Talk about motivation

One way to work with motivation is simply to include it in conversations. We can ask big picture questions. Sometimes it’s less important whether we get a clear answer back, than generating some food for thought: e.g.:

  •  “What’s important to you?”
  •  “What do you want more of in your life?”
  •  “What do you care most about?”
  •  “What are you most proud of in yourself?”
  •  “Where would you like to be in 2 (or 5 or 10) years time? How would you like life to be? Why would that be important to you?”

Show curiosity in the meaning of the things they chose to talk about: e.g.:

  •  “Why is that important to you?”
  •  “What does that add to your life?”
  •  “What would it be like if you didn’t have that?”

If a young person states a goal, such as “I need to quit drugs”, explore the why before moving into the how: e.g.

  •  “What would that do for you?”
  •  “How do you imagine things would be better if you did that?”
  •  “What would it mean to you if you did that?”
  •  “How would you feel if you managed that?”
  • “What kind of a difference might that make?”
  •  “What would be easier if you did that?”
  •  “What kind of hassles might that help solve?”
  •  “What would you be most proud of if you did that?”

Listen for motivation

The things we choose to talk about often reflect something of what matters to us. Be curious about the relevance or importance of even everyday conversations.

Sometimes motivation is implied in what is being said, even if it isn’t being explicitly named. It can be helpful to have common values fresh in your mind, to be able to put a word to themes that emerge in the conversation. For example, if someone talks a lot about their frustrations with their mother, it might suggest family is important or that they value treating people with openness and curiousity (and don’t feel like they are getting it in return).

If can help to ask ourselves questions like:

  • Why might they be choosing to focus on this?
  • What does this represent?
  • What are they telling me about themselves?
  • What might this suggest is important to them?

Action expresses priorities.

Mahatma Gandhi

Look for motivation

Sometimes the clue to what motivates someone is not in what they say but in what they do. For example, the young person who shows a tough “I don’t need anyone” front might stop and say hello to every cat you meet on your way somewhere. Does the young person comment on your dress sense or the book on your shelf?

  • What catches their attention?
  • What makes them smile?
  • What do they get excited about?
  • What upsets them?
  • What frustrates them?
  • What do they make time for?
  • What do they neglect?

Reflect on motivation

When you notice underlying themes, find gentle ways to comment or make an observation about what you notice. For example a young person might feel frustrated they end up in a lot of arguments with their mother. A more neutral reflection might be “there’s a lot of friction at home”. We could also reflect on the deeper level, such as “you wish you had a better relationship” or “what happens between you and your mum really matters to you”.

It doesn’t need to be a big deal – putting a word to it can sometimes be enough or even just acknowledging “this is important to you”. Other times, it might feel OK to enquire a little further and open up more of a conversation. Because these reflections are often making a bit of a guess, it helps to keep the tone gently enquiring.

Useful starting points for these reflections can include:

  •  “You care about…”
  •  “It’s important to you that…”
  •  “It matters when…”
  •  “You would like…”
  •  “You’re looking forward to…”

Look for patterns in the bigger picture

Sometimes it can help to sit back and look at everything you’ve learned about that person. This might include what you know about their experiences before coming to your service or with other services. There may be a pattern of only connecting with one worker and ignoring others. It might be a picture building about what best helps this young person to settle down when they are upset.

Sometimes we discover bigger themes that aren’t so obvious in the moment. Being aware of the past patterns might be helpful in shifting the conversation in a fresh direction. “From what you’ve told me about past changes, it seems it’s been easier when you’ve done it with someone else – and that knowing that you’re supporting them gave you more energy for your own changes. I’m wondering if that might be helpful here too?”

Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ‘em all over everything you do.

Elvis Presley