FearMotivation is the driving force that determines much of our behavior. Our desires can motivate us to act in positive and negative ways. In psychotherapy, motivation is used to encourage people to make positive behavioral changes in their lives.

How to Increase Motivation

Maybe you want to move to a new town or start a new career. Maybe you are tired of feeling weighed down by destructive habits like overeating or drinking too much and you would like to shift into a way of being that is more balanced and aligned with good health and emotional stability. Maybe you want to end a relationship, or take a current relationship to a new level of commitment. Regardless of outside guidance and direction, the most powerful place to tap into motivation is inside yourself.

Introspective activities such as journaling, meditation, and making vision boards can help to sift through mental clutter and hone in on a specific desire or goal. Having a clear visual in mind of what you want to see unfold in your life often fuels the fire and strengthens overall commitment to attaining it.

Whatever your goal may be, once it has been established, the motivation to actualize it in your life tends to kick in naturally. Depending on the type of person you are, however, your way of holding onto that initial surge of motivation will differ.

For intrinsically motivated people, following through on personal goals tends to progress smoothly without much influence or interference from those around them. This is largely because intrinsic motivation is unattached to anything outside of oneself, which often leaves a person solid and unwavering in his or her pursuits. However, this innate sense of goal direction does not come to everyone easily, and it may require some dedication, practice, and outside assistance to develop.

For those who are more extrinsically motivated by nature, or who find themselves strongly influenced and motivated by the people and environmental elements surrounding them, support is often essential to stay on track in moving toward a desired goal.

This is where the help of a therapist can be invaluable. Group therapy is another method of effectively sustaining motivation. Enlisting the support of others who are similarly trying to enact change in their lives not only makes you accountable to them, but also provides a group of trusted individuals to whom you can turn to when you hit low points along the way.

Motivational Therapy

When facing the challenges associated with recovering from issues such as substance abuse, a common psychotherapeutic approach is motivational therapy. This method encourages the person to view their substance abuse or other destructive habit as negative and focuses therapy sessions on instilling in the person a desire to make positive behavioral changes.

True motivation takes time to develop, especially if someone has been operating a certain way for a long period of time. The Stages of Change Model, developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is often used as a tool for psychotherapists and people seeking lasting change in their lives—particularly with regard to addiction. This model is broken into seven stages:

  1. precontemplation
  2. contemplation
  3. preparation
  4. action
  5. maintenance
  6. relapse or recycling
  7. termination

Basically, there is a great deal of cognitive-behavioral work required on the part of the person seeking change; he or she must be open to a shift in perspective, and with the guidance and help of a therapist, a plan of action is laid out. Committing to this plan is key, and it is not uncommon for a person to backslide a bit before fully embodying the desired changes. Those with a strong network of outside support in addition to a solid therapeutic relationship are the most likely to succeed.

Motivational Interviewing

Developed by psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick, motivational interviewing is a counseling approach that focuses on cultivating intrinsic motivation in the person seeking a positive behavioral change, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or refraining from alcohol and drugs, among others. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is not dependent on external people or circumstances. Therefore, in motivational interviewing, the therapist acts as a guide, using open-ended questions, reflective listening, and affirmations to lead the person to a place of inner knowledge and understanding (Sincero, 2012).

Often, both therapist and client will face resistance to change as they dive deep into the roots of unwanted behaviors. To soften a person’s resistance, a nonjudgmental attitude and empathy are integral to the success of motivational interviewing. A therapist must be able to step inside the person’s world and understand what he or she is thinking and feeling, and then assure the person of this through nonjudgmental, reflective listening.

Reflective listening is similar to active listening in that it involves using verbiage to show the person he or she is being heard: “Considering you are feeling this way, you may want to…” (Resnicow and McMaster, 2012). This creates an atmosphere of safety in which the person feels as though his or her thoughts matter. It also fosters autonomy in the healing process, as he or she develops a stronger sense of self-awareness and confidence.

Helping a person to distinguish between who he or she is and who he or she wants to be is another important aspect of motivational interviewing: identifying the “ideal self” versus the “real self” (Sincero, 2012). Once this has been explored, established, embraced, and independent motivation is apparent on the part of the person seeking change, the therapist can assist him or her in enacting a realistic plan to move from undesirable traits and behaviors to desirable ones.


  1. Resnicow, K., and McMaster, F. (2012, March 2). Motivational interviewing: moving from why to how with autonomy support. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9:19. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-19. Retrieved from
  2. Sincero, S. M. (2012, January 9). Motivation in psychotherapy. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-12-2015

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  • Sapna_S

    April 10th, 2019 at 2:35 AM

    Nice motivational blog…Really helpful.

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