What Motivates Us To Change

As long as I remember I’ve been a high-energy person. Running small projects outside of my 9-5 working hours, and learning new skills and hobbies are a part of my existence. If I am not doing that there is something missing in my life. Call it a search for purpose, an expression of who we are or ants in the pants it is the same thing. 

I am not alone in this. I asked my elderly neighbour Barry what keeps him busy. I assumed that he retired in a stereotypical way. You know – coffee in the morning and a leisurely walk in the park until late afternoon stuff. It turns out that Barry runs two businesses and recently opened another one. “Otherwise I would be bored s$%less” – he said. 

I only recently found out that Barry was 86 years young. I ran into a lady that shared an apartment with him and asked if he is well after not seeing him for a week. Apparently, Barry was celebrating his birthday while skiing in Thredbo. Yes, we do have snow in Australia. And no I have never tried skiing but now I really want to. Needless to say, Barry is my local everyday role model. I want to be like him one day.

Coming from a Slavic background alcohol was always present at family get-togethers, celebrations and after-work stress reduction sessions. Despite several attempts to reduce alcohol consumption in the Soviet Union the culture of drinking stayed. Neither hiked prices, removal of drinking scenes from the movies or limited alcohol sales to individuals on special occasions like weddings helped. My grandfather who was a man of many talents got tired of the government’s attempts to control his drinking habits. He built his own spirit still and produced moonshine for the whole family back in the 80s. 

I always regarded alcohol as a double edge sword. I saw it as the cohesive social glue that reduced inhibitions and made usually stern and serious relatives and workmates dance at weddings and office parties. It helped resolve conflicts by allowing people to speak their minds. But it also ruined families and got people in trouble if they did not have a balanced relationship with it. Some argue that if alcohol was invented today it would be placed on a banned substances list.

I would like to think that I have a healthy relationship with it. I always appreciated how every nation has its own drink that is deeply rooted in its tradition and culture. A case in point is a documentary about tequila production in Mexico which is often run as a family business. I also had my share of dry experiences inspired by youtube personalities and health research. I found that while I felt pretty good it robbed me of social interactions and put pressure to conform while spending time with friends. I would always come back to my social hangouts with a glass of wine because I missed those moments.

In the recent few years, however, I noticed that even a couple of drinks left me with a lingering feeling of low energy. Writing becomes a chore, and running in the morning is a calory-burning necessity rather than a joyful hopping around the park. My usually chatty self goes away for a couple of days. Seeing this change I was faced with a dilemma – do I take the performance hit in an effort to maintain my social circle or find another way to socialise?

Because being who I am is important to me the choice was pretty simple – find activities that are still fun but do not include drinking. While I will probably never go completely cold turkey I will always find a way to limit my alcohol intake to a couple of days a year.

There is a concept of motivation away and toward in the self-development literature. We take action because we are trying to avoid pain or gain pleasure. A person with their habits and environment is a system that always seeks equilibrium. This does not always mean a healthy balanced state. It just means that things will continue running the way they are until they no longer can. We, humans, have a superpower ability to predict the future based on the direction we are heading and create an equilibrium that is good for us.

I had a workmate who was a longtime smoker. The ongoing joke was that because he always smoked on the same corner near the office building he ended up on Google map street view photo with a cigarette in his hand. I never expected him to quit and accepted that it was part of his identity. Until the day he got concerned with chest pain. Doctors could not pinpoint what the cause was but there was a chance that his heart would be affected in the long run. He quit on the spot.

The famous now Tony Robbins started his career by helping hardcore smokers to quit. He would make them smoke the whole pack creating a negative association with the habit. I trust Tony that the success rate was high. In that situation after choking on smoke for a couple of hours and hearing him yell I wouldn’t be able to look at the sticks ever again.

Equally a positive experience or emotion can be a strong motivation to take an action. While our ancestors were spending hours looking for sweet fruit these days we are motivated to save money for a holiday or a fun new toy.

The avoidance of pain and seeking pleasure is deeply rooted in our nature as a survival mechanism and we should use it to our advantage. In my experience the two work as an ancient balance scale with pain and pleasure placed on both sides. We will choose whichever side seems to be of importance to us. In my healthy non-smoker now colleague story after the doctor’s visit the pain was added to the scale outweighing the pleasure of smoking. 

We do not need to wait for bad news from a doctor to make changes in our lives. It needs an honest appraisal of the situation and a clear picture of the future if we keep everything unchanged. That appraisal can come from a friend, a sudden realisation or a self-reflection – they are all good sources.

As for the picture of the future let me share with you a part of the script from the GROW coaching model. I use it when trying to create motivation that can prompt someone to take an action. Steps 1-4 and 6-8 create clarity and specific details of what the end result will look like. Step 5 creates a positive motivation toward. 

Ask your friend to read it out to you while you are going through the steps in your mind.  And feel free to message me if you want my help with this process. 

Here we are and enjoy!

Before moving to the questions think of the issue that you are experiencing and would like to change how things are right now. What impact this had on your life? If you could fix this what benefit it would have on your business, life or health? What could you achieve if you overcome this challenge?

  1. Think about your issue and in your mind’s eye go forward in time to when the issue is, as you want it to be.
  1. What do you see that shows you have solved the problem or achieved the goal?
  1. What are you doing that shows you have achieved your goal?
  1. What are the other people doing or saying that tells you that you have succeeded in this issue?
  1. How do you feel? Take a moment to fully experience the feeling. Now amplify this feeling by 10 times. How do you feel now?
  1. When do you want to be in this position – the one that you can see in your mind’s eye?  You must have a time scale in mind.  Next week? Next month?  Next year? In 5 years?
  1. How challenging or exciting is achieving this goal?
  1. How will you know that you have achieved your goal?  Is there a measure that you can use?

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