Remember when people used to smoke cigarettes?

I’m reading Motivational Interviewing. It’s a psychology textbook my husband kept telling me about.

I just started reading it yesterday and btw I have no training in psychology.

If you can accept those caveats, I will share some nuggets with you. Because this textbook is the juiciest, nuggetiest textbook I’ve ever read.

One of the things I love about this book is the method – ”motivational interviewing”- was borne of an exercise in asking a different question.

Everyone asks, “Why don’t people change even when they want to?”

A lot of people say they want to change. But they don’t do anything about it. They stay in the relationship. They keep drinking. They stay at the same dumb job. Whatever.

But instead of asking why people don’t change, these authors asked, “Why do people change?”

It turns out lots of people do change. They quit drinking. They quit the job. They stop dating people who are bad for them.

People do change.

But why? And I don’t mean “why” in some cosmic sense. I mean, what is the mechanism? What’s the finger that flips the switch?

Here’s what I got: People have to rerecognize the discrepancy between what is happening and what we want. And it has to bug us, a lot. “The larger the discrepancy the greater the importance of change.”

Pretty obvious.

But here’s an example I love from the book:

“[A man] dates his quitting smoking from a day on which he had gone to pick up his children at the city library. A thunderstorm greeted him as he arrived there; and at the same time a search of his pockets disclosed a familiar problem: he was out of cigarettes. Glancing back at the library, he caught a glimpse of his children stepping out in the rain, but he continued around the corner, certain that he could find a parking space, rush in, buy the cigarettes, and be back before the children got seriously wet. The view of himself as a father who would ‘actually leave the kids in the rain while he ran after cigarettes’ was humiliating, and he quit smoking.

It was the meaning of his smoking–the perception that it had become more important than his children–that suddenly became unacceptable to him.

When a behavior comes into conflict with a deeply held value, it is usually the behavior that changes.”

So, not willpower. Not beating yourself into submission. Not throwing out all your cigarettes, lighters, and matches. (Then buying replacements 4 days later after half a glass of wine. Just FOR EXAMPLE.)

And not just naturally being better than everyone else.

It’s the discrepancy. It’s about recognizing when your behavior conflicts with what you value.

That was interesting to me.

Also. Change is never achieved because someone got “the perfect advice.”

In fact, if someone gives us advice to do one thing, and we’re feeling ambivalent, we’ll feel compelled to argue for – over even choose – the OTHER thing instead.

The 2-person interaction – advisor and advisee – is a real-life representation of the ambivalence the advisee feels inside.

THAT was interesting to me. Although I know that people hate getting advice for all sorts of reasons, I’d never thought about how our inner ambivalence gets personified in the interaction.

And here’s a sweet, sweet open-handed smack for us advice givers:

What we have learned from this is that it can be important to inhibit the ‘righting reflex.’ It is analogous to something that anyone must learn who is going to drive a vehicle on snow and ice. When the tires begin to slide off the road to the right, there is a natural tendency to turn the steering wheel to the left, because that is where you want to go. Doing so, however simply decreases control and increases skidding toward the right. Wrong as it feels in the beginning, you must turn in the direction of the skid, turn the wheel to the right when the vehicle is skidding to the right. This provides traction that allows you to redirect momentum back on to the road.”

You already knew all this, I’m sure.

So what implications does it have? What if knowing that gives you the power to motivate yourself to change? To help others in your life connect with their motivation to change?

Just thoughts. Just in case all those sparkly inspirational quotes on Instagram aren’t doing it for you lately.

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