I’m often asked by clients how to find the motivation to begin or continue on a path that leads to a positive change in their lives. While I have a few suggestions for them, it’s always been difficult for me to know exactly how to help them. The way I look at it, motivation comes from the outside. If you’re looking for something to motivate you, you can probably find it for short-term success. For example, maybe an upcoming class reunion will give you the incentive to lose those few extra pounds.

But if you’re wanting long-term change, I believe what you need to find is inspiration. Inspiration comes from within. This may be a difficult concept – that you can inspire yourself to make a change. Most of us have unchecked continual intellectual violence going on inside our heads – all those negative thoughts or memes we have entertained for years. Most of us will have the same negative thoughts today that we had yesterday and last year and for years before that. Those are the memes (mind viruses) we’ve learned from our parents or society. Like any other virus, they are successful in doing their jobs – duplicating themselves while we feel worse and worse about ourselves. (See Mind Virus by Richard Brodie). That is unless we become conscious that we don’t have to believe everything we think! There is an antidote.

If you want to change something, you first have to determine what the core negative belief about yourself is around the situation, because that’s what drives your emotions and behaviors. (Examples of negative core beliefs are “I’m not good enough” or “I’m a failure.” You might know that’s not true rationally, but when your behaviors don’t match that, it means you believe it in your heart).

Your beliefs stem from the thoughts you are feeding. The thoughts that gain weight by the constant feeding become your belief. If you decide that belief is not productive for you, it’s time to look for alternative (and more positive) thoughts. This won’t come easily. The first step is to be open and willing to change your view. Remember you’ve been thinking this way your entire life, so you have lots of practice at taking this negative perspective. It may not feel comfortable, but it is familiar, and we gravitate toward familiar. You won’t believe those more positive thoughts at first, but if you continue to fine-tune that new picture you’re painting of yourself or of the situation, you’ll begin to see evidence that there is a kernel of truth to them.

How you see yourself is paramount here. If you see yourself as someone who doesn’t deserve to be happy, or who can’t be thinner, or whatever it is you want for yourself, you’ll be looking for motivation from the outside to help you change, rather than inspiration from within. (Sometimes, these thoughts might be wrapped in trauma that you may or may not remember. That doesn’t necessarily mean a history of abuse or other experiences we often consider traumatic. Sometimes repeated messages from parents, schoolmates or siblings unconsciously translate into a belief that you’re not enough can become engrained into your physiological and psychological system, in the same way, surviving a horrific fire or earthquake does. (Keep in mind that your family and friends may not have intended to hurt you with these messages, but a child’s mind hangs onto these messages as if they are responsible for their irrational words and actions of their loved ones. At any rate, if you recognize this might be the case for you, you might need to address it with a therapist before you can move forward).

But I’ve seen instances where a client has begun to change based on self-concept. I can recall clients – who had been deep into drugs and alcohol – begin to make subtle changes in their appearance (a new haircut, more professional clothing, etc). About the same time, I noticed they were making more self-compassionate comments, and I could see a marked difference in how seriously they viewed their recovery process from that point on. When I talked to them about what had changed, they all said something similar: they just no longer saw themselves as *the type of person* who would behave in the way they had previously. It just didn’t fit them anymore.

Eventually, the external and internal process can work together. Once that gradual internal concept begins to change, external triggers can be helpful to keep the momentum going. Look for places to get more positive input. I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music that inspires me. I do it daily. Although I’m a pretty positive person who is grateful for the life I lead and the people in my life, I do have negative things happen – so I listen to inspirational input that reminds me to stay in the moment and be mindful – and to be in gratitude for how far I’ve come. It HAS to be consistent!

For me, it works well to listen to my iPod while I’m working out or walking. Then I meditate afterward to connect with my higher self and to center myself. Sometimes, I use a mantra to focus on an issue or relationship I need to work on. On days when I can’t do either or both of these, I make a concerted effort to stay in the moment and practice gratitude for every little thing that happens. I also do short stopping mediations throughout the day where I set an alarm, and when it goes off, I stop what I’m doing, and sit quietly for 1-5 minutes and put my awareness on my body or something besides the thoughts racing in my head. Then I go back to what was doing.

But you don’t have to do it my way. Just look for ways you can feed your mind with whatever inspires you. It doesn’t have to be about a change you’re trying to make, but just something that is positive & makes you feel good – funny videos on YouTube or TV or reading the Bible or a meditation book. Whatever you choose, you do need to do it consistently and often. (I can’t say the word *consistent* enough)! The more you immerse yourself in the positive or the new perspective you’re wanting to take the more it will sink in.

Most importantly, don’t be so self-critical when you fall off the wagon & forget to feed yourself those positive thoughts and feelings. That’s going to happen! It’s an expected part of any process of change. Just start back on your new routine at the next opportunity. Get out of your head, quit feeding those negative thoughts, and pat yourself on the back for being ready for the next step.

As you get older you will understand more and more that it’s not about what you look like or what you own. It’s all about the person you’ve become.