A white woman sitting down in her living room reading a self-help book to represent the topic of the article - How To Adapt Motivational Interviewing For Self-Help

How To Adapt Motivational Interviewing For Self-Help

I came across motivational interviewing when I was working for a substance abuse charity a few years back. I also know it’s used in other areas of mental health support. Thus, I’d been wondering for a while about how I could adapt motivational interviewing into a self-help article, and this is what I came up with. I may, in the future, do a full review/summary of motivational interviewing; if that’s something you’d like to learn about, let me know in the comments section.


Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.



In a nutshell, motivational interviewing is a method therapists used to promote change, especially in the face of resistance to change. One of the core beliefs in motivational interviewing is that the therapist and clients work together to help the client implement changes. However, ultimately the client is responsible for choosing and carrying out the actions that’ll lead to change (Miller and Rollnick, 2002).


Adapting motivational interviewing theory and techniques into a self-help, wellbeing, and goal-setting approach could help you identify and change things in your life that might be holding you back. This could be useful if you struggle with self-sabotaging behaviours and/or thinking errors.




Develop Discrepancy


If there’s something you’re thinking about changing or are in the process of trying to change, then engaging in this thought exercise could help you succeed in making that change.


Motivational interviewing states that change is enhanced when potential or perceived discrepancies between your current situation and your hopes for the future are examined or how your current behaviours differ from your desired or ideal behaviours (SAMHSA, 1999).




Questions to Ask Yourself


Motivational interviewing makes use of open-ended questions because they invite you to reflect and elaborate (Miller and Rollnick, 2013). Thus, the following will aim to apply that approach to your own thoughts and ideas around change to increase the likelihood that change will occur and remove any ambivalence.


One good way of using these open-ended questions to help develop changes could be to write these down rather than using them as a thought exercise. If you have a journal, then you could write and answer the questions in your journal. If you don’t have a journal, then a notepad and pen or writing app will also do.


As you go through these and ask yourself these questions, it would also be beneficial to provide yourself with examples so that they’re grounded in your reality, rather than being something you can dismiss as being ‘abstract’.


Problem recognition

You may have some problems in your life that are starting to bother you, or someone may have expressed some concerns about your behaviours. Taking some time to self-reflect on this could help you make appropriate changes, seek appropriate support, etc.


So what kind of questions could you ask yourself to get the ball rolling on this? Well, you could start by finding out your feelings on the matter. For example, you could ask yourself: How do I feel about…? Borrowing from the substance abuse field, you could complete this question by saying: How do you feel about your current drug use and the effects it’s having on your quality of life?


Expression of concern

If you have concerns about making a change, then it’s time to start asking yourself what your concerns are, so you can work to overcome them. But be honest with yourself when you do this, as this will be more effective the more honest you are. If, like me, you have problems with procrastination and low motivation, then list that as a concern.


An example of what you could ask yourself is: What worries do I have about…? Therefore, if you had an issue with your alcohol use, then you could complete that question by asking: What worries do I have about my level of alcohol consumption and its effects on my health?


The picture is split in two with the top image being of a white woman laying on her bed reading a book with some self-care items in the foreground and the bottom image being of two black women sitting on bed pampering themselves with a make over. The two images are separated by the article title - How To Adapt Motivational Interviewing For Self-Help


Explore decisional balance

Think of this as asking yourself what the pros and cons, positives and negatives, or benefits and costs of keeping the status quo are. Therefore, you could first ask yourself what the positives of remaining the same, creating a list, and following that with a list of the negatives of staying the same.


For example, if you with struggling with substance dependency, then you could have a list of positives that might include: it helps me cope, I enjoy using, etc., and on your list of negatives you might have: it’s pushing my loved one’s away, I can’t stop thinking about using, etc.


Intention of change

This is a pretty simple question you can ask yourself: What would I like to do about…? Taking a step away from using substance dependency as an example, you could ask yourself: What would I like to do about my self-harming?



