Richard G. Petty, MD

Motivation, Manipulation and Empowerment

It would be good to know how many people really change after they’ve done one of those motivational seminars. Undoubtedly some do, but most do not.

This stands in stark contrast to inspirational speakers who often change people for life.

If you try to “motivate” an adult to change their behavior, after an initial brief period during which they get excited about what they are learning, they will most likely resist what they perceive as manipulation. People who do change normally don’t maintain the new behavior because the primary motivation was external.

If we are trying to help people eat a more healthy diet, or take some exercise, research has shown that the best way to initiate and maintain a new behavior is for an individual to have an expert who can teach, guide and facilitate. That together with a peer supporter: someone who will help you along, and diet and exercise with you. You know yourself better than anyone else ever can.

The trick is to work with someone who may know a bit more about psychology, physiology and metabolism and can use that information to help you to develop a personalized program. The expert can help you move forward by asking question to identify your own motivators, locus of control (do you feel that you are the captain of your own ship, or do you believe that you are more a plaything of fate?) ego-fears, reward system and action style (do you like to break tasks down into small steps and work at one at a time in sequence, or do you like to work on one task, then pull out something else that like to do and do you have some other way of getting things done?)

There was recently a study from the UK that showed that the behavior of children with special needs was improved by a good diet and regular exercise. No surprise there. But the problem is this: how do you maintain the diet and exercise programs?

I spent many years working with young people with weight problems and/or diabetes. They usually also had some mood or behavioral problems. Issuing young people with a great long list of “Thou shalt nots” is guaranteed to backfire: youngsters are rebellious anyway. Tell them all the things that they can’t do, and force them into eating a certain way, and you will have a rebellion on your hands that will make the Storming of the Bastille look like a picnic. It is much better to come to an agreement that may include having days on which they can “cheat.”

A while ago I wrote about the way in which psychologists have moved beyond the pain/pleasure dichotomy as the major motivators of human behavior. Rewards and punishments are called extrinsic motivators, while intrinsic motivators are a composite of genes, learning, environment and temperament. I gave a few examples of motivators culled from the current literature:

  1. Clarity of vision
  2. Encouragement
  3. Personal engagement
  4. Recognition
  5. Pride
  6. Free flow of energy and information
  7. Appropriate reward systems (money is often not the best one!)
  8. Personal and group expectations
  9. Creating shared goals
  10. Transpersonal motivation: Inspiration and leaving a legacy.

I had several excellent questions: couldn’t people practice altruism because it gives them pleasure? Yes, they could, but that is not what the research data shows. Though people can derive pleasure from all kinds of things, the evidence base suggests that human motivations are far more complex.

It has also become possible to visualize regions of the brain while people are engaged in different tasks, and altruism does not seem to engage most of the circuits that we normally associate with pleasure or pain.

Yet more evidence that pleasure and pain and far from being the only – or maybe even the main – motivators of human behavior.

“No one ever does anything from a single motive”
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge (English Romantic Poet, 1772-1834)

“No one can motivate you, until you motivate yourself.”
–Jawaharlal Nehru (Indian Politician and Statesman, 1889-1964)

“Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people.”
–Lee Iacocca (American Businessman and Former CEO of Chrysler, 1924-)

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

–Jim Rohn (American Businessman, Author, Speaker and Philosopher)

“Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.”

–Sri Swami Sivananda (Indian Physician and Spiritual Teacher, 1887-1963)

“The need for devotion to something outside ourselves is even more profound than the need for companionship.”

–Ross Parmenter (American Expert on Mixtec Documents, Journalist and Music Reviewer for the New York Times, 1920-1999)

“He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.”

–Confucius (Chinese Philosopher, 551-479 B.C.E.)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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