Updated: Apr 26
People often fail to act in their own best interests, and others notice and want to help; They instinctively tell people what to do and how to do it, Unfortunately, this has been demonstrated, beyond any reasonable doubt, to be horribly ineffective - it usually has the opposite of the desired effect. Most learn this quickly and resort to bribery and punishment to motivate. This can work reliably, but only in the short term. Incentives must then be provided continuously or the desired behaviour actually becomes less likely than if you had never incentivised at all.
Luckily, there's a well-established science of behaviour change you can use without relying on carrots or sticks. Running a charity manned by almost exclusively remote volunteers, I've had to learn how to inspire people to work without rewards or punishments; below is the most effective technique I've learned. It's used by elite doctors, therapists, coaches and managers to inspire people to make the changes they need to succeed.
A step by step guide
1. MUTUAL RESPECT
Start by demonstrating that you are capable of helping them. This works best if it isn't you doing the demonstrating e.g. a recommendation by a peer/parent/colleague. Create a sense of respect by asking open questions, active listening, and adopting a collaborative tone.
2. EVOKE TALK OF CHANGE
Speak in a way that makes them more likely to say things that are supportive of change. For example, ask them what the best thing would be about achieving their goal.
3. EVOKE TALK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE
Speak in a way that maximises their belief that change is possible. For example, ask them about times they've successfully changed in the past. Scaling questions can be really useful in both of the above steps i.e. Asking how to rate important the desired change is, or how capable they are of making it, on a scale of 0-10. After hearing their response, ask them why they didn't choose a lower number. This invites them to make a case for the value and likelihood of change.
4. SET A SHARED GOAL
Once the client appears motivated to make a change, summarise what they've said and agree upon a shared goal. Don't negotiate firmly, but do gently nudge them towards something productive
5. FORM A PLAN
Desperately avoid telling them what to do. Ask questions which facilitate them coming to a sensible plan by themselves. If you have to guide them, present them with as many options as possible, as openly as possible. For example, "at this point, we have three options: A, B and C. What do you think about each of these?"
6. HELP THEM STICK TO IT
Troubleshoot difficulties they have while following the plan, and regularly remotivate them (steps 1 and 2).
7. AVOID THE THREE BIGGEST MISTAKES
Don't offer advice without asking their permission first
Don't voice disagreement. Instead, make sure they feel heard, then get them to give counter-arguments and then simply move on.
Don't be an expert. Be a coach.
8. REAP THE BENEFITS
No matter how perfect, unfollowed plans have no value. By collaboratively planning, you can reduce conflict, and boost motivation, whilst bringing about the changes needed to achieve your goals. Once you've started, click the next link to learn what to do when trouble inevitably arises
[link to a post about atomic habits material]