Behaviour change is more likely to occur when the old behaviour is identified as being inconsistent the young person’s own values and goals, or when the new behaviour is recognised as consistent with those values and goals. Thus behaviour change can be promoted by evoking, reflecting and magnifying any discrepancy between the young person’s values and goals and their current status quo behaviours (Naar-King & Suarez, 2011; p20).
It is critical to focus on the young person’s values and goals even if these appear to be external (e.g. getting a girlfriend), short-term (e.g. wanting to go to a party this weekend), or unrealistic (e.g. wanting to be a football star). All goals may be used to foster motivation for change. By exploring the interests and desires underpinning external and short term goals, ways can be found to identify corresponding internal and long term goals that reflect deeper values.
If the young person’s values are not clear, ask a direct question (e.g. ‘What are the things that are most important to you right now?’, or ‘What are the things you like most about your boyfriend?) (Naar-King & Suarez, 2011; p57).
An exercise called the ‘Values Sort Card’ can be used to help a young person choose several values that are most important to them. Ask questions to elaborate the meaning of the value and elicit specific goals related to it.
When a value or goal is known use reflections to reinforce the value and open-ended questions to explore how the status quo behaviour fits in with this (e.g. ‘It’s really important for you to feel independent. I wonder how smoking cannabis fits in with this?’ or ‘You have a goal to buy an electric guitar and get some lessons. How will the money you spend on marijuana impact on this?). Avoid asking closed-ended questions or giving advice (e.g. Could you get there faster if you cut down?)
It is important to express empathy around short-term needs such as managing stress, which may be in conflict with long-term values and goals such as finishing school and getting a job. Awareness of discrepancy can sometimes trigger strong feelings of guilt or distress. While some discomfort is necessary to evoke or activate desire to change, overwhelming distress can be counterproductive. It may be necessary to support the young person to tolerate awareness of discrepancy for long enough to work through the dilemma.