Using motivational techniques to support changes in those around us

Supporting people in our personal or work life to make positive, healthy or needed changes can be a difficult process and we can often be met with a lot of resistances and resentment. This is routed in the fact that as humans we all want to make our own decisions and be self-determined. Let’s face it, we all hate being told what to do even when we know the other person has a good argument. Therefore, to effectively support others to make important changes, we need to support them to make the argument for themselves.

For example, a friend may regularly express their desire to you to quit smoking, but week after week they don’t appear to have made any changes to their smoking behaviour. In the past, you may have laid out all the cons of smoking and the pros of quitting but it probably made little difference to your friend apart from possibly annoying them and making them feel judged for their actions.

What may appear as ‘Lack of motivation’ to change is often ambivalence. Both sides of the argument are within your friend. If you argue for quitting smoking, an ambivalent person is likely to defend their smoking. As a person defends the status quo, the likelihood of change decreases. Resist the ‘righting reflex’, or the urge to take up the ‘good’ side of ambivalence.

There are, however, several simple techniques that we can all take from the counselling approach of ‘Motivational Interviewing’ to support our discussion with colleagues, friends and family when supporting them to make a decision around important changes. Below are 9 steps we can try out.

1. Ask Evocative Questions – Use Open-Ended Questions
– Why would you want to quit smoking? (Desire)
– How might you go about it quitting, to be successful? (Ability)
– What are the three best reasons for you to quit? (Reasons)
– How important is it for you to quit smoking? (Need)
– So what do you think you’ll do? (Commitment)
2. Ask for Elaboration
When they start to talk about the change, ask for more details:
– How do you see this happening?
– What have you changed in the past that you can relate to quitting smoking?

3. Looking Back
Ask about a time before the current concern emerged:
– How were things better before you started smoking?
– What past events can you recall when things were different?

5. Look Forward
Ask about how they view the future:
– What may happen if things continue as they are? (status quo).
– If you were 100% successful in quitting smoking, what would be different?
– How would you like your life to be in the future?

6. Query Extremes
Ask about the best and worst-case scenarios to bring on further discussion:
– What are the worst things that might happen if you don’t quit smoking?
– What are the best things that might happen if you do quit smoking?

7. Use Change Rulers
Ask open questions about where the client sees themselves on a scale from 1 – 10.
– On a scale where one is not at all important, and ten is extremely important, how
important is it to you to quit smoking?
-Follow up: Explain why are you at a ___ and not (lower number)?
– What might happen that could move you from ____ to a ___[higher number]?

8. Explore Goals and Values
Ask what the person’s guiding values are.
– What do they want in life?
– How does smoking fit into your value system?
– What ways does smoking conflict with your value system?

9. Come Alongside
Side with the negative (status quo) side of ambivalence.
– Perhaps smoking is so important to you that you won’t give it up, no matter what
the cost.
– There might be more important things to focus on at the moment.

By using some of the above strategies you can help to empower those around you to make the right decision for them depending on their values, abilities and what’s most important to them at their stage of life. Changes that we make that are connected to our own values rather than to just please others are much more likely to stick and help us move towards a life that we can be healthy and content in.

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