The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

The Post that Wasn’t…

This post is basically Monday’s original post.  The problem is that I wrote it and found that I couldn’t even read it.  So if you’re feeling brave, you can read this one.  If not, no worries, just try and read Monday’s post.

In my previous post, I briefly described the “9 Steps to Ownership.”  In this post, I will be discussing in further detail the first three steps.

In Step 1 – Extrinsic Motivation:  Self-Determination Theory (SDT) lists 6 levels of Motivation.  On the one extreme, you have A-Motivational individuals (those with no motivation) and on the other extreme you have Self-Regulation or Intrinsic Motivation.  In between these two extremes lay four different aspects of extrinsic motivation on a continuum from least to most autonomy.  On that continuum and in between A-Motivational to Intrinsic Motivation lays External Regulation, Introjected Regulation, Identified Regulation and Integrated Regulation.  Each level corresponds with more autonomous motives and a higher level of internal motivation.  You can see this in a graph in by following this link.

The article states that a lot of human behavior is not intrinsically motivated.  For example, many people do not have an intrinsic motive to go to work (although companies should encourage it).  Because of this lack of intrinsic motivation to go to work, there would be a lot of times where you would stay home and not go, if there weren’t extrinsic motivators to get you there.  Because of this reasoning, Deci and Ryan (creators of SDT), say that there is valuable insight to be gained by studying extrinsic motivation.

The four levels of extrinsic motivation lay on a continuum with “External Regulation” laying on the low autonomy side and being defined as doing something in order to gain a reward or to avoid a punishment administered by others.

In the past, I have run/created a lot of programs at work in this nature.   If you worked out for a certain amount of time, then we would give you a reward.  After reading up on the literature though, I realized that this was a highly flawed way of making people integrate and KEEP fitness in their lives.  What would typically happen is people would start off strong and within three weeks, would be dropping like flies and stop coming.  When I’d see them, their excuse was typically, “Well, I’m not going to win, so why should I go?”  So I stopped offering rewards for working out.

The next phase on the continuum is Introjected Regulation.  In introjected regulation, the person feels an obligation to work out (that comes from the inside), but with that sense of guilt does not feel free and hence the lowered amount of autonomy.  When I wrote that a sense of guilt, shame and regret are the three great catalysts for change, this is mainly what I was talking about, an introjected regulation.  It’s defining feature is, “For avoiding external sources of disapproval (guilt) or gaining externally referenced approval (self-esteem).”

The third highest source of external motivation on this continuum is Identified Regulation.  This source of external motivation deals with taking an action based on the value of its results.  For example, you work out because you value that it keeps you healthy and makes you feel good, but you still don’t like the actual action itself.

The most autonomous source of external motivation is Integrated Regulation.  This is when “a behavior is coherent with the person’s other values, personality schemas and sense of self.”  In other words, this person takes on certain behaviors, such as exercise, because it satisfies their psychological needs.  For example, if you see yourself as a smart and healthy individual, then being slothful and inactive would run counter to your self-perception.  Since you feel free to take on the behavior and it is a part of your identity, by taking on the behavior it is “Integrated.”

In SDT, they call Intrinsic Motivation, Self-Regulation and it is associated with the highest level of autonomy.  The defining feature for Self-Regulation is for the enjoyment of the actual act of working out and there doesn’t need to be any outside reinforcement.  An example of this is when I was in high school and I would play hours upon hours of basketball because I loved playing.  I didn’t have to get paid to practice (external regulation), feel guilty that I might be letting down my teammates (introjected regulation), “need” to practice because they matched with my values or how I identified myself (identified and integrated regulation) but simply because I enjoyed playing.

In growing to a place of “Owning It” you no longer need to justify your behavior, but simply take responsibility because you enjoy the process and the person that you are in becoming by taking on certain actions.

The more you move along that autonomous/motivational continuum, the more you develop the capacity to take responsibility for your health and exercise.  If you are going to start a new health behavior, you really want to start with something other than the reward/punishment aspect or External Regulation, as it has the weakest link to sustained adherence of exercise after that initial reward/punishment is removed.

Introjected Regulation has been shown to work with women better than with men, especially in terms of exercise intensity.  Whereas people that can identify as an “exerciser,” “runner” or “bodybuilder” are in the Identified or Integrated Regulation categories.  These two levels and identifications typically see a higher case of exercise adherence than the other two external sources of motivation.

Step 2 to Ownership – External Accountability, Social Support and occassional “forcing” of action:
This second step can be one of the best ways to keep you committed to an exercise habit, especially at the beginning.  Having this social support can sustain the habit of exercise, so that you have the opportunity to progress from external to internal motivation.   To be accountable to someone and to still remain autonomous is to be able to feel both autonomous and have a sense of relatedness that SDT prescribes.

The question then goes to, what happens if I don’t have anyone to work out with?  It depends, but you can start by working out at the same gym and try to go everyday at the same time.  Eventually you will most likely meet someone on your schedule with whom you have similar goals.  You can also take classes, find a friend or acquaintance from work that is around your fitness level and wants to work out.  There are a number of ways to find a partner, but the bottom line is that at the beginning, if you don’t have this in place, you need either add it or find value in “going against the grain.”

The third step is to know that anything in life is malleable and that you have the ability to be change.  That you can and will continue to grow.  That you are not limited by your past, by your genetics or by your current condition.  The Growth Mindset has to become your Standard Mindset and the one that allows you to make mistakes without feeling like a failure.  You must be able to not only feel that you can grow, but you also must get rid of your perception of an All-or-Nothing mentality.  If you mess up, that it’s alright and you can pick up your habit from that mistake.  It doesn’t mean that you “Fell of the Wagon” and that it will be hard to get back on, but instead that you made a mistake and mistakes are a part of life.

I suggest that two of the best ways to integrate this into your life is:

1 – Identify your beliefs about the roles you have in your life.  Do you believe you can grow into an “exerciser,” “runner” or “bodybuilder” or do you think “Exercise is not for you” and therefore fixed.

2 – Read and notice stories of those that have changed.  Of the amount of times that people have failed before starting a successful business.  Of the amount of times that ex-smokers try to quit before they actually quit for good.  Know that falling does not equal failing and that you can always change your situation for the better.

In the final post of this series, I will get into further detail of the last 6 Steps of Ownership.

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