The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between
Tuesday Psych Post ~ Use Positive Deviance to Your Advantage

Tuesday Psych Post ~ Use Positive Deviance to Your Advantage

Most people when they try to take on a new habit such as exercise or eating healthier do so by focusing on how they’ve failed to stick to a diet or workout program in the past.  They focus on the times they’ve faltered instead of focusing on those moments when they’ve been able to overcome fatigue and temptation to stick to their new habits.  By focusing on those times when they’ve faltered, the person then starts to use cognitive dissonance to form a belief that it will be “hard” to stick to a diet.

The problem with this is that there have been times when they’ve stuck to the changes they wanted to make.  They’ve been able to stick to their diets when tempted.  They’ve been able to make it to the gym and have a great workout despite really NOT wanting to go.  These one or two instances when they haven’t given into the short-term temptation is called positive deviance.  Why Positive Deviance?  Positive because they did something they wanted to do, and deviance because it went against their “normal” habits.

There’s another psychological term called Fundamental Attribution Error.  Fundamental Attribution Error is when we take something that is negative and is caused by the situation, but attribute it to a person’s character.   For example, have you ever judged someone who was overweight, who happens to be piling up a plate with food and then say in your head, “God, why do they do that to themselves?”  This is despite the fact that you don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing with the food.  For all you know, they can be giving all of the food to their dog and are overweight because they just had a baby 2 weeks ago and has yet to lose much of the weight from her pregnancy.  Yet, you see the person in one situation and attribute their being overweight to a purely “character” reasons.  They are “weak, lazy and have no self-discipline.”

So what to do with Positive Deviance and Fundamental Attribution Error?

Two things.  1 – Use Positive Deviance to Your Advantage.  You see, as I’ve stated above, whenever you’ve started with a new eating regimen or exercise routine, there have been times when you’ve stuck to it despite the short-term temptations to skip past it.  You have to take into account those moments of being better than the “moment” and figure out what was different about those times. 

Figure out what was different
In those moments when you were better than the temptation, there was probably a small something that was different.  You may have said something different to yourself.  You may have said, “I hate feeling like crap,” or, “I hate being overweight,” and made yourself go to the gym or skip past the chocolate cake.  You have to take into account what was different.  At other times, you may have told your friend to hold you accountable and instead of wanting to feel guilty, showed up at the gym.  Or you may have not bought your favorite snack because you knew that if you did buy it, there would be NO WAY that you would be able to resist the temptation.

There are hundreds of specific examples that would be applicable, but the bottom line is what did YOU do differently?  Did you think a different thought?  Did you hold yourself to higher standards?  Did you allow yourself to say, “Just 5 minutes at the gym” – go and be able to get a full workout in?”  What did you do?

When you figure out what you did differently, try to replicate it.

Two, with Fundamental Attribution Error, you’re going to have to stop thinking in character flaws and instead start thinking in situational contexts.  For example, you’re going to stop blaming others for their being overweight and you’re going to stop beating yourself up every time you’re not perfect.  You’re going to instead, chalk it up to the situation.  You’re going to do this with one huge exception to just going off on your own.  You’re going to chalk it up to the situation, but you will also make a gameplan to figure out how to change it in the future.

Every situation that you “falter” with is a chance to learn.  Learning what you need to do in order to overcome a habit that seems to keep you down is what will give you the upper hand in finally forming a new habit.  Those situations will become chances to improve and learn more about what SKILLS you need to develop, instead of relying on strictly will power.

You will also stop the “Try – Guilt – Quit” Cycle that most people develop.  Instead, it’ll be “Try – Falter – Learn – Try.”  With each subsequent Try, you’ll get closer to your goal as opposed to starting over and over from the same place, year after year.

The Bottom Line
Use those moments when you’ve been better than the moment, when you’ve held yourself to higher standards and learn from them.  Even if you fall, learn from the moment instead of berating yourself.  By doing so, you allow yourself to focus on the positive, in order to repeat what has worked for you in the past, while moving closer to actually overcoming a negative habit. 

Only by truly doing these two things will you ever form a new habit that allows you to be content with your change. 

If you have any question about this post, please leave a comment below.

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