I occasionally lead groups, and I recently gave a talk on “How to motivate your unmotivated child.” Change is hard, even for therapists. We recently moved our therapy office, and as much as I am glad to have our new space, there are so many logistics to it: moving files securely, creating a welcoming therapeutic space, changing our address etc.).
So how do we motivate ourselves to deal with change in the best way possible?
I suggest stepping back to look at the big picture: focus on finding life purpose and autonomy & mastery. In this post, I’ll talk about life purpose. In the next post, I’ll talk about autonomy & mastery.
Developing talents and skills is a significant source of internal pride and positive external feedback. Developing a sense of purpose can improve motivation to tackle a difficult issue in life or to taking care of ourselves physically and mentally. Take a moment to consider what your larger goals and values are – what kind of person do you want to be? Where do you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years? Then, what kind of steps do you need to take to get there? Break it down into manageable components and timelines. Write down some goals and a simple way or “yardstick” to measure progress.
Make sure it’s not all in your head, and defeat your inner critic by getting external feedback from people who care about you and who see possibilities and openings in life. Ask for specific positive feedback – from a trusted friend, mentor or therapist. Discuss and get feedback on what went well. Don’t go for general comments like “You did a good job.” Instead more useful examples are, “I appreciate that even though it was cold this morning, you put on your running shoes and went outside to run anyway!” or “I can see how much you got done by taking care of three little tasks on your to do list right away before tackling a bigger task.” Ask for celebration from loved ones (and yourself) when you achieve each step.
As you move forward, keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing. Think about what you already do, and how that can help you feel motivated. If you love dancing but hate running, reach for your dancing shoes instead of going out and buying a pair of running shoes that will collect dust. Ask your friends to send you supportive messages every time you tackle a big task. We function much better when we are part of a nurturing, supportive, healthy community. If you don’t have a community like this, you may need to begin to build this through mentors and other like-minded people.
An example for parents
As a child, I was good at sports – especially swimming. Part of my life purpose even then was that I loved relating to other people, building relationships, and having adventures. My brother is a musician, but I hated music lessons – this was clearly not my purpose!
My parents encouraged me to stick with my love of swimming, and my best friend and I took lessons together. My parents, friends, and community reinforced those talents socially. I had a mental picture of the kind of swimmer I wanted to be, which helped me stay focused on training. My best friend also swam with me, ensuring that we had adventures together. I learned self-motivation through swimming and translated that skill into other areas. So, in the current situation of moving and changing space, I get my family to help me organize and set up my office. I keep a mental picture of what kind of office I want, and this motivates me to deal with all those logistical challenges.
What is your life purpose? What is your child’s current life purpose? How can you build both the internal motivation and external support to change?
Dr. Cory Nyamora
Dr. Cory Nyamora is an endurance sports coach with certifications from USAT and USATF, a licensed clinical psychologist, and the founder of Endurance – A Sports & Psychology Center, Inc. He provides endurance coaching for beginner and experienced athletes, as well as psychotherapy services to children, adults, and families.
You can purchase audio recordings of Dr. Nyamora’s talks to parents about working with their kids here: Fit Family System