What motivates people to change? While many people know what they need to do to be healthier and happier, the majority of people don’t act on that knowledge. There’s a disconnect between what they know and what they do. For some reason, in looking at life’s priorities, many people do not place health and happiness high enough up the list to be an active participant in making it happen.
There’s a new field of behavioral research that has produced a set of ideas called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). The focus of this research is on how people actually make positive changes in their lives – changes like quitting smoking, losing weight, and becoming physically active. It’s important for people to understand this because your state of health depends more on what you do and don’t do every day of your life, than on anything else.
What do people need to change? Psychologists have identified three things human beings need to change for the better.
- AUTONOMY-an individual needs to feel that s/he is making their own decisions and for their own reasons.
- COMPETENCE-an individual needs to feel confidence in their ability to change, and in the availability of help if they need it.
- RELATEDNESS-an individual is more likely to make changes when they feel a personal connection with a practitioner, friend, or family member who makes the individual feel respected, understood, and cared for.
Research coming out of the field of SDT is showing that some reasons for change work better than others. Profound reasons for change work better than more superficial ones. For example, obese people who were motivated to lose weight by the desire to be more healthy, lost more weight and maintained their weight loss better than those who said they were motivated by the wish to look more attractive. SDT has identified intrinsic goals such as personal growth, physical health, and good relationships as being more satisfying goals than the extrinsic ones of being more attractive, acquiring wealth, or having fame.
Frequently, the process of change begins with helping someone to first identify their most heartfelt goals. By developing an awareness of one’s intrinsic goals and achieving an alignment of one’s behavior with deeply held goals and values, motivation is successful in helping people achieve and maintain long-lasting change.
Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance. He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”