How to Motivate Your Teen to Take More Action and Create Success

Have you heard of the negativity bias? It’s the concept that even if the positive events outweigh the negative events significantly, we still tend to focus on the negative. The general rule is that you need to say five positive things to your teen for every one negative comment because focusing on their wins really IS the answer to more action and success.

Let’s say your teen is working on increasing their water intake. You gave them a big pep talk, explained why it was so important, went out and bought them a new water bottle, refrigerated it so that it was nice and cold, and even put it in the water bottle pocket of their backpack. However, when they arrive home, the water bottle is full.

Well, that is REALLY annoying. You put in all this effort, and they didn’t follow through at any level. You probably want to tell them all the ways that this bothers you. However, starting with the negative, will put your teen on the defense and make them less likely to listen or create this new habit in the future.

Focus on the Wins

You could say something like:

  • Were you able to drink lots of water today?
  • How did you do reaching your water goal today?
  • How much water were you able to drink today?

This gives them time to explain. Who knows, maybe they filled it three times throughout the day. While they tell you how it went, be listening for everything they did right so you can celebrate ALL the wins no matter how small. Maybe they drank water out of a fountain, had a glass of water at lunch, or drank water from team water bottles. Even if all they did was bring the water bottle (that you put there, I know) to school, your teen is still heading in the right direction. When you focus on your teen’s wins, they are much more likely to continue to follow through and improve with your support and encouragement.

Also by focusing on the positive, you keep the dialogue open and the stress around creating this new habit low. Your teen might explain why the new plan didn’t work so well. Then you have the opportunity to brainstorm and devise new action steps, so that your teen can experience more success.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Track Success

It is also helpful to keep a record of the wins. This way, there is a clear picture of what your teen has actually accomplished. In the case of drinking more water, you might track the action steps:

  • 8oz of water with breakfast
  • finish water bottle by lunch
  • 8 oz of water at lunch
  • finish water bottle by dinner
  • green tea before bed

I create an accountability chart in a Google Document for all my clients. Then at the end of each day, they text me their wins, and I record them in the chart. You could use this exact strategy with your teen. (They could just tell you instead of texting of course) This check in gives you an opportunity to support and encourage your teen to reach their goals on a daily basis. At the end of the week, you can celebrate all the momentum toward the goal. In addition, if your teen has not been following through, it is a non confrontational way to show them what they have not been doing.

Instead of saying, “You drank almost no water this week. “

You could say, “You only had about two cups a day and the goal is 8, so what could we do to help you reach this goal?”

Then you work together to tweak the action steps so that your teen can have more success the following week. For example, maybe they forgot to drink water at school, so you take that off the chart and add larger quantities of water when at home.

Celebrating and tracking wins helps your teen stay motivated to work towards their goals and ultimately experience more success which is why it is an integral part of my signature Creating Healthy Habits Coaching program. Sometimes, even if we are saying exactly the same thing as someone else, our teen just won’t listen. When I was a classroom teacher, I saw this time and time again. My students were angels for me, and did everything I asked them to do. Then when they got home, they would whine and complain about doing homework. If you feel that you could use some support in helping your teen implement new healthier habits, let’s find a time to chat.


Originally published at www.claireketchum.com on April 28, 2017.

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