When I know what I want to change, motivation comes easy… True?
The other day I had a conversation with a fellow coach. One of his client knows he needs to change, knows what he needs to change, but can get started, he completely lacks the motivation to do it.
It sparked the question: Is knowledge, knowing that you need to change enough to change?
On change, knowledge, awareness, and sailing the world…
Knowledge vs awareness from an embodied experience
My simplified take on that is that I don’t think his client really knows: This man, I guess, knows in the head, intellectually. And intellectual knowledge… That’s not enough for change in my experience.
For that we need a deeper awareness, which is, for me, an embodied experience. So when I refer to awareness in this post, I mean an embodied experience of what is happening in the moment. In contrast of a “I know I should [quit smoking / loose weight / work less] because my doctor and studies say so”.
The second option is disembodied: There is me, and outside of me there are these studies that say humans get sick when they smoke too much. But the link is missing between the outside information and my internal experience. Whereas when we develop an internal embodied experience, then the link is made.
And maybe we don’t even know about these studies, but we don’t need to, because we are aware that, keeping the same example, we wake up every morning and we cough and we feel tired and we notice that we cannot get up the stairs like we used to do, etc… That tells us something different. And that’s where the motivation for change begins. Not because someone else outside of us told us we need to change.
That is the kind of process I use to help my client change their relationship to food when they need to. And I read about a program that uses this approach to support people who want to quit smoking. They called it mindful smoking. They said to the participants: “You keep smoking, but you do it mindfully. The next time you have a cigarette, really make it an embodied experience, like almost a meditative way of smoking: taking the cigarette and feel it between your fingers. And as you put it in your mouth and breathe, feel the smoke expanding to your lungs and feel the smell of the smoke, etc.” And they would be very adamant that the participant keep on smoking.
It can sound counter-intuitive, but what happens is the participants start to feel why they wanted to stop. And they want to, before they are told they can now. The beauty and the genius of that approach is that people are getting to this embodied awareness, this experience that lives from within. And from that place, there is no need for motivation, change is an evidence.
To come back to my friend, my guess is that his client just knows intellectually, but he doesn’t have an embodied experience of “I want to change.” And that’s how he lacks motivation.
When we are talking about change knowledge, intellectual knowledge. It’s just like an interesting thought. And as interesting as we find it, as important as we find it, it’s rarely enough for real motivation to be there. And if it does, it is still coming from the outside, and feels heavy, and is not going to last. And it’s not going to be as powerful as an internal experience.
How fast can change happen?
Another point of the conversation was then that we need time to change. That especially if it concerns a long term habit, if it’s been a pattern in life for years and years, then we will need years to change that. I don’t think so.
My next example is going to be a bit more intense, but it’s someone I met when I was living on my sailing-boat. I met lots of people who radically changed their lives back then. This guy in particular, was from New York.
And we all know, the “life is now, live in the now, you could be dead tomorrow!” concept. But for most of us, it has little power and stays an intellectual concept. It has even lost a lot of its power I believe as it has been watered down by being used so much ans a sort of new-age mantra.
But when his sister died in the attacks on the towers on 9/11, in an instant, this sentence became real. The death of his sister suddenly made him realize: “She’s dead. And I’m not sure she lived the life she really wanted. And I’m sure that I’m not living the life I want. And I could be gone tomorrow like this.” In a few months he completely changed his life. He decided he wanted to live a life he wanted, and that that was travelling on a sailing boat. And that is how I ended up meeting him in Las Palmas, Canary Islands.
So change can happen really fast when we get to this embody awareness. Now, how long do we need to get this embody awareness? It depends!
As a general rule, the more intense the experience, the faster the change. It can happen in an instant. And by the way, it can be way less dramatic, a session with a skilled professional can get you there too. You also can get to the same result by noticing, intentionally get into this awareness.
The speed will depend on people and situations, but I really want to emphasize on the fact that lasting change can happen in an instant. It won’t always, and sometimes it is better that it doesn’t. But it can be. Believing that change needs time, which I did at some point, is a limit that we don’t need to have. It’s not always true.
So I believe to change, really, at least in a long term, and an easier way, we need this embodied awareness.
And I’m not saying it’s always enough to spark change. It might be more complex than that. Maybe we have some things we need to heal first, for example regulating the nervous system. And that’s when we need people like me or my colleagues to help go through that, and make change possible, make it safe enough to try something new.
But as far as motivation is concerned, then in my experience, embodied awareness, it beats everything and it’s surprisingly efficient because it’s generative. And when you get to that place, you don’t need to focus so much on the actions because they just come out. like the sailor I was referring to didn’t plan so much: “So what kind of boat am I going to buy, and what route…” He just had this very congruent thought of “I need to change my life, and I need to do it now.”
And so he focused on this and the rest just happened in some ways. I’m not saying he did not do anything, and the manifestation spirit took care of everything. But there is a sense of magic, when we get to this level of clarity on what we want and what is happening, that gets us into action, and help us focus on only what we need in the moment instead of being over-thinking and over-planning. And that get results that allow other actions and so on.
That is what I call generative, and linked to the second pillar in my framework: Effortless action.
Generative because it pretty feels like magic when it’s happening. We focus on the conditions for the actions to rise, instead on getting caught up planning all the steps, like in permaculture they focus on the soil and the ecosystem, a healthy ecosystem, versus focusing on individual plants that needs grow, leading to needing external output for it: a lot of energy for exactly the result we want.
In generative change and in generative action, we never know exactly what’s going to come up, but we know it’s going to be great, because it’s going in the direction we want.
Who do you know who needs this distinction of intellectual knowledge and external motivation versus internal motivation and generative action coming from an embodied experience and awareness?
And how would you make them get the difference between those two: between knowing intellectually about the change they want, to getting the embodied awareness about this change. How do you see that happening?