Motivated: The Essential First Step

To change a habit, forget "motivation" and get a motivator.

Posted Jan 28, 2010

"I'd really like to change, but I have no motivation."

I taught a class on habit change for ten years, and I wish I had $100 for every time I heard this statement, or something like it.

My standard answer became: "You don't need motivation; you just need a motivator."

"Having motivation" may sound like the same thing as "having a motivator." But most people don't believe that they have motivation--a term that conjures up images of Marine-like self-discipline or some mysterious, innate quality that only a fortunate few possess.

A powerful motivator is something everyone can have, because everyone can choose a motivator. There are pain motivators, like fear of dying or getting a disease. There are meaningful motivators that bring a stronger sense of purpose to your life, like being a good role model for your children, vitality, or healthy relationships. There are even "not-so-noble" motivators like vanity that work quite well indeed. As long as your motivator doesn't hurt you or others, works to get you going, and is in the service of a worthwhile change, it's probably a fine motivator. You just need to find something of vital importance to you--a passion.

Falling in love with your motivator might not happen overnight. But once you have a motivator that you value, you can begin to cultivate a "whatever it takes" attitude. "He who has a why can endure any how," said Friedrich Nietzsche, and he was right.

As I was writing Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success, I discovered what I really believe in, and I believe in motivators. The vision of my book-to-be was such a strong motivator that it kept me going through bouts of self-doubt, uncertainty, fear, and rejection. I was motivated because I had a motivator!

If you've chosen a motivator, I hereby dub you motivated! Ta-da!

Motivators are necessary, but may not be sufficient, for long-lasting change. Successful changers also make specific resolutions, follow specific plans, or join programs, like AA, to keep them going.  They learn to bounce back from slips and relapses. Still, consciously choosing a powerful motivator is the essential first step toward change. In subsequent posts, I'll reveal research evidence that supports this idea.

So, if you want to be motivated, start by asking yourself, "What's my motivator?"  Readers, what's your motivator?

© Meg Selig

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