This one reminds me of SMART goals because it seems to bring some of the principles around using SMART goals into motivational interviewing (although it might actually be more the other way around): I’m a big advocate of using and adapting SMART goals.


Anyway, so why call this step optimism? Well, the way I see it, if you’re already thinking about change, then this will help you create a list of motivations to start making those changes, by asking yourself one simple question: What makes you feel that now is the right time to change?


If you’re already thinking about making changes, then this should create a list of good motivational points you can return to should you feel your motivation start to slip. Although, I’m aware this also has the potential to give you a reason to not pursue your desire to change. However, if you’ve made it this far, then I already believe in your commitment to making that change, so don’t give up now.



Motivational interviewing encourages empathy and respect from the therapist when exploring and identifying the client’s thoughts on their behaviours (Boyle, Vseteckova, and Higgins, 2019). However, in this situation, there is no therapist.


There are a couple of ways you could apply this to yourself, starting with treating yourself with kindness. More often than not, we’re our own worst critics. I know I’m mine (Thinking Errors). Show yourself comparison, to err is human, so focus on working towards self-improvement rather than dwelling and getting stuck in your past.


But to truly encompass the idea of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to better understand the other person, I was reminded of a common question that’s often used, and which I used in my 12 Benefits Of Having A Safety Plan worksheets/workbooks (which you can find on my Resources page). That question goes like this: What would you do or say to support your friend who was in this situation instead of you?






This is a skill that therapists used to summarise what the client has said in a session, which could be done to highlight what the client has said or to point out contradictory statements the client has made. They can also be used to seek clarification, to move the discussion forward, or so the therapist can provide additional information or ask a question based on the summary they’ve made.


However, I think that as you’re working on your own effects to change, if you’ve written a lot of notes whilst working through this, then you could benefit from writing a summary of what you’ve said as well. It’ll help focus what you’ve written in a more compact format, whilst allowing you to have another chance of examining what you wrote while you write your summary. So be sure to reflect on what you’re summarising when you do your summaries.

Implementing change


An effective way of promoting the changes you want to make is to apply SMART goals to them, so you can create a realistic set of steps you can take to achieve your aims. To find out more about SMART goals, click here or if you’re already familiar with SMART goals, then you can click here to get my free printable worksheet.


Well, that’s it for adapting motivational interviewing into a form of self-help, let me know what you think about it in the comments section.


As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with motivational interviewing and/or change the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.


Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.







Boyle, S., Vseteckova, J., & Higgins, M. (2019). Impact of Motivational Interviewing by Social Workers on Service Users: A Systematic Review. Research on Social Work Practice, 29(8), 863–875. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731519827377.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational interviewing. [electronic resource] : preparing people for change (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing : helping people change (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

SAMHSA. (1999). Enhancing Motivation For Change in Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 35. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64967/pdf/Bookshelf_NBK64967.pdf.

86 thoughts on “How To Adapt Motivational Interviewing For Self-Help

  1. Thatt was an interesting read. Have never heard of motivational interviewing before.


  2. Yeah…..I heard about motivational interviewing before. And I did this practice. It really helps me to motivate myself in becoming a better person. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I never heard of Motivational interview before…..
    And I totally agree with you on writing down the points we had said which can help us summarize our present condition as we will not remember everything we had said…..
    Mental health should be treated as an important feature by everyone….
    Thank you for sharing this post ?
    It’s really useful

    JENISH | https://knowafactfromj.blogspot.com

  4. This is such a great post. What an awesome exercise to practice. It is often hard to overcome negativity in life and make a positive change. I do believe this could help so many people. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  5. Very enlightening post. Motivational Interviewing is a completely new term to me. You learn something new every day. Thank you for providing a vehicle to positivity.

  6. I love open ended questions! Taking time to reflect on where our choices lead us is always fascinating, as is maybe even thinking and realizing that we have changed our minds about some things and decided on new thoughts and new ideas to move forward on. Thinking and writing about whatever comes to mind is another way I learn new things about myself.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. The journal idea is great and I love to write down things that I want to do and stay organized. It also help to stay motivate to look on the things you have have done.

