The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

You Must Own It – pt. 2

Where does Action and Motivation come from?

In talking about exercise, motivation and psychology people often talk about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation as though there won’t be or can’t be any overlap.

What you typically see in companies and in programs designed to help people become “healthier” is that they try to make external rewards (extrinsic motivation) become developed into an internal drive (intrinsic motivation).  Needless to say, many of these programs are complete failures.

Not only do these programs typically only show the results of those individuals that completed the program, and thereby negating those large swaths of individuals that dropped out of the programs, they rarely show any follow-up to these programs.  For example, if a small town offers a free Weight Watcher’s program for 3 months, and 100 people sign-up, typically 40% of the individuals will finish the program (and I’m being generous).  Of those 40% we’ll say that the average weight loss in 12 weeks was 10 pounds or a total weight loss of 400 pounds.  The study would then conclude that the average participant lost 10 pounds throughout the program.  When in fact, the average weight loss per participant was really 4 pounds (400 pounds/100 participants).  There is then very little follow-up to see how well those participants kept the weight off.  What they then do is possibly re-measure with a 6 and 12-month follow up.  During those times, they will only contact the 40 people that completed the program and lost the 10 pounds each.  Of those 40 people, the average weight gain will usually be something like 3.8 and 7.2 pounds over 6 and 12 months (and yes, I’m pulling these numbers out of my ass).

What this means is that of those 40 people, the average weight loss over the 15 months was 2.8 pounds, which although statistically significant isn’t that much overall.  Meaning that of the 100 people that started the program, there was a total weight loss of 112 pounds…and that’s not including the other 60 people that probably gained weight.  In other words, the effectiveness of paying for 3 free months of Weight Watcher’s totaled an average weight loss of 1.12 pounds per starting participant.  This is pitiful.  Period.

Given, this is a hypothetical situation, it’s still what occurs time after time, in program after program, study after study.

Psychologists noticing these trends, then started to test the whole “Stages of Readiness to Change” theory.  This theory basically placed into categories, an individual’s state of mind and ability or desire to want to take on the proposed change.  The stages ranged from Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Recycle.  Since the theory was first introduced, they have also added Transformed and Life-Time.

This theory definitely merits attention as it can dramatically increase completion rates while providing the best tools to help progress the individual through the stages until they get to the Maintenance stage.

Continuing with the example above, it could double the completion rate and therefore after 15 months, the average weight loss would be 2.24 pounds per 100 people.  Better, but still not “successful.”

The question I’ve had for the past 5 years is why?  Why will people start a program and then not finish it?  Even if it’s value is worth $100’s of dollars, if they have all the tools and the desire, will they still not do the work necessary?  What factors can be manipulated in order to help them complete the program?   Why are some people intrinsically motivated to exercise and others not, no matter what help they receive or the amount of prodding to help them improve their lives?

During the constant evaluating of the programs we’ve run, constant questioning, reading and researching, I’ve started to notice the trends that make someone move through these “Stages” and beyond mastery to deep Passion.  This is the process that someone takes when they finally “Own It.”  This is what happens when people are motivated beyond simple extrinsic or intrinsic motivation, to full ownership.

During this process, someone can be thwarted, but the factors underlying it all pretty much remain the same.

The process through which someone takes ownership of not only their exercise habits, but also any other thing in their life, I like to call “Steps to Ownership.”
The 9 Steps to Ownership* are:

1 – Extrinsic Motivation

2 – Social Support and the Occasional “Forcing” of doing the work

3 – The “Right” Mindset for change (Growth vs. Fixed Mindset)

4 – Specific Extrinsic Motivation that reinforces and builds Intrinsic Motivation

5 – Inklings of or Reinforcement of Internal/Intrinsic Motivation

6 – An Environmental Spur

7 – The “Multiplier Effect” Effects

8 – A Cycle of Internal Motivation, Multiplier Effect and Environmental Spurs**

9 – Passion and a Desire to be the Best

While this was only going to be a 2-part post, after starting to put together the notes, I realized that at minimum, and to fully explain everything, this post will have at least 5 more parts to it…give or take one or two.

Friday, I will talk about the factors and why’s that separate someone who has a basic internal drive to exercise and someone who needs extrinsic motivation to begin.

*As a side note, not all people need to move through all of the steps.  The following posts will explain all of the steps in more detail along with the factors that contribute to progressing through them.

**The order of 5-8 won’t always be the order in which they occur, but none-the-less, they’re all present and will all be cycled.

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