The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between
Tuesday Psych Post ~ What’s Missing in Most Psychological Models

Tuesday Psych Post ~ What’s Missing in Most Psychological Models

There are countless psychological and behavioral economic models as to why people do the things they do. 

You have theories such as Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy and Social Learning Theory which respectively postulate that how confident you are about achieving a goal and who surrounds you in a social setting, greatly influence both your motivation and ability to take a certain action. 

Combine that theory with behavioral economic’s Loss Aversion theory that says if worded in a negative way, you are more likely to take a chance with decreased odds of achieving your desired end.  For example, if you had to choose between two options of playing a game for $5 a round.  The first option is that you could win $25 at an odds of 1 in 4, while the other hands you don’t make any money.  Compare that with your other option of losing $25 in a 1 in 5 chance with the other hands yielding $10 per hand, you are more likely to try your hand at winning the $25 although you have less odds of making money that way. 

There are other theories that I’ve talked about from Martin Seligman’s Learned Helplessness Theory to Leon Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory to Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory

All of these theories combined help to extrapolate “how a person works.”  Each theory picks a certain commonality in the human condition and tries to explain that commonality the best way it can. 

What is missing in all theories is that at the end of the day though, it doesn’t account for the “in the moment” decision making. 

Personally, I have my own theory that I believe makes up 50% of the variance between what people do and what people say they want to do, and it has nothing to do with these larger theories.  I like to call this theory the “Small Variable Theory of Behavior.” 

What this theory postulates is that it’s in the moment of decision that we win or lose battles to continue on with our goals. 

Let me explain.  In every decision you make, from going to the gym to sticking to your diet, there’s a small decision or thought that leads to a cascade of other habitual thinking or action patterns.  If you’ve done everything else that I’ve talked about in this blog, from setting Emotional goals to figuring out the behavioral goals that you would need to partake in to reach those goals, you would have a “one up” on others that haven’t…or do you? 

In general, yes you do BUT that’s only the case if the small variables that actually make your total decision don’t sway you the wrong way. 

For example, say you’ve done everything else that I’ve talked about and you have decided to go to the gym today.  You pack your bag, leave it in your car, have joined the gym and even have a plan to get there on the way home.  You’ve figured out what motivates you and why you want to go.  If you do these things you’ll have higher odds of actually getting to the gym. 

Now that you’ve done all of these things, on the way home, your friend calls you and asks if you want to go to get a quick drink and catch up.  What do you do?  Do you go to the gym for a little bit or do you just say that you’ll go tomorrow?

It’s that small variable, that ALWAYS seems to come up, that will influence your decision more so than all of those other theories. 

If that’s not your small variable, then you might have a situation arise where your small variable is you have a deadline at work.  Should you go to the gym or do you feel that you can’t break away from your desk?   As you say you “can’t” go to they gym, guess what happens?  You don’t go. 

It’s those small areas of decisions that you can plan for with If-Then statements, but if you truly don’t believe in your ability to stick to them, when push comes to shove, then you’re not going to get closer to hitting your fitness goals. 

Wars, they say are won in the preparation for the war.  But as anyone that’s looked at history knows, that’s non-sense.  War is won, not by being more prepared (although that’s extremely important), it’s won by consistently making the better decisions that allow victory in each battle and situation that arises. 

The same is true when winning the battle against a bad habit.  It’s not the larger planning that wins the battles (although that’s important), it’s being able to win against those small variables that make up the decisions. 

If you’re tired, do you sit in front of the TV and order out for food or do you have a protein drink and drag yourself to the gym? 

If you said that you’re not going to drink or eat as many carbs, what happens when you go out to see a friend and they offer you to buy a round?  Do you take it or just tell the person, “Not today.  I’m going trying to be ‘good’.” 

If it’s late at night and although you’ve told your spouse not to buy any “bad foods” they have.  You’re now hungry, tired and those chips are your favorite.  What do you do?  Do you drink some water and go to bed or do you tell yourself, “Just one.” 

Each of these small decisions is what I see making or breaking people’s fat loss goals.  I’m not saying you’ll win each battle.  What I am saying is that if you win more than you lose, you’ll be on your way to winning the war.  If you can win more than you lose and consistently win certain battles, then you start to build up some trust in yourself.  If you lose every battle though, you don’t have the confidence that builds self-efficacy.  You won’t be able to overcome your next temptation.  So the problem with most psychological theories is that they want you to win the war from the beginning, BEFORE you’ve won any individual battles. 

What I am telling you is to win the small battles first.  Win those battles, one at a time, and you’ll be well on your way to winning the war. 

What are some battles that you continually fight and have trouble winning?  Leave a comment below.

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