Motivation Tips from WebMD Health Coaches

Motivation: The Key to Unlimited Potential
Lighting the fire to actively create positive changes.

By Matt Ferguson, WebMD Health Services


Most people readily acknowledge that motivation is the desire to do something but is it really that simple? While motivation can start with a mere thought or verbalization, it must be followed up by visible action—and anchored by a clear vision. Without these things, the thoughts and words tied to a desire for change remain empty and powerless.

Synonyms like catalyst, fire, impetus and drive illustrate the active, forward-looking and positive aspects associated with motivation. They reinforce the essential need for motivation in order to achieve a positive change.

On the other hand, antonyms like block, deterrent, hindrance and even depression call attention to the stagnancy and negativity that result when true motivation is not present.

If your well-being program is all about helping people make positive changes in their lives, motivation will be an important concept for you. Can motivation be cultivated? If so, how? We decided to ask three WebMD Health Services Coaches who deal with motivation on a daily basis.

Q: When working with someone for the first time, how do you identify or generate motivation?

Michael: Instead of focusing just on what someone says they want to do, I try to talk about the reason they want to do that particular thing. I have found that getting to the “why” unlocks everything. I don’t want to let people fall into the “Because I should” answer because that is devoid of passion. Getting to that emotive level is far more powerful – like acknowledging a desire to be able to play more actively with one’s grandchildren.

Amanda: I agree. Getting to that more profound level for doing something gives people a beacon or guidepost to keep them going which is especially helpful when the going gets tough, as it often does when making major personal changes. I often ask people what drives them or why a particular goal is personal to them. For example, if someone says she wants to quit smoking and I get her to articulate that her father died of lung cancer, we have a much stronger commitment in the goal.

Todd: For some people, getting to that underlying motivator is tough. One way I do that is by asking people how their lives might be different if they achieve their goals. That makes it very concrete and visible in their minds.

It is also important to establish goals that people can really achieve and their individual level of confidence in doing so becomes very important in this. I will frequently ask them how confident they are that they can achieve their goals. If their self-rating is low, I then ask what might help make them feel more confident.

Q: Life can sometimes make achieving a goal hard. How do you help people through this?

Todd: I always ask people what challenges may stand in the way of their goals. Common barriers include time, convenience, special events or holidays, kids and even partners. Once we identify these things, I try to gently guide people through problem solving instead of dictating what they should do. For example, I might ask someone how they feel about talking with their spouse about making meal changes.

Amanda: In some cases, identified barriers may actually signal that other needs are more pressing than the originally stated goal. For example, a person who suffers from extreme stress may be better served by working with one of our Stress Specialist Coaches or even utilizing an Employee Assistance Program before tackling weight management or tobacco cessation.

Michael: Time is such a common problem and I try to get people to think about making versus having time. This type of thinking puts them in control and gives them the power to make changes.
Q: How do you help people take the first step?

Amanda: One of the golden nuggets of motivation and change is that no step is too small. It is the cumulative effect of multiple steps that ultimately matters. I love seeing the sense of accomplishment grow in people as one step turns into two and so on. For some people, the big challenge is eliminating the “all-or-none” attitudes they hold. I often tell people they don’t have to skip the gym just because they don’t have a full hour to spend there – even 15 minutes count.

Michael: This is a logical extension of helping people overcome barriers to making change. Part of that process is identifying what steps they really think they can take and helping them make it convenient with minimal effort or change to their current habits.  Also, confidence and motivation go hand in hand so I work to highlight every small step that is taken to keep people feeling confident enough to keep going.

Q: What happens if a setback occurs?

Michael: Setbacks can happen for so many reasons and it is important to help people focus not on what went “wrong” per se but what went right along the way. There is always something positive to take away from an effort.

Todd: Setbacks can often provide great fuel for talking about goals and the potential need to adjust them. It is perfectly acceptable to change a goal to make it more manageable. It is better to take more small steps than just a few big ones if those big ones are not attainable.

So how to motivate people to make positive changes in their lives? WebMD coaches have the key: tap into their desire for well-being, envision the results, help identify and navigate barriers to change, and be confident that every small step forward counts toward the goal. Lessons that we can all take to heart.

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   Michael Granato, Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Culture, Certified Wellcoach, NFPT-CPT, ACE-HCC
With 8 years of personal training experience under his belt, Michael knows how to crack the motivation nut. As a WebMD Tobacco Cessation, Weight Management and Lifestyle Coach, he guides people on a daily basis to find – and keep – the motivation they need to achieve their goals.

Todd Gulizia, Master of Science degree in Health Education

As an Adjunct Professor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, Todd taught classes on stress management and healthy living. Today, he uses his expertise in our Weight Management Coaching program, working with people seeking help to make lasting changes. Todd also uses his current experience as a yoga instructor and past experience as a Division I distance running when working with clients.

Amanda DeSplinter, Master of Public Health, Certified Health Education Specialist
For the past 10 years, Amanda has put her education and experience to work as a WebMD Coach. Working in our Weight Management and Tobacco Cessation programs, she helps people through the stages of change at the pace right for them to create truly sustainable change.

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