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Motivation Articles  ›  Inspiring Stories

Helping Others Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

The Do's and Don'ts of Motivating Others

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
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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.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • This is a great article. No one wants to start a healthy lifestyle if they are going to be deprived of certain foods and strictly dictated to go out there and exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week! Making it fit into your lifestyle makes the journey enjoyable and fun! - 9/13/2013 8:18:16 AM
  • This is something I definitly can relate to. I love the changes that I've made and how they reflect upon my life. Every day I feel like I have more energy from eatting right, I think more clearly, and I finally can get a decent nights sleep! I feel better and I'm more confident...

    So when I talk about how happy being healthy has made me, it feels like a double edge sword. On one hand, I feel like everyone should give this a try because it's such a great way to improove quality of life... but on the other hand, I never want to sound preachy or like I am boasting / bragging, so more often then not I won't say much of anything at all unless it's to another friend of mine who already see's eye to eye on being fit and active - 8/20/2012 10:59:30 AM
  • I agree with your entire article. I have several friends that wish they could lose weight but when I tell them what I do, the typical response is "oh I can't do that''. Maybe they can't do exactly what I do but they can do something to move toward the healthier choice in food or exercise. This article confirms my thoughts that the immediate reward is outweighing the future results. Thanks for your article. - 8/18/2012 7:27:34 PM
  • CHRISTINASP
    A very good article, thanks.
    What is confusing to me is that some people keep SAYING they want to live healthier, quit smoking, stop using weed etcetera. They ask for help, even. Then when I say yes to their request for help and offer suggestions of what they could do, they don't do it, and some even start argueing with ME for 'wanting to change them'... telling me 'I don't know what it's like to be addicted' (umm yes I do).
    I'm slowly beginning to learn to turn away at that point. Because they apparently prefer to spend their energy argueing with me over DOING something about their problem...
    I'd love an article / elaboration about what to do when people insist they want to change and then... don't do it. - 8/18/2012 2:38:43 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    Trying to get someone else to stick to a diet is like trying to get someone to quit smoking. If that person does not have the desire and self-discipline to do what needs to be done, all the prompting, encouraging, example-setting you do, won't make a bit of difference.

    Each of us had to have that AHA! moment when we choose to take control of our health. We might need some guidance or assistance to make better choices - but the final choice remains ours. Just like I can't make my husband use less salt (high blood pressure), he can't make me give up my favorite dessert - only I can do that.

    Sometimes our motivation is high, other times we make the wrong choices - but it is up to the individual to make the right decisions.

    So, the next time someone asks you to motivate them, tell them the only one who can truly motivate a person is him or herself. - 8/18/2012 2:13:03 PM
  • ALDEBARANIAN
    *Sigh* With Coach Dean's articles I always have to slow down and read more carefully. And then put a little soothing ointment on the sore spots. Why is the real stuff always harder than cotton candy cliches? Thanks Coach. - 8/18/2012 9:36:16 AM
  • Enjoyed this article and the excellent advice really resonated. Thank you! - 7/31/2012 9:26:28 PM
  • Everyone needs a sounding board a good listener. Coupled with a good example and lots of understanding we can all share a spark that can ignite someone into action. Thanks for a wonderful article - 7/25/2012 5:51:22 PM
  • Yes, there is nothing more annoying than someone who is basically asking "Why can't you be more like me?" "Look how good I am."

    I remember when we had exercise classes at work. One of the women asked the instructor why a woman would want to do strength training. Her response? "So you can look like me!" Oh, yeah, that really inspired. We all just shook our heads and moved on. - 4/25/2012 7:48:31 AM
  • Once again, Dean, you´ve hit the nail on the head! I´ve been worried about my husband´s lack of real interest in bettering his health. This article gives me the tools that I need to be a real helpmate to him. - 12/31/2011 9:25:01 AM
  • WALTZING1950
    This is an excellent article. . . a good reminder that sometimes the best gift we can give someone is our undivided attention and listening skills. Also, though it is difficult not to "nag", the usual results of that kind of comment it resistance! I need those reminders about patience and waiting for that "lightbulb" moment. Thank you for this great article. - 9/4/2011 10:53:33 AM
  • There was such a vigorous discussion on the Daily Spark about doctors trying (or not) to get people to lose weight, and this excellent article made me reflect again how as a health care provider, that "light bulb" has to go off before I could realistically help someone make the changes necessary to be healthier. Thanks for such a good article, and food for thought. - 1/17/2011 4:32:26 PM
  • MARSHA48
    Be a leadr, be an example to help others as yourself. - 1/12/2011 12:21:37 PM
  • the one lifestyle choice or change i have tried to help someone with is my son and his smoking.
    i quit over 12 years ago, now he is 25 and has smoked about 6 years, i try in vain to get him to quit. - 7/8/2010 9:40:19 AM
  • Badgering someone about their health and choices is certainly worthless at best, and this article gives some good advice and reasoning to avoid that. I've found that a simple invitation to include someone in a good activity is also (sometimes) effective- "hey I'm going for a walk, do you want to come?" is sometimes an awfully powerful first step with someone. Lead by example and invite people along (no lectures attached!) works for me! - 4/24/2009 5:58:18 PM