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Why do Motivational programs not create sustainable change?

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Have you ever attended a motivational program or conducted one?

Have you noticed how most participants at the end of the motivational program are highly motivated and excited to achieve their goals?

It has been generally seen that most trainers take this excitement and energy as a barometer of the program’s success.

As a trainer, would you consider the motivational program a success?

How long did the motivation sustain after the program? A few days? A week?

And then?

Soon, the participants go back to where they were before the motivational program.

To understand why, let us look closely at the general structure of a motivational training program.

Structure of a Motivational Program

Introducing the Motivational Trainer

A motivational program generally begins with someone introducing the trainer in a grandiose manner, illustrating everything that the trainer claims to have achieved.

The words, presentations and stories are chosen carefully, to present the trainer as an extremely successful and/or rich person, who is loved by everyone (including the neighbour’s pet).

Regardless of whether this is true or not, the objective is to simply make the participants realise that the speaker or the trainer has everything they wish to have.

Almost every participant attending a motivation program wants to be successful, rich, and/or loved by people around him or her. This creates an awe about the trainer and the participants are now willing to listen to his words of wisdom, which induces a suggestible (hypnotic state) in the audience.

Motivational Questioning

The trainer then, to build up the motivational program, begins by asking a few questions which are bound to elicit a ‘yes’ response from the participants. These are general questions to which no one really would say ‘no’.

These questions are also known as “Yes Set Questions“. For example,

  • Would you like to be successful?
  • Would you like to live a happy, healthy life?
  • Wouldn’t you love to be loved by people around you?

The purpose of these questions to get the participants in an agreement frame with the trainer.

Agreement in the beginning makes the participants feel comfortable and gives an illusion that the trainer understands them and their objectives. This further enhances the suggestible state.

You can know more about these Yes Set Questions and other principles of conversational hypnosis in the following online program. That said I would personally recommend the Advanced coaching competency development certification program to get a more in depth understanding about these principles and its applications.

Motivational Storytelling

The trainer then shares a story, which he claims to be his personal journey. The story begins by telling participants about a misfortune or a tragedy that he had experienced in his life.

The three most common examples are:

  1. A humongous financial loss or
  2. Deeply disturbed mental state (depression, anxiety….)
  3. A life-threatening disease

Think of this story as a metaphor to connect with the audience. Every participant will have a story and the story used by the trainer will help them connect with the participants.

The story is dramatised to give an impression that the motivational trainer had hit rock bottom. And then how he stumbled upon, what he now calls, his recipe for success.

Recipe for Success: Magic Pill

The story continues by informing participants about how, by simply following this recipe, he has achieved great success, financial abundance and the love of all those around him.

This story serves two purposes:

  1. Makes participants feel that if the trainer could achieve great heights after reaching rock bottom, they too can do it.
  2. Makes them curious about this recipe for success – a magic pill that will help them become rich and successful.

In short, by pacing (talking about problems) and leading the participants (towards magic pill), the trainer is now making them even more receptive and suggestible to his/her ideas.

Motivational Video

Next, the trainer shows some motivational videos, narrates quotes from successful people or shares the stories of others, to show how the key to success is the infinite power of mind that is hidden deep within each of us.

In most cases, the trainer makes these claims based on self-help books, articles that s/he has read or training programs s/he has attended.

Sadly, many of these trainers do not even realise what is happening in the mind. But the conviction with which they speak gives an impression that they know everything there is to know, about the mind.

Metaphysical Models

The trainer then goes on to add metaphysical models (concepts that apparently cannot be explained through logic but can only be experienced at a deeper level) to explain this hidden power.

These models again serve two purposes:

  1. They are used to get away from any question that the trainer may not have an answer to.
  2. These models create a sense of mysticism which adds to the awe that most participants were already experiencing.

I am sure you have already guessed that this further enhances suggestibility.

Building Participant Conviction

By now most participants are convinced that there is a deeper, more powerful force at play behind this recipe for success. It leaves an impression that, when followed, this recipe and the force behind it are responsible to help me achieve my outcome.

Motivational Goal Setting

Next, the trainer helps the participants understand the importance of setting a goal and claims that if the goal is clear and motivating, the participant is passionate about it and the participant follows the recipe, there is really no way that s/he would not achieve this goal.

Most trainers go on to claim that the participants don’t even need to work hard to achieve their goals. If they have to work hard, then maybe the goal is not what their heart really desires.

All this makes the participant feel that once they set a goal, everything else will be easy.

Participants are asked to create a goal based on a model of goal setting that the trainer feels most comfortable about. Some trainers use a very rigid model and others follow a more flexible model.

With the increasing popularity of positive thinking, the Secret and the law of attraction, most models of goal setting begin by asking the participants to imagine that everything they really want is possible.

Using Trans-Logic

Again, a lot of metaphysical and spiritual explanations are provided during these motivational programs. These explanations are generally disguised as scientific in nature (not to say that they are not scientific or that they are scientific).

