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