How do I find the motivation to change my addictive behavior?

Motivation is perhaps the biggest driver for changing addictive behaviors. Reward-based techniques have proven to be more effective motivators than punitive techniques such as removing the addictive substance or behavior completely without replacing it with a healthier alternative. If you want to give up an addiction, it significantly helps to focus on what you will gain by stopping your addiction rather than focusing on what you will lose.

In her book, "The Willpower Instinct" Kelly McGonigal breaks down the science of motivation and explains how willpower can be used more deliberately to start something (exercising, for example) or stop something (drinking, for example). Willpower, McGonical explains, is an actual biological function, and not some esoteric virtue. Your willpower can be strengthened through mindfulness meditation, exercise, nutrition, and sleep. It is a significant tool in the changing of your addictive behavior so understanding it is key.

What Motivates You?

It helps to dig deep and identify the things in your life that motivate you. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is personally rewarding, like it makes you feel good about yourself. Extrinsic motivation is guided by the desire to gain an external reward (money) or avoid an unpleasant outcome (a trip to the hospital). 

Make a list of five intrinsic, and five extrinsic rewards that you could have (or avoid) if you no longer engaged in your addictive behavior. For example, here are some intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for quitting drinking:

Intrinsic Motivators
1. I would feel more clear headed and awake.
2. I would be proud that I have achieved a large goal.
3. I would have more integrity.
4 . I would be excited about finding new activities.
5. I would feel more connected to my family.

Extrinsic Motivators
1. I would save a significant amount of money.
2. I would salvage/repair broken relationships.
3. I would avoid legal trouble (DUI, for example).
4. I would gain the respect of my peers and community.
5. I would have more fun life experiences.

Remind Yourself Daily

Listing the things that motivate you, and looking at them daily can serve as a reminder, especially when you feel like engaging in your addictive behavior. During times of craving or withdrawal, it's important to regularly take the time to remember those things that are important to us, and be grateful for them. This helps to keep the bigger picture of your life in perspective and help take your mind off the short-term benefits that your drug or behavior of choice provides. 

What are your motivators? Share what motivates you to stop your addictive behavior below.


  • 10 Commentsby Likes|Date
  • Great post, @Joe. Motivation is a key to success, for sure. Not just in recovery, but in life in general. 

    My family is definitely my motivation to live a sober life. I want to be the best that I can be for them, and that means abstaining from alcohol and other substances. I also want to set an example for my two boys. I want them to know that life--both the good parts and the bad parts--can be lived without self-medication; that you can learn to stay on an even keel even though life can sometimes seem like a roller coaster ride. And, of course, I want to be around as long as I can to enjoy my family...and my life. Being substance-free will definitely increase my odds of living longer.

    Thanks again for the post. I have to check out The Willpower Instinct. Sounds like a great book.


  • Thanks @DeanD! These are great motivators. Your family is extremely fortunate to have someone as conscious as you in their sphere of influence :)
  • Thanks, @Joe. Will you call my family and tell them that? ;)
  • @Joe ,
    I was just reading your "How do I find the motivation ............" post but for some reason could not leave a comment there . Under your extrinsic motivators you mentioned gaining the respect of peers .
    I think this is a really important concept for me , and all addicts to understand . As a "Functioning Alcoholic " my biggest fear was the fear of not having fun anymore . And the fear of being judged by the people in my life who I wanted to continue friendships with that were still drinking . But as time has passed,  I've realized there's no shame in my new sober game . And that most of my friends don't care that I'm sober . At least not in a negative sense .

    I've been coming here for 4 1/2 months now , and see so many new folks come wanting to "Hide" their recovery . I think it is so important that these people realize that the people who matter most in their lives will "Respect" the decision for sobriety . And for that matter , encourage us to success . Peer pressure is a problem that exists in our own heads most times .

    Great post ! Thanks !
  • @TWSJ, thanks so much for the comments, and I couldn't agree with you more. Making the choice to face your addiction head on and get healthy is something to be amazingly proud of. I'm so proud of the folks who come here to share their story, and you're right, they all need to know that what they are doing is courageous and not at all shameful. I always say, your real friends won't care if you're not drinking, or about who you were. Your real friends will actually be proud and respectful of your decision. Thanks for this reminder, and thanks for all you do to support others here!

    Have a great day, my friend!
  • Yes , and the "more fun life experiences" kind of goes hand in hand with that as well . Things that we think were incredible because of the buzz we were experiencing were fun in an altered state , and may have seemed mundane in a clearer state of consciousness . If we are having fun when sober , it is because the experience was real , and truly enjoyable at it's purest level . 
    Not to mention , half of those Drunken Fun times I can't remember all the details of anyway !
  • @TWSJ, I'd give anything to remember my 20's and half my 30's. From what I hear from others they were some good times :)
  • 46 here . Only starting on the memory bank .Better late than never I reckon !
  • Thanks for this post, I will have to check out that book.

    Anthony Robbins is another great resource for motivation.
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