It is just past a third of the way through 2019, and I would assume that there are many of you who started off the year determined to make a change to your health and fitness. Maybe it was to lose a couple pounds, gain some muscle mass or just to be healthier and go to the gym on a consistent basis.
The outcome doesn’t look good.
Now I ask, how many of you are still sticking to this self-promise? The stats would indicate that 60% of people who made a health-conscious NY resolution would have vacated that promise within the first 6 weeks.
So why is it so hard to make and stick to the change? Are we just bad at changing, forever stuck in our old ways? Or perhaps it’s that we don’t really understand what it takes to change. I would like to purpose a more theoretical approach to change, one that is based on understanding your motivations and using this to – over time – change your thought process, your body and (hopefully) your life.
So – let’s get a little deep and science-y for a minute, while we talk about self-determination theory within the area of fitness.
This theory basically asks what motivates us to do what we do, in trying to fulfill the psychological needs of autonomy (choice), competence (belief) and relatedness (belonging).
Choose what motivates you
When you think about it, it does make sense; to see changes in health, we need to actively make a choice to do so, we need to believe in the choices and our ability to accomplish them, and we need to reinforce these choices and beliefs with others like us, finding a place of belonging.
With that in mind, the next question is then: what motivates us? Well, that’s where things get interesting. You see, we are motivated based on a number of things, ranging from extrinsic factors (such as reward and status) to intrinsic factors (like curiosity and love).
To make matters even more complicated, we are never any one thing; these motivators range on a spectrum. One day you can be intrinsically motivated to go to the gym, and another day you may require a little external push. So how do we navigate these motivations to stick to our changes?
To answer that, you need to first figure out where you are on the spectrum. Let’s start with Extrinsic Motivation. This is broken down into 4 sections moving from less- to more-voluntary.
The first is External Regulation, this is where people are motivated to gain a reward or avoid a punishment. In exercise, this may look like working out to lose a certain amount of weight, or over-exercising as a form a punishment for indulging.
Next is Introjected Regulation, and this is where people are involved in an activity based on ego or wanting to be seen in a certain way to themselves or others. When it comes to exercise, this would look like: participating in certain classes or events that are seen as highly esteemed. Or: wearing certain brands that highlight one as an “exerciser”.
Identified Regulation is where you start to understand the value of the activity; where your health and wellness are of personal importance to you and you consciously value it; where you start to think of all the aspects that may be affecting your health and wellbeing (nutrition, sleep, community).
Integrated Regulation is the final stage where you have a deep awareness for the activity. Health and fitness are not just things you do, but they ARE you. You don’t just plan it into your day, you plan your day AROUND it, and your habits reflect as such. Everything from your nutrition to your social activities are shaped with health in mind.
On the matter of Intrinsic Motivation, I truly believe that it is hard to be 100% intrinsically motivated when it comes to health and fitness. By its definition, this would mean engaging in heath and fitness behaviour just for the love of it.
Barring any reward of aesthetics, regardless of body image concerns or even just the added health benefits that come with it – yes that’s a reward. And although some may claim, I find that very hard to believe.
But how do I walk the talk?
With all this said, the question still remains: how do we change for the better? Well, my answer to that is: use whatever motivates you at that given instance. Whether it is extrinsic forces – such as losing weight or being seen as that exerciser – start there.
Listen, it would be nice to always be intrinsically motivated and go to the gym or eat right it, but this is far from the truth. Even the most dedicated and health conscious people have lapses. This is where that extrinsic push is beneficial – be it for vanity’s sake or status’ – to get you going again.
Given enough time, your motivations will shift away from the deeply external towards the internal. However, when starting, use the means that gets you DOING, and with this consistency comes the change in the mind, in the body, and in your life…making you a better you.
About the author:
My name is Jermel Pierre and my goal is to make science simple to understand and
easy to use, in order help people improve the quality of their lives. My educational
background is based physiology and psychology, having an Honours Degree in
Kinesiology, and a Masters in Health Sciences, focused on muscle physiology and
behavioural psychology. I have spent the last decade in clinical research and
development, researching how to improve wellbeing on a physical and mental level.
Over the years my answer to this complex idea has become more and more
simplistic, realizing that preventative actions such as exercise and good nutrition
are the keys. In short form: Energy In versus Energy Out.