January 14

Change Motivators: Pain, Push, or Pull Forces


I found this article on change motivators to be useful. Pain was my motivator to change as I reached a point where the feeling of being limited became overwhelming and was greater than the discomfort of changing. This is when I knew that I was ready to make a successful life change. A key part of creating lasting change is identifying why you are doing it. This will assist in keeping focused and continuing when the difficult parts of change create challenges.

Here is the article by Arlene Harder from www.support4change.com

Over the years I’ve learned that basically the reason some people want to be the best they can be, while others only like to complain is because the latter type of person isn’t in touch with, or is able to deny the pressure of, what I call “pain, pull, or push forces.” Unless people experience one of them, they are pretty well stuck right where they are.

Pain-Motivated Change

First of all, most people change (or at least are willing to consider changing) if they are in pain. We’re all familiar with this dynamic. When there’s something in our life that makes us uncomfortable, we may initially hope it will go away. If it doesn’t, we start with small and relatively easy steps to change the situation. Finally, if those efforts are unsuccessful, we get to the point that we can’t stand it any more. “I’m sick of this!” we scream. That emotional or physical pain gives us the courage to take other steps that may be more difficult, but are more likely to solve the problem permanently.

The point at which this happens varies widely from person to person. We all experience pain in different ways, but some of us are very good in putting on blinders and ignoring a situation that would drive someone else up the wall. Yet we all have a breaking point. Exactly where and when we reach that point varies from person to person.

For example, take the case of a weight gain of ten to fifteen pounds by a woman who has reached menopause. If she had previously been in top physical condition, has a job that requires interaction with members of the fashion industry, and enjoys looking slim and attractive in her expensive clothes, she will likely be well motivated to take off the weight and keep it off. That weight is painful for her.

On the other hand, suppose she doesn’t work in a job that places emphasis on looks and has friends who are either quite a bit overweight or who have come to accept their weight as okay. There is no great pressure on her to change. So pain is not part of the change equation for this woman, even though her weight may be far from ideal.

Yes, pain is definitely an important ingredient in developing healthy habits. It provides the incentive to work toward the very behaviors that can relieve our pain. For example, it has long been recognized that an alcoholic seldom takes steps to stop drinking until he’s sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the problems alcohol has caused in his life. In fact, if he goes to a therapist who works to build up his “self-esteem” (on the theory that he will then have the courage to join AA or enter into a treatment program), his newfound self-esteem can be counterproductive. Why? Because alcohol and drugs are marvelous self-medicating techniques he can use to keep from looking clearly at the mess he’s made of his life. Having an “expert” tell him he’s “okay” is not as effective as reminding him of the pain he’s in.

However, as much as pain is a good motivation for many people, there are a few problems with focusing only on pain as an incentive to change.

1. Constantly reminding yourself that a given situation is painful keeps that situation at the forefront of your mind. Then, because change is seldom as rapid as we would like, we can be discouraged by the slow progress we’re making and, feeling as though the pain will never go away, may talk ourselves into adapting to difficult situations.

2. An opposite problem occurs when change comes too quickly. It’s not uncommon for clients who enter therapy to deal with a difficult problem to experience a positive change in their situation after seeing a therapist for only a few sessions. Feeling good about this reversal of their lives and assuming change is easy, they convince themselves they no longer need outside assistance. There’s even a name for this phenomenon. It’s called a “flight to health.” So future sessions are cancelled, although there is still a lot of work to reinforce the minor changes that have been made.

3. Pain can actually be viewed as positive by those “martyrs” who use it as a technique to punish and control others. (You may have one of these in your own family.) They unconsciously cling to their pain because they don’t see any other way of getting what they want.

In these cases, a more effective motivation for change may involve an awareness of the forces that can pull us toward change.

Change Created by Being Pulled Toward New Behavior

People change if they are acted upon by forces that can pull them toward modifying their behavior and shifting their perspective of the world, forces that arise in three areas.

The biological imperative to grow and enter the next phase of life

Why does a baby learn to crawl and walk and run? It’s not because the parents want her to. Her body is hardwired to move through these stages. And remember those hormonal changes in adolescence when we began to see classmates of the opposite sex in a different light and weren’t sure what to do with our new feelings? We couldn’t have ignored those changes if we’d wanted to. Even the physical and emotional changes created by increasingly frequent aches and pains of aging offer their own lessons.