  8. I never heard of Motivational interview before. I really loved exploring decision balancing. Very thoughtful and insightful post. The thing about self empathy was so true. Posts regarding mental health should be encouraged more since its what we need the most now. Finding ways that can help us or anyone suffering from it.

  9. I’ve used SMART goals before, to very good affect. Using this interview technique, would probably do me a lot of good.

  10. I have done included motivational interviewing in my therapy sessions before when I was working with clients. It can be a highly effective tool is used well. The way you approached it as a self help technique is commendable. Thank you for writing such a helpful and insightful article.

  11. This is all great advice. I love that you included the importance of being honest with ourselves. It’s easy to allow ourselves to overlook the areas where we need to change, blindspots in our lives. While being honest can be painful, it’s the secret to growth.

  12. You’ve written a great post on motivational interviewing! Nice to see the appreciative thoughts in the comments.

    I learned about motivational interviewing at one of my social work jobs. I began using it and saw positive results. I especially like the ruler technique – asking someone to rank a behavior from zero (not motivated to change) to ten (motivated to change). Ranks from 1 and up provide room for discussion – they didn’t rank themselves at zero, so they have some desire to change. Also, a good question to ask is “what is preventing you from ranking higher?” or “what would have to happen to get you to rank yourself from a 7 to a 9 or 10?”

    That’s a good idea to apply it to myself, as I’m a procrastinator. So far, when it comes to home use, I’ve only applied it on my husband, lol.

  13. This is something really fresh! Never heard about Motivational interviews. Thanks for sharing this unique piece.

  14. This is really interesting, I’ve never heard of motivational interviewing before but it sounds like such a great way to help your mental health! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  15. Great post as always. I think implementing change and showing empathy for yourself are key factors

  16. Your posts are always so informative 🙂 Motivational interviewing sounds like such a great tool to use on yourself to encourage a change in thinking. I really liked learning about SMART goals and checked out that post of yours as well! You have really interesting content

  17. I didn’t know motivational interviewing was a thing! Thanks for sharing more about what it is and how it’s used. I found this post really interesting

  18. I have been doing the motivational interviewing years before I even realized that’s what it is called. As a kid I always used this to boost my confidence and more so to make myself feel better. In a way it part of my self care 🙂 Very well written and explained. Thanks for sharing

  19. I like this interview process. I encourages people to just think, but to think by asking themselves a better question. You can get more out of yourself with a question that has many possibilities for positive outcomes.

    • I imagine it’s the base approach for a lot of counsellors nowadays, although it was originally designed to tackle ambivalence in addiction to foster change

  20. This is very interesting and informative. It’s my first time hearing about motivational interviewing. I like your suggestion that you do this in a journal and provide examples to make sure what you’re writing is grounded in reality. So often we can get away with thinking things that we don’t justify and don’t have to because there’s no one to challenge those thoughts.

  21. This is an interesting method that I’ve ever heard of before. It sounds great though and I want to give this technique a try. Thank you for sharing!

  22. I have long been a proponent of writing and journaling as a form of self care, but never quite considered this approach. Outstanding! I also love the concept of “self empathy.” Keep up the good work.

  23. This is really interesting! I believe that the implementation is basically where we face problems.

  24. Thank you for sharing. Very well written. I like that it’s not just informative but also has a personal touch to it. This came at the perfect time because I’ve always struggled with motivation. I’ve never heard of motivational interviewing before. I’m definitely going to have to try this.

  25. I have never heard of motivational interviewing before, had to look it up. It sounds like an interesting technique or method! I have never really had an issue with change and actually enjoy and embrace it (even if it causes me anxiety sometimes) but it is interesting all the same and I can see where it would be very helpful for a lot of people.

  26. This is so well put, I think something like this can definitely work better for someone with a deteriorating mental health!

Leave a Reply

Skip to content