How to use coaching to motivate ourselves and others

There is a theory developed by Victor Vroom (Expectancy Theory) and popularised by Anthony Robbins in his best selling book Unlimited Power. The theory predicts that all of our actions and behaviours will be driven by our desire to achieve pleasure or avoid pain and can be used as a powerful coaching tool. Furthermore, there is evidence that we will do far more to avoid pain than we will to gain pleasure!

How to use coaching to motivate ourselves and others

For example:

You know a task needs doing – but you know it will be painful to do it. So guess what…….the task stays on a “to do list” forever in the silent hope that it will go away over time! Then, all of a sudden, the pain of not doing the task becomes greater than doing it – and suddenly the task gets done! And there may even have been some pleasure in the accomplishment after all!

Because pain is the greater motivator of behaviour in the short term, if you want to make sure you take the actions needed to move you towards your goal then you must change what you link pain and pleasure to.

All of us (knowingly or unknowingly) weigh how much pleasure is involved against how much pain is involved before we make a decision. The brain literally says to itself:

  • How much pleasure will I get from taking this action?
  • How much pain will I get by taking this action?

Because the fear of pain usually outweighs the possibility of pleasure we end up not taking the action that our logic says we should!

Everyone wants to avoid pain, and our sub-consciousness tries to help us avoid pain. However, this often works against our best interests, so we have to raise our awareness to avoid being controlled by a subconscious fear of pain! We need to put ourselves back in control on a conscious level.

For example:

You know you have to revise for the exam in 2 months. You want the pleasure of the passing grade and the increased chances of finding a good job. But revising is painful – so you don’t do it until 2 days before the exam!

Why? Because at that point in time the pain of failure suddenly becomes greater than the pain of the revision!

What we need to do to increase motivation is consciously help our brain by:

  • Listing all the pleasure we will get from taking that action (e.g. Better job, more prospects, more choice and more money).
  • Listing all the pain we will get from NOT taking that action (e.g. No job, less prospects, less choice and less money).

We are driven to immediate action when:

All the pain we will avoid by taking that action + all the pleasure we will get from taking that action is greater than all the pain we will get by taking that action.

Ask yourself “what will I gain by taking that action, what will it cost me if I don’t take that action, what will it cost me now, in 3 months time and in 5 years time.”

By taking control of how our brain processes “pleasure and pain” you can propel yourself into taking action on a consistent basis, because your brain will focus on all the pleasure you will get and all the pain you will avoid by taking that action.

As a coach you need to raise awareness in the coachee of the pain that certain beliefs might be causing them, now and in the future. When the Coachee becomes aware of this pain they are then propelled to take responsibility to do something about it.

The Consequences step of OSCAR is an excellent place to discuss pleasure and pain e.g. What would be the upsides (pleasure) of that choice? What would be the downsides (pain) of that choice?

It is quite common for a coachee to ‘say’ they will take action – and then not take any action at all! It is therefore useful to explicitly raise awareness of the ‘pain’ that this might cause by asking the following question:

What will be the consequences of not taking action to resolve this issue?

This often leads to a realisation of the pain that this would cause – thus motivating the coachee to take action!

The Review step of OSCAR creates commitment to action by explicitly setting a date when actions will be reviewed and evaluated. This minimises circumstances where actions are agreed – but not followed through!

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