One View of the Motivation Process

In Shadows

Even when a person feels that she or he woke up one morning and suddenly was motivated to make a life change, and even if the narrative is told that way, it’s probably not quite accurate. More likely, increments of change had been percolating and accumulating, one step at a time, in the person’s subconscious.

We learn from a guest New York Times columnist called A.D.A.M. that motivation is not a discrete event but a process. Furthermore, the process is not straightforward but may be more of a matter of “two steps forward, one step back.” The writer cautions:

Behavior change expert James Prochaska and his colleagues outlined a theory, which has been supported by numerous studies, showing that people cycle through a variety of stages before a new behavior is successfully adopted over the long term…. [P]eople do not proceed from one stage to another in a simple, step-by-step fashion. They actually cycle or spiral back and forth.

According to this paradigm, the earliest stage is pre-contemplation, in which the person does not even consider making any major lifestyle change that will lead to a healthy weight. But when the notion sneaks in of, for instance, starting an exercise program, the person can benefit by collecting anecdotal evidence from at least four personally known people who can testify to their own experiences and supply concrete confirmation. The benefits, in other words, must be identified but not in some impersonal way like reading a magazine article. Apparently the real-life element is important here.

Moving on up

In the second stage, contemplation and information gathering come to the fore. It’s helpful for the person to recognize certain facts, such as the wonderful variety of forms of physical activity that are available. It might be important for the person to realize that exercise does not have to be done in huge, exhausting doses, but that it can be apportioned out throughout the day. This is when roadblocks are identified, as well as ways to get past the roadblocks. The ultimate goal of this stage is to make a commitment.

Stage 3 is concerned with the formulation of a specific plan of action, in order to ensure a successful “launch.” Stage 4 is all about action, where the thinking and planning manifest in actual behavioral change. On the surface, it appears to be the most significant stage, but it can’t happen without the preceding ones. The person is advised to provide self-reminders and allow for small rewards. Momentum is established, with progress that is perhaps slow but hopefully steady.

Stage 5 is maintenance of what has become a habit. By continually reminding oneself of the benefits already gained and the ones that will come about in the future, the person uses mental strength to stave off any chance of relapse. If boredom is a problem, the task here is to find ways to bring in variety, challenge, and excitement.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Motivation,”, 03/11/14
Image by Kristin Schmit

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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