Tips for times when the spirit is will­ing, but the flesh weak

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - CHRIS TZAR

HAVE you ever de­vel­oped that strong level of mo­ti­va­tion to start ex­er­cis­ing reg­u­larly, only to find that you don’t fol­low through? De­spite the best in­ten­tions, do you find your­self re­peat­edly putting off that ex­er­cise ses­sion you promised your­self?

Many of my col­leagues will at­test to the client who walks out of a con­sul­ta­tion so mo­ti­vated and com­mit­ted to their new ex­er­cise pro­gram, you could be for­given for think­ing they had just fin­ished a sem­i­nar with An­thony Rob­bins. This only leaves us be­wil­dered when they re­turn the fol­low­ing week to in­form us that they didn’t man­age to do any of the ex­er­cise pro­gram they had com­mit­ted them­selves to do­ing.

This can be a great source of frus­tra­tion, not only for the clients but the health pro­fes­sion­als as well.

How­ever, un­der­stand­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween mo­ti­va­tion and drive may help ex­plain how to over­come such hur­dles to ex­er­cise. Mo­ti­va­tion is pri­mar­ily a cog­ni­tive or thought process. A per­son is said to be­come mo­ti­vated when they shift from a state of am­biva­lence about ex­er­cise to weigh­ing in favour of it. Whether self-re­alised or as­sisted by some­one else, the per­son de­ter­mines that ex­er­cise is good for them, they should do it and more­over, they want to do it.

The next chal­lenge is the process of act­ing on that mo­ti­va­tion — oth­er­wise known as drive. What many of us may not know is that un­like the cog­ni­tive process of mo­ti­va­tion, drive is largely emo­tion­ally based. This means that your emo­tional sta­tus at any in­stant will play an in­flu­en­tial role in de­ter­min­ing whether you act on your mo­ti­va­tion.

For in­stance, you may have felt pos­i­tive and quite de­ter­mined to fol­low through at the time you planned to do your ex­er­cise af­ter work on Mon­day. How­ever, when the time comes around to do that ses­sion, you may not be feel­ing so pos­i­tive — per­haps you had a bad day. As a con­se­quence of your emo­tions at the time, you de­cide to give it a miss and in­stead plan to do it the next most con­ve­nient time.

The trou­ble is, this is again based on the as­sump­tion that you will be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pos­i­tive emo­tions to en­able you to act on your mo­ti­va­tion. Ev­ery time this cy­cle is re­peated, it re­in­forces the lethal mix of fail­ure and guilt within the in­di­vid­ual, un­til it ul­ti­mately leads to with­drawal from the pro­gram.

If you find your­self caught in such a cy­cle, the fol­low­ing strat­egy should help over­come the in­ac­tion. Un­der a col­umn ti­tled ‘‘ goals’’, write down all your ob­jec­tives you think ex­er­cise will help you achieve. How would life be dif­fer­ent?

Then, im­merse your­self in the emo­tions or feel­ings that you would ex­pe­ri­ence if you fol­lowed through and achieved th­ese goals. It may help to imag­ine your­self rou­tinely ex­er­cis­ing and ad­her­ing to the pro­gram. Un­der a col­umn ti­tled ‘‘ fol­low through’’, note all the emo­tions or feel­ings that best de­scribe this ex­pe­ri­ence.

Con­sider the con­se­quences of stay­ing in­ac­tive. Un­der a col­umn ti­tled ‘‘ in­ac­tion’’, write down all the things you think will hap­pen if things stay the same and you don’t ex­er­cise. What will hap­pen? How will it im­pact on your qual­ity of life?

Now, im­merse your­self in the emo­tions or feel­ings that you would ex­pe­ri­ence if, for one rea­son or an­other, you didn’t fol­low through with your planned ex­er­cise rou­tine and you didn’t achieve any of the goals you set out. Un­der a col­umn ti­tled ‘‘ not fol­low through’’, note all the emo­tions or feel­ings that best de­scribe this ex­pe­ri­ence.

Com­pare the col­umn ‘‘ goal’’ against ‘‘ in­ac­tion’’. This will help to high­light the mo­ti­va­tional el­e­ments be­hind your de­sire to ex­er­cise, as well as the con­se­quences of re­main­ing in­ac­tive.

Now com­pare the emo­tions or feel­ings listed un­der the col­umns ‘‘ fol­low through’’ with ‘‘ not fol­low through’’. You may no­tice that one col­umn dis­tinctly lists pos­i­tive emo­tions, whilst the other list is dis­tinctly neg­a­tive. Not­ing this dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two ac­tions will help you to re­alise that when you choose to stay in­ac­tive, you may be re­in­forc­ing any neg­a­tive emo­tions that in­flu­ence your de­ci­sion. Hav­ing iden­ti­fied the ac­tion which brings about pos­i­tive emo­tions, wouldn’t it make sense to choose that ac­tion that know­ingly will make you feel bet­ter?

In essence, it is im­por­tant to be more aware of your emo­tions when con­tem­plat­ing whether to do your ex­er­cise. If you’re not feel­ing so pos­i­tive, then that may be all the more rea­son to fol­low through with an ac­tion that will bring about pos­i­tive out­comes. Chris Tzar is an ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist and di­rec­tor of the Lifestyle Clinic, Fac­ulty of Medicine, Univer­sity of NSW

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