Why Coaches Can’t Motivate

WELCOME TOAutonomy, one of the three basic needs that an engaging product supports, is about choice, but particularly meaningful choice. Sure, people like customizing the colors or images on a portal or prioritizing items in a news feed, but the importance of these pale beside volitional choice.

Volitional choice is the ability to make meaningful decisions for oneself; decisions like, what is important to me? What do I value?

These sorts of deeply personal “missions” can help engage a person in an experience (like health behavior change) over the long term. Devoting oneself to a purpose like cultivating rich relationships or going on adventures can guide healthy choices in the moment, in the service of the ultimate goal. That’s why, as health coaches, we care so deeply about helping people to uncover and articulate their personal goals.

Really all we can do is guide. For it to be effective, a goal has to be personal. Coaches can give people the tools to reflect on their characters and values, to synthesize what they know into a clear statement, and to keep the goal front in center, but they cannot create or impose the goal.

It sometimes feels funny to talk about “motivating” someone. A good coach, I think, holds up a mirror to help a person see the motivation she carries within. That’s where the spark comes from.