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How Motivational Interviewing Can Ignite Change

Are You Looking for Confidence or Motivation?


Committing and staying committed to change is hard.

This is especially true when it comes to health and wellness. After all, we often have a lifetime of habits working against us.

And while health and wellness education can help to an extent, it’s usually not nearly enough. You can know all the logical reasons for changing a particular behavior, yet still be stuck in a state of inaction.

If you’re struggling with ambivalence when it comes to unhealthy behaviors, just know you’re not alone!

Many people have a hard time fully committing to their health goals. It’s common to start making positive changes, only to quickly become impatient, lose motivation and go right back to old habits.

But why does this happen?

In short, being unable to make and sustain progress is often because of a lack of intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within. External motivation, on the other hand, relies on external factors like punishment or rewards. The problem with external motivation is that once those factors are removed, your motivation is often lost, too. Therefore, if you want to make lasting lifestyle changes, developing intrinsic motivation is key.

Luckily, if you currently lack internal motivation, this isn’t something you have to accept. You can strengthen your internal motivation. And one of the most effective ways to do this is through motivational interviewing, aka MI.

Psychologists William R Miller and Stephen Rollnick developed MI as a client-centered counseling style to encourage healthy behavior change. First used in treating those with alcoholism, MI is characterized by its non-directive, collaborative and exploratory approach. More recently, MI has also proved very effective in many other contexts — including general health and wellness.

According to the self-determination theory of human motivation, individuals are more likely to engage in behaviors when they have high feelings of competency, autonomy and relatedness to others. Health & Wellness Coaches utilize MI to allow you to be in control of your own behavior change.

Whether your goal is to develop healthier eating habits, stress-reduction strategies or regular physical activity, Health & Wellness Coaches can help support you by using MI strategies to enhance your autonomy and success.

What is motivational interviewing?

At its core, motivational interviewing is a method of communication that will help you find the internal motivation and confidence you need to change your behavior.

Motivational interviewing is rooted in the person-centered counseling principles of Carl Rogers. Rogers argued that in order for you to grow, you need to be in an environment that’s open, supportive, and empathetic. You need to be able to speak freely, and to feel heard, accepted, and understood.

MI also recognizes that people go through stages of “readiness” for change. When you work with a Health & Wellness Coach, motivational interviewing will start with an open and honest conversation between you and your coach about where you are, and where you want to be.

In this conversation, your Health & Wellness Coach will encourage you to think and talk about changes you want to make. You’ll also talk about your reasons for those changes. Talking through your thoughts, feelings, and goals in an open and honest way will help you (and your coach) better understand where you are on your journey. It will also help you understand why you’re having trouble taking the next step.

As you talk about your goals and motivators, your Health & Wellness Coach will help you reframe your way of looking at things. They’ll help you discover the ways in which change is possible.

In particular, your coach will guide you towards “change talk.” “Change talk” involves talking about your:

  • Reasons for wanting change

  • Ability to make changes

  • Behavioral steps you can take towards the making those changes

  • Commitment to change

Change talk develops new, positive thought patterns that will help you change your behavior. Research suggests that when people engage in change talk, they’re more likely to experience better outcomes.[1] In other words, you’ll be more motivated to make changes if you:

  • Find and hear yourself say your own reasons to make changes

  • Express your commitment to change out loud

The entire process is designed to empower you, so that you feel prepared to move forward. You can then start to create a concrete plan for achieving your goals. While your coach will support you, ultimately you will be responsible for developing this plan, based on your values and self-knowledge.

What is the role of your Health & Wellness Coach in MI?

As noted above, in motivational interviewing, you’ll take the lead on identifying your motivators and goals. Your Health & Wellness Coach will only act as a guide.

Your coach will encourage you to talk about your goals and your reasons for wanting to change. By starting a supportive conversation, they’ll help draw out and strengthen your motivation.

As they listen to your answers, they’ll reflect back your thoughts. Hearing your thoughts in this way will help you better understand your motivations. You’ll also see the discrepancies between your actions and your goals more clearly.

But the idea is not for your coach to intervene. They won’t “take the reigns,” or give you answers. They won’t try to persuade you, trick you, or coerce you into making changes.

This is a key aspect of motivational interviewing. Your coach will collaborate with you, but at the end of the day, you’ll be in the driver’s seat. After all, the purpose of motivational interviewing is to empower you and encourage you to make autonomous decisions. This means you’ll always have an active role in the process.

But by asking meaningful questions and carefully listening to your responses, your coach can steer the conversation in a productive direction. That is, instead of controlling the process, your coach will help you:

  • clarify your strengths and goals,

  • uncover your internal motivators,

  • identify and work through your roadblocks,

  • build your confidence in your ability to change, and

  • create a concrete plan for achieving your goals.

You’ll decide what these goals are based on your own desires and circumstances.

Your coach will also be a source of empathy and acceptance. The principles of motivational interviewing require your coach to respect your thoughts and feelings, and never try to push you in a particular direction. This makes sense, because many health and wellness goals involve big life changes. And your path towards your goals will never be perfect.

