Can You Actually Motivate Anyone?
Everyone knows that one person who just doesn’t try. Their lives are a mess, but they won’t take any steps to change it. They consistently make bad choices and find themselves in trouble, digging the hole deeper and deeper. Sometimes they have mostly positive lives, but there is one element that makes them unhappy that they could fix, but just won’t do so.
For the loved ones in these people’s lives, it is a constant source of frustration. Offers of help rarely make a difference, and promises to do something about it are forgotten the moment they are said. How do you motivate someone who so obviously doesn’t want to be?
Why Don’t They Change?
When I was growing up I had a friend we will call ‘J’. She was always extremely clever, extremely attractive, extremely charismatic…all qualities that could get her far in life. I always assumed that she would have a fascinating life, and find a place for herself that was fulfilling and just what she wanted. After all, she had the mind to do anything she pleased.
But that wasn’t to be. Now well into our adult lives, I am surprised to report that my own life is much more stable than hers. She is always broke because she can’t hold down a steady job. She drinks constantly and has had enough DUI’s that they placed an ignition interlock device on her car. Her last relationship was very abusive and went on and off for years, despite him nearly killing her twice.
It isn’t a shock that I still get calls in the middle of the night of her sobbing about how her life has turned out. Which is heartbreaking as her friend to listen to her go through. But what is even worse is watching her refuse to make changes that would help to lessen the pain.
While she freely admits that she is an alcoholic and marijuana addict, she won’t get involved with a treatment program. Even when she says she is afraid her addictions will get her killed because of her poor impulse control. She won’t stop sleeping with the man who beats her. J won’t even try to get a real job, go to school or do anything that would help her get some real money.
This is always the question that haunts those of us who watch our loved ones spiral out of control. Maybe your personal experience isn’t with someone so far gone, but the basic idea is the same. They have the power to do something, and they won’t.
I wish I had the answer for you, but it is hard to say for sure why this is. For some, it might be depression. For others it might be laziness. There could even be much deeper elements at work, such as compulsion.
Can They Be Helped?
This is also hard to say. With J, I have found that I can talk until I am blue in the face. Even when she agrees with my rationality, she won’t actually do anything she says she needs to. Which is why I came to the conclusion that it is impossible to help someone unless they want to put in the work to help themselves.
Motivation isn’t enough for some people. At least, not external motivation, or anything abstract. There has to be real consequence, and even they they have to recognize the problem and be dedicated to solving it. Which can take a lot of force from their lives, and might never stick.
Your best bet is to live by example, offer what support you can and hope for the best. If they get too far out of what you are comfortable with, you might have to walk away. You may have to withdraw your assistance for their own good. You know what they say, you have to crawl before you can walk.