The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

Intrinsic Motivation ~ Monkey Style


They do what they want, love bananas, sex* and can still mess you up if you f’ with them.

What’s not to love?

With that said, let’s talk about their natural curiosity.  In the 1950’s a researcher named Harry Harlow experimented with monkeys in a cage.

What did he do?  He gave them a device that acted as a mechanical puzzle.

How did they respond?  These monkeys spent a lot of time playing with this device (sort of like me with a Rubix cube).  They acted in a focused and determined manner in order to try and figure out this puzzle.

Why did they do that?  Because they wanted to!  There were no rewards and no punishments given if they didn’t do it.  In other words, they were naturally inquisitive.

If you ever look at a young child playing with a toy (or a cardboard box), they act in the same manner.  They are naturally inquisitive.  They are curious about the world and how it works.  No one needs to “force” them to play and explore.

The irony is that many adults spend a considerable amount of time trying to get children to “sit down and learn.”  They do this of course, by diverting their natural curiosity to “something more important” and therefore move that natural, internal learning to a forced, external learning.    Irony at it’s best.

So what does this say about you?  It says two things.

1 – At one point you were a naturally inquisitive individual.  You liked learning and exploring things that interested you. 

There are probably situations in which you still are, but not with many things.  Maybe you have a hobby, like sports or video games that you try to “master” although there are NO tangible benefits.  You do it simply because it’s challenging, yet fun.

2 – You need to find that motivation with things that actually serve a greater purpose for you.

For example, with exercising, working, or starting a small-business; these things can be naturally fun if you stop thinking that you HAVE TO do it. 

An example is Lance Armstrong, who started entering races when he was 10 because he wanted to master something.  As he became better at different sports, he kept pushing his boundaries to see what was possible for him.  That desire to push his boundaries became his driving force. 

This “pushing the limits” is why so many people enter marathons.  Not for the running itself, but for the challenge of seeing how far you can go. 

So what should you do?  Try to find something you can find  inherently interesting that can also serve a greater purpose for your life.  Allow yourself the time to move past the learning curve that anyone starting something new will inevitably have and enjoy the process. 

With enough time and work, you will get to the point where you become a master over your body and will crave the ability to push yourself to your utmost limits. 

Get started today! 

*Bonoboo monkeys are especially prone to use sex as a way of “keeping peace.”  What’s more interesting is that  it’s the female bonoboo that is in charge and not the male.  They are also the more promiscuous of the bunch.  So much for the whole evolutionary males “spread their seed” and women “protect their young” theory.

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6 comments found

  1. The Rubik cube analogy is a good one – people will do it for the hell of it.
    1 Some will do it once, shrug, then throw it to one side – been there, done that, what now?
    2 Some people will get frustrated and throw it away – there’s no real gain to doing it, so why should they bother?
    3 Some people will keep doing it, trying to get faster at solving the cube, or look for “methods” that work.

    If you throw in different variations on the Rubik’s cube, the 3’s will try them and either add them in or go back to the original, 2’s will either try them and move onto the next one, or some might join the 3’s. The 1’s will probably get frustrated again, or simply not bother.

    To a lot of people, the variations of exercise are like variations of the Rubik’s cube – they differ in detail, not substance, hence if you don’t like one, none of them appeal. How do you address this?

  2. I responded to this with a full length-comment, but for some reason the comment didn’t save. Which is highly annoying. The bottom line is this.

    I said two things during the post. 1- You have intrinsic motivation. 2- Use it for something that serves your life.

    If all of the exercise activities you do not find intrinsically motivating, then use an identified regulation external motivation with exercise. If you recall my whole series on owning it, it talked about finding the benefits of exercising and identifigying your core values with those benefits. Also, since exercise does not have to be an individual pursuit, spend time doing it with someone else who’s company you enjoy. Those are the two ways that you would address not having any intrinsic desire for exercise.

  3. “… it talked about finding the benefits of exercising and identifigying your core values with those benefits…” From a scientist’s perspective, this sounds a bit like if the data don’t fit the model, throwing out those data and finding some that do, rather than asking if the model actually holds water. You can do it, and it isn’t necessarily invalid, but if you cherry pick the data too many times, the model is no longer applicable.

    1. What the hell are you talking about? In one comment you say, “What if you don’t like exercise???” And in this comment I tell you what to do. If the wording is too difficult for you to understand here it is in easy to understand terms?

      A-Figure out what matters to you in life. This can be health, vitality or anything else linked to a healthy lifestyle. These are called your values.

      B-Match what you value with actions that align with those values. In this case, exercise.

      C-Find other ways to make that activity (which you may inherently dislike) more enjoyable. In this example find a friend to pass the time with, or don’t…whatever you find more enjoyable.

      D-Stop comparing life to scientific studies. Scientific studies have their place and have the ability to explain certain observable phenomenon. But for variables to be known one must control all but the testing component of the experiment. Life never works that neatly.

      So how am I cherry picking the data?

  4. “Find other ways to make that activity (which you may inherently dislike) more enjoyable…” THAT statement says it all. You (and I mean no disrespect here) obviously cannot concieve that for a lot of people THIS is not possible. It’s like saying, “I’ll beat you with a stick – find a way to like it”. Since you cannot accept that to some people THERE IS NO WAY for it to be fun, you pick only those data where people DO find it fun. As for not comparing life with scientific studies, I think that by constantly applying psychological models (which are at best shorthand descriptors for real people), the pot is calling the kettle black.

    1. There are some people that will NEVER like exercise. EVER. I know this. I said find ways to make it more enjoyable. Do you like hanging out with your friends or someone you care about. Then take a walk with them. It doesn’t have to be grueling fitness in order for it to be “more enjoyable.” I NEVER implied that ALL people will enjoy exercise. If you didn’t notice, I explained in the whole “Owning It” series that I describe ALL of the steps that someone goes through to “Own It.” Which means, most people do not move past the extrinsic motivation of exercise. The benefits and only the benefits they can derive from it is what keeps them going to the gym. If they don’t perceive ANY benefits, they will stop going. Such is the case with a lot of people. What I was saying is that most people, can move past the simple extrinsic reasons and at least combine those reasons with an internal drive. They can enjoy it. But not all will.

      Psychological models are weak. I know this. This is why I only talk about rare ones that I agree with, and I know that they don’t explain everything. The ones I have talked about though, I have backed up as to why I feel they are important and true.

      As for the post on Intrinsic motivation, most people can find an internal drive. But that post, was largely about simply, finding SOMETHING that drives you – Anything. Not towards exercise, but something that lights a fire under your ass and makes you want to achieve more in any and all aspects of your life. By having that drive, you will most likely want to take care of yourself more, with or without regimented exercise.

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