Smoking, goofing off at work or over eating  are common habits that people frequently admit they wish to give up. They go on to say that they realize these habits are harmful. Smoking can give you cancer and kill you just as over eating can ruin your health. Goofing off for too long at the job could get you fired. They know these affect them adversely over time. Yet if you ask them why they don’t do something about it, you are likely to get a wide range of excuses varying from “Not now. I am a bit tied up.  I want to start in right earnest next week Monday” to “Let me see how far I can last out without having to change”.

What motivates people to change is a topic that has fascinated psychologists for years. Is it fear? Is it the promise of better times? Is it the satisfaction of having licked a huge problem? “When Psychology Trumps Logic” is an interesting article in the New York Times. It speaks of recent research on how people react to messages and make decisions which could change habits of long-standing.

“If you don’t change your eating habits, you will die the next week of a heart attack ” is likely to have greater impact than “Think of a better life ahead if you eat less”. Likewise “You will make your entire country proud by winning that medal” is likely to be more motivating than ” You have as much a chance of winning this race as any of the eight others”! Communication, of course, is the key. It becomes that much more important when the change required is in something more abstract,  which the person may not perceive is very important to him.

It requires a combination of effective communication and knowing  “which button to press with which people” that gets you any chance of bringing about change.