Motivation?

I hosted a dinner party for 10 work friends last night.  We were a mix of designers, VCs, and tech developers gathered over beautiful food and wine to discuss innovation, collaboration, and ways to make a quality impact in health care.

My new 1 drink per sitting goal flew out the window.  I had 3-4 glasses of wine during the evening, which last night was pure joy. Not so much this morning. This morning I am thinking and moving slowly, and I’d rather start my morning with serenity and efficiency. In reflecting on my drinking behavior, most people would say “well, you’re just not motivated enough to stick to your goal.” This is the most common reaction we hear in the world of health behavior change: If someone fails to adhere to their prescribed behavior modification, “they just aren’t motivated enough.”

I disagree. I believe (and have seen) that ~95% of the time people are motivated enough. My desire to limit my alcohol intake to 1 drink per sitting is strong. Because this is a new behavior change goal, though,  I am heavily reliant on extrinsic factors to bolster my motivation. I need my physical and social environments to enhance my 1 drink per sitting behavior. Nothing about last evening did that. In fact, the wine was actually smiling at me:

I could have asked my friends in attendance last night to help me stick to 1 glass; I could have asked someone I love to check in with me (phone call or text message); I could have put away my wine glass; I could have placed the wine bottles at the other end of the table and placed the pitcher of water right in front of me. …

When someone is first starting out with a new behavior change goal, they need a lot of hand holding. Especially when most of the reasons for changing are extrinsic. Motivation is not static; it ebbs and flows.  Designing effective ways to harness motivation is a critical challenge to solve for health behavior change.

One comment

  1. Love this post, beautiful insight.

    I would also add that in my experience, it’s constructive to think of these things not as *goals* (static outcomes where the only options are success or failure), but as *processes*, where you have to practice on an ongoing basis and change is part of the game. Change in motivation, change in results, sometimes even change in the underlying goal itself, as you learn what’s really important to you.

    Language is so important here. Simply using the word “goal” tells a story to people about the nature of the beast. What happens when you use a different word? “experiment”, “practice”, “journey” etc are all interesting ways to help people think of the core subject in a more realistic and constructive way.

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