Life is full of ideas that most of us just accept without examining them or even being aware of them. Here’s one:
“You can do anything if you want to badly enough.”
This idea is what leads some doctors to try to instill fear in their patients. The approach would even seem to have some merit, because some people do respond to a disease diagnosis or serious warning by making significant and lasting changes.
Before we look at whether this idea is really true, let’s flip it around:
“If you can’t do something, it’s because you don’t want to badly enough.”
Here is where our idea starts to become dangerous. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years either feeling guilty that I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to lose weight, trying to psychoanalyze myself to figure out why I wasn’t sufficiently motivated, or trying to artificially pump myself up to a higher level of motivation. None of this has helped in the least.
It seems to me to be useful to break our idea into two ideas:
“Greater motivation produces greater effort.”
“Greater effort produces better results.”
Both of these statements are suspect, but let’s concentrate on the first one. Does greater motivation lead to greater effort?
There are at least two things that can get in the way of motivation producing effort. The first is when we either do not know what action we could take to move us forward, or we don’t believe that the possible actions we know about would be effective. The other is that though strong desire can spur us to action, it can also paralyze us.
People differ in how they respond to crises. I myself too often responds to a crisis with both mind and body seeming to shut down. Even in a situation that is not a crisis, strong feelings about something that I want to do seem to strangle clear and creative thinking. I have to find a way to view the situation more coolly before I can make progress. This is part of why I think it is dangerous to try to use fear to motivate others.
I once read a friend’s concern for a relative that had been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This relative was not testing his blood, was not making needed changes in his diet, and was not doing the exercise which would have benefited him. It may indeed have been, as my friend assumed, that the relative did not understand his situation and was therefore unmotivated. But, it may also have been that he did understand his situation but was frightened past the point where he could take effective action.
If there are changes that we want to make in your self-care that we can’t seem to pull off, it may not be that we don’t want to change badly enough but that there are other barriers we need to find our way around.