What motivates people?

I still exchange Christmas cards with the best boss I ever had and he always includes a chatty letter with news of family and former colleagues. This year he wrote that he had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in January 2017 and that it had inspired him to lose the 20lb (10kg), which he had been meaning to do for years.

This is the time of year when people are most likely to try to change their behaviour. Many make New Year’s Resolutions, where they resolve to themselves to make change. A 2017 survey of American adults found that 41% of people usually make New Year’s Resolutions, 42% never do and 17% make them infrequently (Ref 1). Just 9% of people felt that they were successful in achieving their resolution. The most common resolution was to lose weight/adopt healthier eating (21%). This was almost double the second most common resolution – to make general life/self improvements (12%).

Many recipients of this newsletter are health professionals. All recipients are likely to be interested in the impact of diet on health, if only from our own experience and journey. To be able to help others, whether as practitioners, journalists or friends, it is important for us to know what motivates people.

What drives people to change?

There are only two fundamental drivers of change. Human beings move away from pain and/or towards pleasure. We are hungry (pain), so we hunt for food. We find some ripe berries (pleasure), so we eat them. Freudian psychoanalysis defined “the pleasure principle” as the instinct to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Freud thought that the pleasure principle was the driving force for what he called the "Id." Freud defined the “Id” as the part of our personality that contains basic instinctual drives – the only part of our personality that is present from birth. Freud can be interpreted as thinking that the drive for pleasure was more important than the avoidance of pain, but he considered the pleasure principle as the avoidance of pain or unpleasure (not displeasure) and so the two basic drivers were inextricably connected in his models of personality.


The rest of this article is available to site subscribers, who get access to all articles plus a weekly newsletter.
To continue reading, please login below or sign up for a subscription. Thank you.