What Motivates People?
Seven Factors that Motivate Change
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2018 (edited January 13, 2022)
What motivates people to change? We must understand factors that motivate to persistently pursue our desires for growth.
We dream about fabulous things; many of those dreams are within our reach. But lost in the fantasies, we overlook necessary steps to achieving those dreams. Sometimes, the dream isn’t a goal but just an escape, lost in spectacular thoughts—a raise, a partner, a sexy body—we avoid the stress of present realities. We hinge our future happiness on a magnificent achievement, entertaining how this momentous change will reconfigure our life without really making steps towards the cherished hope. Occasionally, significant change occurs, transforming everything; but this isn’t common. Even after a momentous change, we often settle, returning to previous routines and familiar feelings.
Change is difficult; and rarely fulfills magical escaping thoughts designed to dismiss painful existence. Life continues to be life, with joys and sorrows, gains and losses, friends and foes. By understanding (and accepting) the realities of life, we invite patience to challenge the difficulties of new directions and brighter futures.
Security and Growth
Within our bosoms, two warring parties collide, fighting for dominance: The desire to change and demands for security.
Laws of motion dictate that travelling in the same direction is easier than altering course. Our histories, whether healthy or destructive, are intricately woven to present realities. People, places and patterns are marked with learned emotions; when an encounter has familiarity, we react (and feel) with a learned response.
Experience creates connections—emotional ties to the events and people. The mind stubbornly clings to those memories, when similar conditions invade, the emotions lurch to action pushing for the same actions we followed in the past. We might know better, logic recognizes the futility of those actions, but the habits interfere, demanding the path of ease, finding security in the unhealthy sameness. Change requires redirecting learned and habitual actions against the impulses of learned emotions.
Identifying faulty reactions is uncomfortable, often prompting feelings of incompleteness; we harass our equilibrium with brutish judgments of fault. Self-meanness is unnecessary—and detrimental. Our harshness and painful examinations close the self and the momentary insights dip back into the darkness. Instead of enlightenment, we protect with distortions, defensive reactions, and walls of protection. Faults hide behind these protective walls. Defenses unexamined flourish, gaining strength, harming connections, while sabotaging opportunities.
"Our harshness and painful examinations close the self and the momentary insights dip back into the darkness."
Motivation and Self-Compassion
Change requires self compassion, instead of judgmental criticism. We can enjoy awe in our humanity.
“…the process of self-observation, reflection, and change is basically a self-loving task. It will not flourish in an atmosphere of terminal seriousness, self-flagellation, or self-blame.” Harriet Lerner (2005).
We can intervene and reprogram the mind. Self-modification is difficult, often demanding assistance. Subjective interpretations, deceptive protections and fears invade, knocking us off course. Frustrated by reality, we give in. “The hell with it,” we return to the security of habits, allowing current trajectories to remain, and seek comfort in magical unfulfilled dreams.
Factors Motivating Change
Albert Ellis, father of rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), after decades of working with struggling patients, understood the difficulties in purposeful change:
“We can realistically say that with the exception of a few individuals who decide to change and then find it rather easy to do so, the great majority of people find it difficult to change and stay changed.” (2007)
Ellis identified several factors, that when present, aided motivation for change. These factors are:
We can sing the beautiful song of hope. Our lives are not hopelessly lost to the perils of the past. We can change with careful and consistent effort. When stuck and change seems impossible, we may need a different approach from a more basic level; instead of focusing on the end desired behavior, we can focus on the building blocks of well-being that proceeds the action, while continuing to seek support, encourage hope, and courageously fight the battles against misguided motivations. And that, my friends, is the work of a lifetime.
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Ellis, A. (1976). Overcoming Resistance: A Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy Integrated Approach; (2002)
Learners, H. (2005). The Dance of Fear: Rising Above Anxiety, Fear, and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self. Perennial Currents; Reprint edition