What’s Motivating Your Behavior? 12 Questions That Could Change Your Life

A happy life is all about balance. We thrive when our needs are met.

By Amber Parker3 min read
Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

Ensuring that our needs are met requires harmony among our priorities: our work, our relationships, our finances, and our health. Our overall happiness hangs in the balance of giving proportionate attention to each of our needs. When one part of our life becomes chaotic, or our priorities become disorganized, it can be a strain on more than just our happiness. If the imbalance is not addressed, it can be the catalyst to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Finding Balance

Juggling work, the people we love, our well-being, and the million other little things we must shuffle daily is a marvel in itself, and something new is constantly being thrown into the mix. It’s important to check ourselves frequently. Have you lost your balance? What’s off? What are you giving too much or too little?

Sometimes, it feels easier to simply juggle less, and sometimes we should. But dropping the ball on something important might be the thing that’s preventing you from truly thriving. The key to achieving anything in life, any goal, any change, lies in our motivation. We may be motivated by extrinsic and intrinsic forces differently, but according to famous psychiatrists like Abraham Maslow, we're all inherently motivated to better ourselves. So, even if your lifestyle feels comfortable, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

The key to achieving anything in life, any goal, any change, lies in our motivation.

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” Growth is an intrinsic motivation; it’s built-in. It’s also easily stifled by fear or unassuming extrinsic factors, like our friends. Amid trying to balance everything, it can be difficult to fully recognize what is motivating our actions.

How To Recognize What's Motivating Your Actions

The first step is becoming self-aware and recognizing negative behaviors, harmful patterns, or anything that’s causing an imbalance of our priorities. As psychiatrist and author Dr. Abbigail Brenner stressed in her article “How to Change Your Behavior for Good,” it’s not that easy for us to change, even when we really want to.

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” - Abraham Maslow

She explains that we are all conditioned with attitudes and beliefs that can become unhealthy. In order to change behavior, we need to challenge some of this negative conditioning. She suggests a self-dialogue exercise developed by neurophysiologist Dr. John C. Lilly, a “pioneer” in research on self-programming.

Below is a run-down of Dr. Lilly’s recommended questions. Think of any negative behavior that you want to overcome and ask yourself each question. For example, maybe you’re allowing yourself to be over-worked, or perhaps you have a problem with impulse spending. Or it could be something bigger like a struggle with substance abuse. Whatever behavior you want to change, try writing your responses down or telling a person you trust, who will be objective and won’t judge.

  1. What am I accomplishing when I engage in this behavior?

  2. What do I need to do in order to stop behaving this way?

  3. How are my relationships with other people allowing me to continue this behavior, or encouraging me to stop?

  4. How do I know that I am capable of stopping?

  5. Am I attached to this behavior? What impact is it having on me and my life?

  6. To stop, what would I need to eliminate? Other habits that support this behavior? Are there people I need to let go of?

  7. What thoughts, actions, beliefs would I need to adopt in order to stop this behavior?

  8. Can I replace an impulse to do this with doing or thinking of something else? What positive behaviors can I replace with this negative one?

  9. Which of my needs is being met when I engage in this behavior? When I stop?

  10. What could happen if I don’t stop? What are the possibilities if I did?

  11. Describe exactly what takes place when you are prompted to behave this way. What activities are centered around doing this? Who is there?

  12. How important have I made this behavior in my life? Has it become a priority? What does this have to do with who I am?

According to Lilly, a “critical but honest questioning of one’s motivation and behavior creates a new program, one that exposes the negative side of the behavior, lifts limitations, creates new possibilities, and changes behavior for good.”

Hold Yourself Accountable

This self-examination may feel like a lot of work, so keep it simple and focus on one negative behavior at a time. It’s also helpful to hold yourself publicly accountable. If you’ve decided you need to work more reasonable hours, tell your co-workers you’re making it a priority to leave at 5pm. If you need to drink less, tell your friends you’re not going out this month. Whatever it is, challenge yourself to 30 days and see how it goes.

Obviously, this is not meant to be a substitute for professional help. Some issues are too big to tackle on our own. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., and over 264 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Fortunately, with the right help, both are highly treatable. While leading causes are poor nutrition, drug use, and stress, other major causes are genetics, brain chemistry imbalances, and other physical health issues that need professional attention.

Closing Thoughts

The bottom line is that we thrive when our needs are met, so it’s important that we frequently self-assess what's motivating our behavior. Remember, our happiness hangs in the balance.