What makes a person motivated to do something? This, it turns out, is a very complicated question to answer. I came across a somewhat thorough article in Psychology Today outlining the basic theories of motivation that I encourage all of my readers to skim through before continuing with this article. Come back to us after you've read Susan Krauss Whitbourne's article entitled Motivation: The Why's of Behavior - From instincts to self-actualization: What motivates us?
Ok, welcome back. Did you notice anything missing from that piece? How might we apply any one of those theories to the motives of a serial killer? A radical jihadist? Dr. Whitbourne comes close to mentioning a person's beliefs in her outline of Cognitive Theory where she talks about a person's expectations. But something missing in this equation is how a brain develops and what it is subjected to. How might a traumatic brain injury (TBI), or childhood abuse, or even adult onset mental illness influence what motivates us? I ask these questions because they directly relate to how a person thinks and what a person believes in the context of their behavior. A motive, by definition, is a hidden reason for doing something, and I would argue many times these reasons are hidden from ourselves; in other words, we are not conscious of why we are engaging in many of our behaviors. Now if this troubles you as much as it does me, then I invite you to read on.
Usually articles on habit formation appear around the New Year. I figured, why wait! After all, there's no rule that says you must stop or start a habit only after the new calendar year has begun. We all have old habits that we have tried to break, or new habits that we have tried to form, but they just didn't take. In this article, I will unpack the hidden forces behind what makes habit formation (or cessation) successful, and share some ways you can start to put all of this into practice starting today - or whenever you choose to begin. After all, it ultimately comes down to (the very real power of) choice. The good news is, it is never too late to form new habits!
How Habits Are Born
As with many things learned in therapy, one of the best ways to change something in your life is to first understand it's origin and it's purpose. A habit, by definition, is a behavior that occurs routinely, and more often than not, is occurring at the subconscious level. Habit formation begins with a triggering event that jumpstarts the brain into autopilot mode; For example, walking into the kitchen and before anything else is even consciously registering, the body gravitates towards the coffee pot. Next is the actual behavior, or the actual habit - the making of coffee. Finally, there is the reward that cements the formation of the habit - "Coffee gives me energy," let's say. Now remember, a "reward" is not necessarily good or bad. After all, we are "rewarded" by our bad habits too. That's why they have stuck around with us! In this context, we refer to the outcome as a reward because it increases the likelihood that we will repeat the behavior again.
After a week where many in the country are left shaking their heads, wondering why we can't seem to do a better job healing our country's long standing racial divide, the question lately being asked in this political season is, "Which presidential candidate will do a better job on this issue, Clinton or Trump?" Frankly, the question is aimed in the wrong direction. One president has not, and can not make the difference needed on this issue. Change must come from the greater society writ large, regardless of who we elect. Let's look to the very beginning of our country's founding to unpack this.
How Our White Forefathers Saw Blacks in a Burgeoning American Democracy
The original sins of inequality and discrimination were written into our country's very founding document, the Constitution, which sanctioned the enslavement of Africans through the three fifths clause and the fugitive slave clause. A little under a century later, the majority of our society (still predominantly white, thus enjoying the claim to the country's dominant culture) would still subscribe to the belief that whites were superior to blacks. Lincoln, who reinterpreted the document's phrase, "All men are created equal", who "emancipated" the slaves, still didn't think blacks and whites deserved the same social and political rights.
Today marks the beginning of June, the summer heat well upon us here in the D.C. region. June is also PTSD (Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Month. The whole purpose of having an awareness month is to become more aware on the issue, and to help share and spread that awareness throughout the community. So, let’s start with a simple education on what PTSD is, as many people have heard the term, but are unfamiliar with the specific symptoms.
*Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be used in any way for an individual to self-diagnose. If you suspect that someone you know may meet some of the descriptions of PTSD or symptoms associated with PTSD, you may want to encourage that person to consult their primary care physician or a licensed mental health professional.*
**Those whose line of work increases the risk of traumatic exposure such as veterans, police, firefighters, first responders, emergency medical personnel, etc. show a higher rate of PTSD (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). If you know someone whose work fits this description, please share this article with them.**
What Does PTSD Mean Exactly?
P, for Post, means trauma symptoms develop after about 3 months (and many times even later than that) from when the traumatic event originally occurred; If symptoms show up right away, it’s quite possibly Acute Stress Disorder. T, for Trauma, means an individual experiencing (directly or witnessing) a life threatening event*. S, for Stress, means the nervous system is overwhelmed by any number of stressor(s). And D, for Disorder, means the classification in a medical book to assist health care professionals in accurately diagnosing and treating a medical condition.
We all know what it is like to be irritable because we haven’t eaten yet. T-shirts are popping up with phrases like, “I’m sorry for what I said to you while I was hungry”. We’ve known for some time the connection between hunger and feeling cranky. Low food intake leads to low blood sugar, leading to low serotonin levels which causes weaker communication between certain areas of the brain – particularly the parts that control emotional responses to anger. But new research is just beginning to uncover some of the positive and beneficial side effects of how, and more importantly, when food is taken in.
Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer published The Fast Diet in 2013 which has gotten widespread attention in the U.K. and recently here in the U.S. I heard about it on The Diane Rehm Show. The basic idea is that you eat normally 5 days of the week and on 2 non-consecutive days you limit yourself to 500 calories (600 for men).
Relationships haven’t been boiled down to an exact science…not yet at least. But some psychology professors whose life’s work is researching the nature of these relationships have come up with some pretty helpful tips, tools, and trends among healthy couples with lasting relationships.
After reading this article I wanted to highlight some of the most important habits (in my opinion) couples can adhere to:
To read more, visit the source article.
Photo taken June 13, 2010.http://www.flickr.com/photos/joewilcox/4759271926/in/datetaken/
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to Your Couples Therapist Blog.
Robin S. Smith is a psychotherapist practicing in Bethesda, MD. Robin created The Couple and Family Clinic Blog to provide useful articles on issues related to mental health as well as articles on local, national, and international news stories. Learn more about Robin on the About Page.