These models act as trans-logic to make participants more receptive and to stop them from questioning the model even if the model doesn’t fit their style of working.

The participants are asked to define the goal as precisely as possible while describing the emotions they will experience once they have achieved the goal.

This is done to help the participants feel extremely positive about their goals which then provides them with the initial motivation to at least start with the process of achieving their goals.

Motivational Programs leading to mismatched expectations between Efforts and Outcome

This is important because obviously one cannot really achieve a goal if s/he doesn’t have one. So the intention behind the build-up is very positive but it is the same build-up that becomes one of the primary reasons for participants becoming disappointed and losing motivation over time.

The expectations regarding the outcome are incredibly high whereas the expectations regarding the amount of effort, they have to put in, are comparatively very low.

When they actually get into action mode, this mismatch of expectations becomes more and more apparent and the bubble created during the motivational program begins to burst.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, whatever model the motivational trainer deems fit, is recommended as the best model for goal setting.

In my experience, there is no one-size-fits-all model.

A flexible model that allows for modifications based on individual participant’s style of working is better from an effectiveness point of view but is also more difficult to administer from the motivational trainer’s point of view.

So, most trainers opt for a more rigid model, which is another reason for participants, in most motivational programs, not being able to achieve their goals.

Vision Board

After the participants set their goals, they may also be asked to create a vision board based on the goals.

They will be asked to stick the vision board at places where they can keep seeing it in their day to day life.

The objective of the vision board is to act as a constant reminder to the client that this is what they wish to achieve.

The hope is that this reminder will help sustain the level of motivation.

Again, the objective is good but with some participants, the vision board over a period can add to the level of disappointment.

It becomes a constant reminder of what they couldn’t achieve or how far they are from where they want to be.

Motivational Plan of Action

Then any good motivational program will also ask the participants to create a plan of action that they need to follow to achieve the goals they have set. This is what ensures that the original goals can become more realistic.

Ideally, this plan of action is supposed to be very elaborate. A schedule may be created to help the participants stick to and apply the created plan.

The assumption (in most cases a mistaken one) is that awareness of the plan, with the motivation coming from an emotionally charged goal, will be enough to ensure that the participants are able to take the necessary steps consistently.

Obviously if they are able to take the necessary steps, sooner or later, they will achieve their goals.

The problem is that awareness is not necessarily equal to sustainable change. Participants realise, with time, that despite knowing what to do they are not able to do it because they just don’t feel like doing it.

More Motivational Videos, games and processes

Next, there will be some more motivational quotes and videos on the power of mind followed by certain guided meditations to further enhance the level of motivation. Somewhere during the program, the trainer may use some games, activities and humour to keep the program light and entertaining.

Motivational Program: Grand Finale

In many programs, activities like glass walk, fire walk, fire eating, is also done towards the end of the motivational program to demonstrate the power of mind.

By the way, none of these activities actually have much to do with mind power, at least not in the way they are showcased.

But at the end, the participant feels really good, extremely motivated and all set to use the power of mind or the law of attraction to achieve his / her goals.

After Effects of Motivational Program

The next few days after the motivational program are really good. Most participants initially feel motivated and make an attempt to follow the plan of action.

But over the next few days or weeks, most of these participants begin to experience disappointment or their level of motivation begins to drop.

This bring us to the original question “why does this happen?”

Why Motivational Programs don’t work?

So from what we have discussed, let us summarise why motivational programs are not so motivational after-all:

  1. Generic goal setting models used during the motivational program as it is not customised for the needs of participants
  2. Magic Pill expectation that the process of goal accomplishment will be effortless created by them motivational trainer
  3. Excessive use of metaphysical models that are not questioned during the program but create doubts later on.
  4. Inability of participants to handle disappoints because of mismatch between expectations created during motivational programs and reality.
  5. Some participants become overwhelmed by the outcome when they constantly see the vision board
  6. The assumption that awareness will always lead to change
  7. At times the hype created due to the grand finale can also work against the participants and their ability to achieve goals
  8. Most motivational programs don’t address the underlying issues (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, values…) that act as primary reasons that stop participants from taking action. Remember, creating awareness of underlying issues is not really same as addressing these issues.
  9. Lastly some participants may have deeper issues that need a more intensive one-to-one intervention.

What next?

Making motivational programs really motivational

First step would be to re-structure the motivational programs slightly based on the information I have shared above. But that isn’t enough. It is important to address each of the reasons mentioned above using relevant processes.

Many techniques and models that have been referred to or explained in different articles on this website can be very useful both for trainers to incorporate them in their motivational programs and also participants who have not seen a long term benefit from motivational programs.

I would really recommend the following articles to begin with:

For Coaches and Trainers

All the information shared during this post is a result of our extensive understanding of the working of mind and the application of principles from Hypnosis, NLP, Metaphors….

If you are serious about becoming a really effective coach or trainer, I would suggest, search for and enrol in the unique and comprehensive Cognitive Hypnotic Coaching™ Certification Program. You would love the program just like all the others who have been a part of the same.