The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

You Must Own It – pt 7B

So what’s the best way to change? 

The best way to change individually is to ignore your feelings and do the work until it becomes “naturally” a part of who you are.   This is obviously easier said than done, but there is a way to make the transition go more smoothly. 

An easier way to have the change go smoothly, is by having other people around that will hold you accountable to your goals…and not your feelings

If you have ANY inkling of internal desire for the change you say you want, then you will be in a much better place to continue that habit if you are surrounded by like-minded people.  Even if that current inkling is over-crowded by your fears, doubts, “feelings,” past failures and old habits, you have the best chance for change in a group setting. 

Why is this? 

Two main reasons:
1 – We have a very large, innate need to “fit in” with a crowd.  For almost anyone, the real world examples are simply called making friends or “fitting in.”  We do this in a number of ways and I’ll only name our “mirror neurons” as one of the ways that we subconsciously learn to “fit in” by mimicking others.   

2 – We also have a very large, innate need to be “consistent” with our words and actions.  Therefore, if you tell someone that you’re going to do something and have done it a couple of times, then you start to back up and find justifications for those new actions and words…even if you don’t like those actions at the beginning. 

In Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Exercise and Sport, Deci and Ryan (Founders of Self-Determination Theory) sums up this concept when they say:

“According to organismic integration theory, people are inherently oriented to assimilate and internalize social regulations, but that inherent tendency must have certain environment supports.  Specifically, people will accept and internalize a new behavioral regulation or guiding value to the extent that they feel support for relatedness, autonomy, and competence in the context of behaving.” 

In SDT those three elements (relatedness, autonomy and competence), are the three basic psychological needs. 

In other words, when people feel accepted by a group (increased relatedness), learn the methods which others within the group have successfully changed (increased competence), and have a choice about the process (autonomy), they are more likely to stick to a change. 

The reason they change is that they learn to internalize the values of the group.  This is a very powerful way to change and if you look at it, is one of the best ways for anyone to change at anytime. 

This is the same phenomenon that causes adults to go to “rehab,” join Weight Watcher’s, partake in group exercise classes, make it through military boot camp or join any of the “Anonymous” associations (Alcoholic’s Anonymous).  We partake in these group settings because we are held accountable to other people.  We are held to higher standards and are help guided to new levels of living than what we think we’re capable of achieving on our own. 

In all of these groups, the difference-maker is that you start to identify with different parts of your personality. 

These groups inspire hope and offer you  glimpses into other parts of yourself.  They provide you with “how to’s with change” while keeping your personal choice alive (except with maybe the military boot camp).  That hope, knowledge of change and personal choice increases your internal desire, or internalization of different values, and you start to function in a different way. 

You start to identify with yourself in a different way. 

The key with all of this, is that you can relate to either the group as a whole or at least one of the member’s of that group.  With Weight Watcher’s most of the people relate because they are in the same boat, trying to lose some weight by watching their points.  Alcoholic’s Anonymous is the same in that they’ve all been individuals who have had problems with alcohol. 

It’s that ability to connect, to relate that drives humans to love, to be sociable, to form friendships.  It’s also these things that help us to change most effectively. 

It’s not always the system or even the individual’s habits that set someone up for success or failure, but instead the way they connect (or fail to connect) with another person. 

This is why this is the second step to “Ownership.”  EVERY single person I’ve ever seen add exercise to their life, did so with the help of someone else.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that they worked out with the individual.  Instead it means someone, somewhere gave that individual either guidance, hope, inspiration or simply helped them see themselves in a different light.  By doing so, that person was able to believe that they could change and started to hold themselves to higher standards. 

Our relationships will always help or hinder our ability to change.  For those relationships that help the individual to come into their own with the three basic psychological needs, the power for change is extremely strong. 

The person is able to better integrate new habits and once those habits are present he or she can internalize them into their “identity.”   Of course those relationships that seem controlling, decrease our will to learn on our own, and foster judgment, anxiety and fear will be highly detrimental to any change, including exercise. 

The question is, what relationships are you fostering?  Are you looking to make a change with “will-power” alone or are you looking to build relationships that can help you on your journey?  

Do you see other people who are “better or luckier than you” or do you see people who have put in more effort, time and work and can act as a valuable resource on your journey of change? 

The answers to these questions highlight whether you believe you can’t change or whether you believe you can and will change. 

Only you have the power to choose.

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5 comments found

  1. i like this one, sums 7A up with a pretty red bow on top.

    i guess since you didn’t mention the stages of change in this one, how do you deal with resistance from someone transitioning between conscious incompetent and conscious competent… or whatever stage they’re in? i guess an example would be like… someone who kills themselves at the gym 3 times a week thinking it’s doing them great whereas they go home and stuff their faces with crap.

    really, really, really like this post. thanks for keeping me sane at work.

    1. Thanks…

      I’m not sure I understand your question completely, as your example is describing the change of two habits (exercise and diet) and one goal (I’m guessing weight loss). Diet and Exercise are two separate habits.

      A person can be conscious competent or (as your example implies with “kill themselves at the gym”), unconscious competent with working out and still be conscious incompetent with their diet. In other words, they can work hard, know what to eat, but believe that they don’t have the “tools” or will power to actually change their dietary habits.

      If that’s the case, then you want to lower the bar for their belief that they can be “competent” with their dietary habits. How?

      Ask them why they work hard at the gym? Is it to lose weight or “maintain”? If it’s maintain, then you’re in an uphill battle if you think they should be losing weight. If it’s losing weight, you can offer a couple of suggestions as to what you think is their best next step.

      For example, if their diet contains 2 sodas a day and some juice, along with a high-glycemic, high carb breakfast with little protein, you can explain how liquid calories do very little in the way of satiety and weight loss and how studies have shown that higher protein breakfasts help people lose weight more effectively. After stating that, you can ask what they think is something they can do to get them moving in the right direction with their diets? After hearing what you said, you can hope they will say, cut back on a soda or add some eggs to their breakfast instead of pancakes. If they say, they don’t know, you can offer a suggestion that they can see themselves taking on…a small change, in other words.

      As they build up their “competence” level, then you can make another small change and so on.

  2. LOL thanks for answering me at 2am. I’ll try what you said with my client. Makes a lot of sense in the context of your previous entries.

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