The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

Cognitive Dissonance and Exercise (pt 3A)

In a post a about 6 months ago, I wrote about how there are some people in my workplace who give me a scorned look if I ask them if they want more information about the fitness center.  They literally look like I kidnapped their child after I ask them.  I can see how this group uses cognitive dissonance to push me away.  The anger arises from their need to ward off any cognitive dissonance. They do this via their confirmation bias, and pushing me away.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about being inundated with information as to why people don’t exercise.  Before that I wrote about how people need to raise their standards for their lives, for their bodies before they are able to see themselves taking the actions that they’re always complaining that there’s “no time” for.  I can see how cognitive dissonance plays a role with keeping people’s standards for themselves below par – The Same as above.

I’ve also wrote about Self-Determination Theory and the different levels of motivation from amotivational to the 4 different levels of extrinsic motivation to internal motivation.  I can see how cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias play a role with those individuals who are amotivational.

After writing about all of these facets, the question is, how can this knowledge of cognitive dissonance effect these aspects in regards to exercise?

Truth be told, I don’t know for sure.

I can see how confirmation bias will keep the people who could reap the most benefits from this web-site away from it.  I can see how if people have “failed” to lose weight after multiple attempts, might start to ignore information about the best methods to lose weight and in the process fall prey to “quick fixes” and the “Lose 10 lbs in 10 days” headlines.

I can see how social learning theory effects these elements, allowing people that have never even attempted to lose weight, become discouraged by starting their own weight loss routine by seeing other’s fail.

What most upsets me though, and the part that I see occur time and time again is when people know that they’re overweight or obese.  They know they eat poorly – no fruits or vegetables.  They know they sit all day at a sedentary job and go home and do the same.  They don’t feel good, their health is deteriorating and yet their mind is shut off from any information about becoming more active or eating healthier.

This is what cognitive dissonance does best – helps to explain why people ignore that information and in fact, turn suggestions into ways of feeling personally attacked.

What cognitive dissonance does worst is to give you possible solutions to help those people.

How do you get people to care about their own health?  Information and scare tactics rarely work.  How do you get people to give up their defenses?   Stating the obvious just gets people to put up their defenses quicker and more steadfast.

How do you get people to face reality without being judged by the objective results – you are overweight, you are at risk for disease?

The short answer to all these is – You build a healthy relationship with that individual.

In Change or Die, the author talks extensively about Delancy Street and Mimi Silbert.  This is the place where inmates go as a last resort.  In there, they either make it or get sent back to jail.  This is where drug addicts, who started at an early age (as early as 10), with a long history of violence go to get clean and finally stay clean.  How do they do it?  They are surrounded by their peers.  They are surrounded by other inmates.  Inmates who have broken their own chains of violence and drugs.  They are surrounded by mentors and they learn to express their emotions.  They learn to see the truth – that they have made mistakes, but they are not a mistake.  These lessons are learned through the relationships established and the increase of standards that everyone is expected to live by.

The problem, of course, with this answer is that relationships take time.  Most people will still hide behind their defenses.  Telling the truth is not the norm.  Acknowledging a mistake is rarely praised.  People are quick to save face and rarely go back to see if the other person might have had a good point.

With that said, if you really want to help others to exercise, get them involved in a group, where they can make public commitments, where they’re in control of the interactions – in other words, an online forum where others like themselves can interact and see the struggles and successes of those who have gone before them.

The bottom line with all of this is that helping others overcome come cognitive dissonance can be an uphill battle.

Helping yourself though can be an easier challenge.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with what you can start to do about taking control over Cognitive Dissonance.

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