Sowing, growing and revitalising motivation; mechanisms preventing change

Motivation is generally accepted as a requirement for success. With motivation, we can get from Point A, where we are, to Point B, where we want to be. Without it, change work can be slow and often grind to a halt. 

So anything we can do to maintain motivation is of value to all involved. One thing we can do is identify any processes that undermine our motivation. The four processes described here are ‘primary gain’, ‘secondary gain’, ‘tertiary gain’, and ‘malingering’. If we discover we're experiencing any of these, we can address them to rekindle and/or grow our motivation and help us to move towards achieving our goals.

Primary gain

Primary gain (also called ‘somatisation’) refers to a more socially acceptable organic complaint or disability taking the place of a less socially acceptable psychological distress. In other words, having a headache is more acceptable socially and psychologically than experiencing ‘stress’, so stress manifests instead as a headache. The gain is real to us and may not be very evident and we may need to address the overly obvious and also think a little beyond the obvious to discover more and connect various issues together.

We often see this when we aren't coping say at work or we don't like our job. Perhaps we've been given too much work or work we don't feel competent to do it and we develop an unexplained physical pain in our back or arms that apparently seems to appear from nowhere. Another example might be a child who always falls ill on a Wednesday which also happens to be physical education class, The anxiety or stress of attending and having to e.g., have a communal shower or do things they don't feel good at, may be replaced by gaining permission to not have to go to school due to a stomach complaint.

Secondary gain

Secondary gain gives us an explanation or reason for continuing old behaviours because they are rewarding to us. For example, we might consciously want to quit smoking however the breaks we get at work away from chatting with certain colleagues, or at 'me times' at home away from the kids, is a powerful motivator to feel the desire to keep smoking.

Anything we want to change, even those that would seem most undesirable, can be in some way rewarding for us.

Other examples of secondary gain include getting sympathy or attention, avoidance of responsibility, and being able to offer a disabling reason for failures and imperfections e.g., claiming to have dyslexia. A further example, which a hypnotherapist once mentioned on a hypnotherapy discussion board, is a client who had an eating disorder. She wouldn't eat due to a lump in her throat. There was no medical evidence for this lump. The hypnotherapist talked to the 'lump' and asked it what its purpose was. 'It' spoke back saying it protected her and distracted her from thinking about her husband who was seriously ill in a nursing home. The client had a 'light bulb' moment when she realised it was all about guilt because her husband didn't smoke and she did and she had possibly brought about his illness through passive smoking.

When we have secondary gain we don't consciously plot, scheme and manipulate people (this is called 'malingering' – discussed below). The benefits may be totally unconscious to us until they are identified during hypnosis or someone points them out to us. 

Tertiary gain

Tertiary gain occurs where others, e.g., partners or professionals stand to gain from the maintenance or exaggeration of our problem. For example, a therapist could continue earning from unnecessary sessions that you don't need, a partner could continue to insist they take you everywhere because of their perceived jealousy that you will find someone else rather than being supportive and helpful.  They may be conscious of this at some level or unconscious of it. Often, we will gain as well because they will collude with any secondary gain.

Both parties may continue to remain very happy with this arrangement, despite no progress because it in some way satisfies both of their needs. If you're struggling to make progress look for family members, friends and others who gain from you continuing your issues. Perhaps your best friend is overweight and would be jealous of you losing weight, so they consciously or unconsciously undermine your change.


Malingering is something quite different to the 3 above and the term refers more to the intentional fabrication or exaggeration of the symptoms of mental or physical disorders. This may be for a variety of motives, including obtaining financial compensation, maintaining entitlement to social benefit payments, obtaining medicines for use recreationally, avoiding work, trying to get out of going to school or gaining attention or sympathy. 

People make a conscious decision to malinger and are typically very aware they are doing it and the problem doesn't exist. 

Spotting these processes and dynamics in your own internal world can be key to sowing, growing, and revitalising your motivation.


Want to learn more about whether any of the above processes may be preventing you from making desired changes? Call Karen for a quick chat

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