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Is it a motivation issue, or a capability issue?

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Danny Raede

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Folks, here’s the meat and potatoes: When you’re trying to change or encourage a particular behavior, “capability” is the first and most important place to start. Many people believe that if someone doesn’t appear to be motivated, it’s because they don’t want it. People hardly ever look deeper to find that someone actually does want something, they just don’t have the capacity and capability. As a coach, I see this every day when talking to parents. They tell me they’ve been trying for years to compel their kid to get a job, wake up on time, you name it. Then I talk to the kid directly, and they tell me that they love the idea of having a job or magically being able to wake up on time. They’re just so deep in Defense Mode and so low on Spoons that the idea sounds like wishful thinking.

For example, let’s say that your child didn’t do their homework. That might be 100% a motivation issue in the sense that they were out of Defense Mode, and they had all the time, knowledge, Spoons, resources, etc. to do it and they just simply chose not to. However, the vast majority of the time I’ve found it’s actually a capability issue, first and foremost. There was something going on under the surface, and they felt blocked in some way, either internally or externally.

As Carl Alasko, Ph.D said so succinctly, “Everyone is always doing as well as they can within their personal limitations, their personal history, what they know and don’t know, and what they’re feeling in that moment. If they could make a healthier decision, they would. This includes you.” (emphasis added)

If you’re ever unsure, give your child the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they really do (or at least could) want it, and it’s just a capability issue. Even if it’s a mix, and it’s 90% “I didn’t want to” and 10% “I felt blocked,” then address the 10% first. You’ll be trying to swim upstream until you do.

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