So instead of confronting you about certain behaviors, your coach will help you get into the mindset for change. They’ll do this by guiding you away from negative talk, or “sustain talk.” Sustain talk might include focusing on why you can’t or don’t want to change, or why change isn’t worth it.

Engaging in sustain talk decreases the likelihood that you’ll be able to change. On the other hand, the more you use change talk, the more likely you’ll be to achieve your health and wellness goals. So your coach will try to steer away from sustain talk, and focus more on change talk.

Your Health & Wellness Coach will also help you focus on your strengths. They’ll help you increase positivity and envision positive outcomes. And, when it’s warranted or you ask for it, they’ll give you advice.

People often try motivational interviewing because they have a problem they want to solve, but they lack the motivation to do it. But maybe you’re not sure what you want to work on. Or you do, but lack direction. In these scenarios, motivational interviewing can still be helpful. Your Health & Wellness Coach will help you focus on what’s important to you so you can use that information to move forward.

As noted above, your Health & Wellness Coach will be your partner in the process — not an instructor. This means you’ll be more empowered to make better choices on your own and set realistic goals in the future.

What kinds of questions will you encounter in motivational interviewing?

One of the first steps in motivational interviewing is exploring your attitude towards change. With this in mind, your Health & Wellness Coach will encourage conversation by asking you a number of questions. They’ll invite you to “tell your story” using your own words, without fear of judgment.

Hopefully, this will allow you to freely express your thoughts and feelings about your health and wellness. You can expect a lot of open-ended questions to keep you engaged and talking.

Of course, motivational interviewing will lead in different directions for different people. But below are some examples of questions your coach might ask you. Regardless of whether you work with a Health & Wellness Coach, these are good questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling to change certain behaviors.

  • How would you like things to be different?

  • What change do you most want?

  • What do you like or enjoy about [behavior you want to change]?

  • What are the not-so-good things about [behavior you want to change]?

  • What have you noticed about [behavior you want to change] over the last few years?

  • Why do you think it’s so difficult to stop [behavior you want to change]?

  • What do you think you will lose if you give up [behavior you want to change]?

  • What have you tried before?

  • What steps are you willing to take to stop [behavior you want to change]?

  • What do you want to do next?

You’ll also explore how specific habits or behaviors affect your health. For example:

  • How does [behavior you want to change] fit in with your trouble sleeping?

  • On a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the most concerned you’ve been concerned about anything, how concerned are you about [behavior you want to change]?

  • Could you describe a typical day, from morning to evening?

  • How would you describe your experiences of exercise?

Questions that are confrontational or accusatory in nature are not part of motivational interviewing. These types of questions can damage the relationship between you and your Health & Wellness Coach. And without a trusting relationship, it’ll be much more difficult to have an open, honest conversation about your health and wellness.

How and why is motivational interviewing effective?

Hundreds of clinical trials have shown just how effective motivational interviewing can be. Even very brief sessions can have positive effects.[2]

And it works across many different demographics to address a range of behaviors. Motivational interviewing works by:

  • increasing the motivation to stay committed to making changes,

  • lowering the chance of reverting to unhealthy behaviors in the future,

  • serving as a source of encouragement,

  • helping you establish self-actualization goals, and

  • helping you develop self-reliance.

There are a few theories that may explain why motivational interviewing is so effective at helping people change. On a basic level, people are much more willing to make changes for reasons that they discover themselves. And they tend to resist changing for reasons other people put on them.

Motivational interviewing embraces this concept. It’s a patient-centered approach that relies on self-exploration. You’ll be responsible for uncovering your own internal motivators. And how you move forward will also depend on goals that you define.

The self-determination theory goes even further. This theory says you’re more likely to develop intrinsic motivation if three basic psychological needs are met:

  • autonomy, or feeling like you have control over what you do;

  • competence, or feeling like you’re able to make changes; and

  • relatedness, or feeling connected to and cared for by others.[3]

Motivational interviewing addresses all three of these needs. First, you’ll have the autonomy to discover your own motivations and goals. Second, your Health & Wellness Coach will help you focus on the possibility of change, as well as your abilities and strengths. And third, your coach will serve as a positive source of support and empathy.[4] Other strategies like confrontation, persuasion, and scare tactics tend to be less effective in producing a lasting, positive outcome. This is because these approaches are based on external motivation.

Try Motivational Interviewing with a Health & Wellness Coach

If you struggle with motivation, motivational interviewing with a Health & Wellness Coach can help get you on the right path. Together with your coach, you’ll work on:

  • discovering your internal motivation,

  • committing to change, and

  • creating a plan for achieving your goals.

Throughout the process, your coach will guide you and serve as a source of empathy and support. Motivational interviewing has helped countless people finally make meaningful changes in their lives. If you’d like to join them, contact us and start working with a certified coach today!

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280230476_Intensifying_and_igniting_change_talk_in_Motivational_Interviewing_A_theoretical_and_practical_framework [2] https://www.aafp.org/fpm/2011/0500/p21.html#fpm20110500p21-b3 [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310779/ [4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45649677_Counselor_motivational_interviewing_skills_and_young_adult_change_talk_articulation_during_brief_motivational_interventions