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.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

One way to motivate yourself to take action and make needed changes is to force yourself to recognize an unpleasant truth. In this video, psychologist Barry Michels and psychiatrist Phil Stutz, Dr. Oz Show guests and authors of The Tools explain a simple strategy that can help you take charge of your life.

Vincent Burke
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Sometimes we think we have to change, but in fact, we just have to find ourselves and change how we feel about ourselves and not focus on how to change others feelings about us. Many of us are caught up in the moment of "what others think we should be". I find many people have been trapped, feeling lost and out of control because of the pressure others put on us. If we slow down, reflect and take time to write a personal mission statement and a vision statement about ourselves (like every successful company) this would be a good start to find who you are, what you stand for and values and your future ideas. This is the first step to your personal contract and goals that may help you decide if you need to change or just change the people you are with, i.e. friends, work, and/or family. Change takes time and effort and when we need to and it is not possible to do it alone. You need to first align yourself up with a positive team who is encouraging. Next, take one day at a time and be flexible to modify but strong enough to stay on course. Small goals are best that are realistic. I always tell my clients and patients who need to loose over 75 lbs take the pressure off and loose 2 lbs. They often feel much better and say 2 lbs is more durable than 75 lbs. The turtle always wins the race!

"Excellence can only occur if one has the desire to change" -vmb

Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine

Shifting your mind set – becoming physically active

Mental modeling is an important skill I work on with the world class athletes I consult with on a daily basis. Mental models are deeply held internal images of who we are and how we interact with the world around use (Senge, 1990). This process can be both aspirational and inspirational and is designed to help us understand how our mental models affect our behavior and to then challenge our familiar ways of thinking and acting. 

How does this apply to you? Take a minute to reflect on who you are as a person -What do you do? What do you value? What are you good at? What is your role in your family? What do you look like? What is your educational background? How do others view you? Are you physically active and healthy? 

The answers to these simple questions speak to your internal image of who you are and how you interact with the world. If you are currently physically inactive or just starting out on your change journey, it is unlikely that you have a strong mental model of yourself as being healthy and physically active. To be honest your mental model is probably a significant barrier to change. You have not been active for a long time; you do not think like what you see in the mirror in the morning; the thought of exercising scares you; going to a gym is a non-starter; your body image is not positive; you are not strong or physically fit. 

Clearly an important first step in the process of change is to challenge who we currently are and create a new mental model – one that defines who we aspire to be.  

- Redefine your relationship with physical activity. Instead of seeing what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. Find activities that you enjoy and people you want to be around as you embark on this journey. 

- Become mentally what you have always wanted to be.

- Redefine your body and what it means to you. Take control of the way you think and feel about your body. Be aspiration and take control of the way you interact through your body with society.

Without this critical step it is unlikely that you will ever being able to change your behavior.
You can motivate yourself to change because you do have control over making changes. Doing this includes an awareness around what you want to change and evaluating why you haven't already made the change. Unfortunately, most motivation to change generally begins with several other 'conditions'. A few of those conditions include: pressure from family members who want you to get healthier, a spouse/partner who wants you to live a long, active life without disease and illness and actual changes in your health. For example, many people who have not exercised and then who have been diagnosed with a disease or illness finally come to recognize the importance exercise has on their quality of life. This can and usually does help motivate a person to change. 

Continue Learning about Healthy Habits

You’re Never Too Young to Age Well
You’re Never Too Young to Age Well
Aristotle said it first and best: “Good habits formed in youth make all the difference.” But it’s tough to know at 15 that your hunched posture while ...
Read More
How can I create a relaxing home environment?
Dr. Vonda Wright, MDDr. Vonda Wright, MD
While we can't always get away to the white sand beaches and relax, we can create a bit of sanctuary...
More Answers
5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Life
5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Life5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Life5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Life5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Life
Give your health a boost by spring cleaning all the spaces in your life.
Start Slideshow
What Are Some Healthier Substitutions for Diet Soda?
What Are Some Healthier Substitutions for Diet Soda?

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.