What Motivates People To Change?

Everyone wants to change something in their lives. However, if we tried to do that, we probably noticed that often it's very hard do change something.

Why people change and what motivates them to do so?

The first – and in my opinion the most effective – motivator to change is pull, or positive motivation.

It means that we feel very fascinated about something, we get drawn to something very strongly, or we truly and passionately want to achieve something. For example, we get exposed to very fascinating ideas and we get inspired to fundamentally change our life, our values, and our personal relationships. Or we realize that it's possible to live a completely different life, so we decide to change our job or move out to a different country. Or we meet new, amazing people, and we get inspired to change the world with our talents and our generosity.

The essential thing here is that when we feel positively pulled towards something; this pull – and our motivation to act – comes from within. We feel deeply and passionately motivated to seek this new goal.

In order for the goal to be reached, one must meet a couple of prerequisites:
    Have enough responsibility for oneself. Meaning: we have to understand that only we ourselves are responsible for our life and well-being – nobody else.

    Have a healthy enough self-esteem. Meaning: we have to value and evaluate our traits, abilities, competence, and shortcomings as adequately as possible, i. e. we have to try not to undervalue and not to overvalue ourselves, but to evaluate ourselves as precisely as possible.

    Have enough awareness. Meaning: we have to consciously understand what's really going on in us and around us, so that we could understand our true, authentic emotions and needs, and know if we are pursuing our goals effectively.

    If those prerequisites are met, one most likely will feel enough long-term enthusiasm, courage, motivation, and inquisitiveness, so that they could find ways how to reach their goal, and how to deal with the upcoming difficulties (and there always will be difficulties of one kind or the other). Such person won't try to reach their goal "regretfully", "grudgingly", or "with clenched teeth", they won't need additional exhortation or incitement, and they won't quit when confronted with their first difficulty. They would know what exactly they want; they would know that it's possible for them to achieve it; they would know that problems and difficulties in their way are a normal phenomenon; and they would take joy in this whole process – and later in the achieved result.

    The second motivator to change is push.

    This means that for various reasons one really doesn't want to change. Deep inside they don't feel that the change is really useful to them, or they don't trust themselves; they think that they don't have enough skills, knowledge, experience, learning ability, etc. – and in their mind it converts to "it's not worth it" or "it's not possible." So, if such person decides to change something, they do that by pushing themselves to do it, or because there is some external push – for example other people are nagging them, or manipulating them, or furiously trying to motivate them, and so on. And since they don't feel enough real motivation to do it, all too often the change is extremely painful, or short-term, or fruitless, or even harmful.

    We all probably have tried – or we know someone who have tried – to plan a healthier diet, to start exercising, to quit smoking, to balance personal finances, to get a better job, and so on – but after some time this goal was abandoned. And sometimes the situation gets even worse: one gains back even more weight; or one not only starts smoking again, but also adds alcohol to the mix; and so on...

    But we all know how it feels when somebody wants for us to change and they try to nag us, shame us, guilt trip us, humiliate us, lie to us, cajole us, threaten us, blame us, etc. How do we feel in those instances?.. And there's no big difference if we experience this from others or if we do that to ourselves internally. Change is hard as it is – especially if there are no (or not enough) support from others. So do we really want to change if we experience such tactics?

    Even if we do, what motivates us to do so in that instance? Fear? For example: "If I don't change, something REALLY BAD will happened." Guilt? For example: "If I don't do this, I'm a bad person..." Anger? For example: "They don't value me – I'll show them all!" Shame? For example: "I better do that, because I'm so pathetic and worthless..."

    So, if that's what motivates a person, it's understandable that the change is short-term or extremely stressful – or unwanted on a deeper level. And this means that such person probably is motivated not by the goal or the whole process, but by a constant desire to avoid excessive fear, shame, guilt, loneliness, unworthiness, etc. Such state is very stressful and unhealthy. Sadly, way too many people don't know any other way – or don't want to invest in learning about it.

    The third motivator that helps people to change is a rock bottom or a very strong emotional shake or realization.

    It's sad to say, but some people have too many inner wounds to change with the help of the aforementioned motivators. Such people have all or many of these characteristics:
      No responsibility for one's actions. One doesn't understand that they are responsible for their lives and that their actions have consequences.

      Fatalistic understanding of one's life. One thinking that life "just happens" to them, and that they have no influence in it.

      Entitlement and narcissism. One thinks that other people must give them money, time and contact – and if they don't, one feels that such person "is bad", "acts aggressively", or "punishes" them.

      Have a very low self esteem. One extremely undervalues or overvalues oneself.

      Very destructive behavior towards oneself and/or others. One uses physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional abuse towards oneself or others, warps reality by constantly lying to oneself and/or to others, etc.

      A very strong desire to be rescued and taken care of by others. One is psychologically and emotionally very stuck in a state of an abandoned and helpless child. 

      Rock bottom, or emotional shake doesn't mean that we feel a slight discomfort on dissatisfaction with our life. It's a very strong, groundbreaking, eye opening event that might help to change one's life, even if this person has a lot of inner wounds. For example, a person feels so desperate that he drinks excessively, and one evening he drives drunk and kills a child with his car. Or a person loses all of his/her friends and acquaintances because of his/her narcissism and constant lying – and now he/she realizes that he/she is completely alone and have an extremely negative reputation. Or one gets into an accident and both of their legs are broken and paralyzed for life. Or one falls down the stairs, bangs his/her head and becomes blind. Or one gets cancer. Or one's spouse dies.

      Such emotional shakes often are in one way or the other related to death. And it helps people to recognize their mortality, to understand that this thing called life might end any second – and that it will end eventually. And in such instances, even if this person has a lot of inner wounds, it might spark something inside him/her.

      However, the fact also is that a lot of people fundamentally never change.

      So, I wish you to never be motivated only by an emotional shake; I wish you to experience as little internal or external push as possible; and I hope that you have found – or will find – enough positive motivation to live a satisfying life.

      Support my work by becoming a Patreon subscriber for $5/mo or more and get access to bonus articles. And check out my book Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults. Thanks!


      1. What a great article. It makes me think and remember what drives me, what keeps me every day of doing or avoiding something. And I can clearly see the type of my motivation. Thank you, Darius!


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