07/21/2014 12:52 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2014

You Can't Motivate Other People So Don't Even Try!

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Yes, I know how ironic this is. I write motivational blogs, but I am telling you that you can't motivate other people. Actually it's kind of funny, isn't it? But this is not an invitation to stop reading my blogs. In fact, I hope you're now even more curious because I have such an ironic sense of humor.

Anyway, I have a confession: I have a "savior complex." In other words, I want to save people from themselves. I know that sounds like I have some sort of God-complex, but that's not true. I just like helping people. And teaching people. I am not only a teacher by profession, but I am also one at the core of my being.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend who asked me, "Do you think it's possible to motivate other people?" And I responded with, "If you would have asked me three years ago, I would have said yes. But now... no way."

But I had to figure this out the hard way.

There was a time in my life (obviously, not very long ago!) when I thought I could motivate other people for positive self-change. I saw my "motivational behavior" as almost altruistic. I'm helping other people, so how could that possibly be a bad thing, right?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.

Motivate. Improve. Really, the essence of those words implies "change." So while I chose to use the word "motivate," what I really meant is "change them." And you can't do that.

Only they can change themselves.

The people I was most guilty of trying to "motivate" were my boyfriends. Come on ladies, I know most of you are laughing to yourself right now because you have probably done the same thing! Right!?! In college, one of them was flunking out, and I thought I could make him "see the light" and put more effort into going to class and studying for exams.

Well, that didn't work.

And I actually thought I learned my lesson back then.


Even with my children, I sometimes get frustrated if I can't motivate them to do something. One of my kids is very self-motivated and competitive when it comes to ... well ... pretty much everything. The other is very laid back and doesn't have that natural competitive edge. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing a "metaphorical cheerleading dance" to motivate him to find his competitive edge. But I know deep down that I'm wasting my time. He is who he is. That's not to say that I don't still expect excellence from him, I just need to accept that he's going to find his excellence in a different way.

I have come to the conclusion that there is a difference between motivating and inspiring people. I've watched the TV show The Biggest Loser a couple of times before, and I'm always very inspired by those people and their stories. But does it motivate me to go out and start a new diet and an exercise program? Unfortunately, no.

I don't want to kill your efforts of trying to inspire people. Inspiring people is great! It implies that you have moved them mentally or emotionally in some way. But motivating people implies action. Go ahead and inspire all you want. But leave the action to other people! If you don't, you will only become as frustrated and exhausted as I did before I stopped try to "change people for the better."

I hope I've inspired you to have a great day! Now go out and motivate yourself to do it!