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Helping Others Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

The Do's and Don'ts of Motivating Others
  -- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
If you’ve been working hard to lose weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle, you probably know how difficult that can be, and how important it is to have the support and help of others who are doing the same thing. You’ve probably been inspired by someone else’s success, gotten some important advice, or found a sympathetic listener just at the precise moment when, otherwise, you might have given up. Maybe that happens for you nearly every day.

When important people in your life are also struggling with weight problems or making healthy decisions, you probably want to give them the same help and support you’ve received from others. Easy enough—as long as they’re looking for what you have to offer.

But what do you do when someone you care about doesn’t seem to want to change her lifestyle or lose weight, even though she's putting herself at risk? What if she really wants the results of eating well and exercising regularly, but isn’t so keen on doing the things that make those results happen? How can you motivate someone to do what you know she needs to do—is that even possible?

What You Can't Do
Conventional wisdom says that you can’t motivate someone else. Maybe you can, however, inspire her with your own good example, give her the information she needs to solve problems, or support her when the going gets tough. But like the proverbial light bulb, that person is not going to change her behavior unless and until she wants to change it, and is ready and willing to do what has to be done. The desire and readiness have to come from inside.

This conventional wisdom is probably true, but all it really tells you is what you can’t do to motivate someone else. You can’t provide her with a good reason to get healthy, you can’t persuade her to do it by the sheer brilliance of your logic and persuasive techniques, and you can't convince her by the persistence of your nagging, suggestions, bribes, threats, predictions of disaster, or other manipulative devices. Until the object of your concern wants to do something about her situation, anything you tell her is going to fall on deaf ears.<pagebreak>

So, if you’re currently doing any of those things I just mentioned, knock if off before it messes up your relationship and drives both you and the person you’re concerned about crazy with frustration and resentment.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. How many people do you know who really want to be unhealthy and overweight, and wouldn’t prefer to look better, feel better, and be as healthy as possible? When someone “isn’t motivated” to lose weight or live a healthy lifestyle, the problem is probably not that she isn't ready or willing to enjoy the obvious benefits of healthy eating and exercise. If things were as simple as that, she’d make those changes in a minute.

More likely, the problem is that, to her, she's "benefiting" (in some way) from the way she's doing things now, and she isn’t sure she’ll still get those same benefits if she makes big changes in her life. Your best chance for motivating her to make desirable changes is to find out what she's getting out of her “unhealthy” behaviors now, and what you can do to help her get those same things without paying the price of obesity, inactivity, and higher health risks.

Let’s take a look at what this means in practical terms.

What You Can Do
So, if you want to get your spouse or your kids to join in your efforts to eat healthy, put away those carrot sticks with the cottage cheese dip, and have a little contest to see who can come up with the tastiest and most nutritious new meal or snack ideas—the winner gets out of doing dishes. If you want to get the kids off the phone or the computer and on their feet moving around, don’t start with rules and limits, start by finding something they like to do, and offer to do it with them. You get the idea.

The good news is that a healthy lifestyle is something that most people will actually find pleasant and rewarding, once they give it a chance to grow on them. You can’t make that happen for others, or even convince them to try when they don’t want to. But with a little thought and luck, you might just provide the Spark that gets the fire going.