challenge is action. Dr. Phil says, “There comes a time when you have to swing that bat. To have what you want, you have to do what it takes. That time is now.”

Here, the young are at a disadvantage. It’s much easier for an adult to form the conviction that “the time is now.” Along the path of life’s journey, some landmark looms up — a move to a new job or a new city, a 50th birthday, a divorce, the death of a parent — and a sense of urgency kicks in. Children and teenagers don’t feel “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” If they think about the future at all, they are still very comfortable with the idea of making a change “someday.”

Among the readiness quiz-takers, the highest scores signify “zero hour,” where preparedness is at its peak and there is no turning back. The feeling is similar to what 12-step programs call “hitting bottom.” There are several useful metaphors for this turning point, including the slate that has been wiped clean, reaching the end of one’s rope, and throwing off the old way of life like a soiled garment.

Self-respect demands nothing less than full commitment to change, accompanied by follow-through. It’s time to initiate a new regime, characterized by change that happens because the person makes it happen by knowing what she or he wants and by moving forward with focus and intention. As Dr. Phil puts it:

You want more so you are ready to do more, and are already taking action to get it…. You have boldly said to yourself: ‘That’s enough. I don’t care how much it hurts to change. I don’t care what I have to give up. I won’t take this another second, another minute, another day of my life. I am ready.’

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Are You Ready?” DrPhil.com, 2003
Image by Michael Coghlan

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