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How do I motivate myself to change?

When it comes to motivation, I think of Dr. Doolittle’s two-headed, push-pull llama. On the one “head,” you are pushed away from the problem because you can’t stand it any longer. On the other “head,” you are pulled toward change and a new behavior. Two energy sources -- pushed and pulled -- will prove superior to only one. Double your motivation by being repelled by the negative past while being drawn to the positive future.

Achieving this balance is no easy trick. Some of you, particularly those raised in households relying on punishment and fire-and-brimstone tactics, will spend too much time feeling the fear and ruminating on your behavioral sins. Guilt can initiate behavior change but can rarely sustain it over the long haul. Others of you, particularly those raised in more permissive households with humanistic or New Age leanings, will lean excessively on the imagery of your flowery, sunny future. Please engage in a healthy mix of both.
 
When I coach people on the push-pull balance, almost everyone immediately grasps its value. Then comes the question, “How can we practice that balance?”

Here are four exercises for finding the middle way between too much of the dark past or the bright future.
  1. Analyze the amount of mental time you devote to ruminating about the current problem versus the amount of time you devote to fantasizing about the glorious future free of that problem. Literally count the minutes or hours. That will help you to maintain a 50-50 division.
  2. Every time you reflect on your problem, develop a habit of considering both the nasty present and the wonderful future after you change. Train yourself to reflect on both, especially if you’ve been concentrating on a single side. 
  3. Write a goodbye letter to your problem or old way of being. Put your heart into the letter or, as one recent patient did, a videotape. Explain the harm the problem has caused you and others and then how leaving it will improve your life. Ensure that both the push away from the past and the pull toward the future are equally represented in your letter. 
  4. Spend some time in front of the mirror. Talk to yourself and emotionally release your disgust or hatred of how the problem has controlled you. Then, spend an equal amount of time and emotion letting yourself know how excited and eager you are to move toward that bright future. Mirror work may feel a bit odd or foolish, but it works convincingly for many self-changers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.