Life-cycle stages

Courtship, marriage, birth of children, the launching of grown children and the onset of old age each create different climates that allow for the evolution of personal growth and development. For example, a quest for deeper spiritual meaning often increases in later stages of life. In fact, the more we’re in touch with these naturally occurring “pulls” toward change, the easier it is to shift directions when old patterns no longer fit. As the scriptures note, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sun. . . ”

Response to information and inspiration

Every day in school teachers struggle to instill learning and new ideas that will make a difference in their students’ lives. Thousands of sermons are preached every Sunday in the hope that the words spoken from the pulpit will resonate within the hearts and souls of the congregation and encourage at least a few people to live with renewed commitment to a set of high principles. If you think back on your life, there is sure to be a time when you were inspired by words of encouragement from parents or other relatives, by a teacher, by a friend, by a story you read in the paper, etc. Even more, you have probably been an inspiration to others, even though you may be unaware of it.

Change Forced by a Push from Someone Else or by Circumstances

Now we come to the form of motivation that is the least effective method for creating permanent change, but one that is used by many a spouse and boss. That is the effort to push someone into a corner in order to get them to change as well as the consequence of circumstance that force a person to consider change as the only way out of a bad situation.

Yes, I know, you’d love to demand your significant other make the changes you think would be good for him (and that would sure make your life easier). I’ve tried it. It’s not easy and it seldom works.

When someone is being pushed by another person, the pushee will often make an initial, halfhearted attempt to change so the pusher will get off his back. The wife starts a different diet every week because her husband threatens to leave her if she doesn’t “do something” about her weight. So she satisfies the requirement to “do something,” but it’s permanent and doesn’t get to the root of the problem, which may be the more serious matter of a demanding husband and passive-aggressive wife.

Bosses can be a bit more effective in pushing someone to change because they control the money angle, but the best supervisors know the most effective ways of applying pressure on their employees.

Although being told by someone that you have to change “or else” is seldom a strong enough incentive for permanent change, at least it can cause a person to get their body into a therapist’s office. Once there, if the therapist is perceptive, he or she can discuss why that person might want to change – regardless of whether someone else wants them to change. In fact, the therapist can can often use the fact that a person was “forced” to come in to see them as a springboard for how painful it must be to find themselves in that situation.

Incidentally, if you are in the position of feeling you “have to” do what someone else tells you to do, remember that you ALWAYS have a choice. Unless you are bound and dragged into the office of a therapist or doctor, if you are there, you chose to come, albeit without great enthusiasm. You may not like the choices offered if you didn’t go there, but you did — and that is the first step in acknowledging you ARE in control of your life to a much greater extent than you may want to believe or acknowledge.

When we look at the push of circumstances beyond our control, an excellent example is the change forced on people by the September 11th attacks. The lives of some of the people who were directly involved have had to change because their workplace and homes were destroyed or they have lost an important member of their family.

At the same time, there have been many people who were not directly connected with anyone in New York or Washington or on the planes who, nevertheless, realize they cannot count on the security of a terrorist-free country. The horrendous pictures of carnage on television have forced them to the conclusion that life has more meaning than Jerry Seinfeld and Sex in the City. The outlook and behavior of these people has shifted because someone else has pushed them to see the world from a new perspective. Hopefully many people will make significant changes in what they believe and how they behave. But for too many others, the changes will fade like New Year’s resolutions.

Why Do YOU Want to Change?

In the end, your motivation to change something about yourself may come from a variety of sources, perhaps a little because of pain, a little because you’re inspired to be a better person, and a little because your spouse would like you to stop a habit that’s driving both of you crazy. Becoming aware of your primary motivation to change is the best source for setting off on a new path, a new direction in life.

But it’s not easy to leave the familiar. That’s why I have found it helpful to have clients reinforce their motivation to change by articulating the basic reason why they want to be different than they are. As you read the following examples, notice that some contain more than one of the three basic motivating factors:

“I will stop smoking because I am tired not having enough energy and breath to walk comfortably for a distance that my friends can do easily and I will be left out of the fun activities they plan if I can’t keep up.”

“I am determined to become more assertive because I am sure that unless I learn how to speak up for myself, I won’t get the promotion I really deserve.”

“I am going to work on being less critical of my son because I don’t like the physical tension that always seems to arise when we argue, and I’m afraid that if I don’t back off, I won’t be able see my grandchildren very often.”

“I am going to see a nutritionist and learn how to manage my weight because I know it is very important to my husband and I’d like to live with him for another twenty-eight years. Besides, I want to look better in my clothes.”

No matter who or what the circumstances, every person who is considering changing something about herself or himself has a reason, a motivation to change, that can reinforce and strengthen the resolve to change when change becomes difficult.

Putting These Ideas Into Practice

Here are some ways you might use this article as motivation for change.

1. Make as accurate a statement about what it is you want to change as you can.

2. Be aware of what motivates you to make that change.

3. Write it down.

4. Put the paper some place you will see it often.


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