There is a product management technique known as the Five Whys designed to help uncover the core issues to be addressed in product requirements. How it works is fairly simple: You ask a person why a problem happened or a feature is requested, and keep asking why until their answer can’t be reduced any further. The final answer to “why” is the root issue to be solved for (and may be more efficiently helped with a feature other than the one requested).
As you can imagine, applying this technique requires a deft touch since you can very easily piss someone off by repeatedly asking “why” when they may feel they’ve given you a reasonable answer already.
That said, there’s something to the idea that people may offer an easy answer to the first question and not really dig down. Getting them to really think about what’s behind the issue can help optimize the plan of action.
So, could a health coach use a similar approach to dig into what really motivates someone?
Knowing how much purpose or mission matter in motivating a difficult health behavior change, I think there might be value in coaches probing–even pushing–to understand what is really getting a person going. It’s easy to say “I want to be a good spouse,” but a lot more revealing to say “I believe it’s my job to make a comfortable, happy home for this person that I care about.”
Reaching a level of specificity helps a coach provide more accurate, resonant messaging. It also helps crystallize motivation for the person trying to make a change. And, it may help people recognize and work on changing maladaptive motivations, when those exist.
Borrowing techniques from product management–in a sensitive, caring way–may help health coaches maximize their motivational impact.