Empowerment: “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”
We hear it all the time.
“I lack the motivation to go the gym”. “That person is [Overweight, Out of Shape, In Pain etc.] because they are too lazy to exercise”.
The sloppy pattern of thinking outlined in the above quotes represents one of the most fundamental problems many people face when they encounter any obstacle. That problem is a lack of taking full responsibility.
You see a lack of motivation is so easy to attribute to one’s inability to exercise. We hear it constantly and unfortunately, it has become an all too common cliche. Yet what a lack of motivation actually represents is a lack of inquiry as to why exercise is important in the first place. It also represents a misunderstanding of how motivation actually works!
When we look at motivational theory, we notice there are many different types of motivation. From amotivation (which is the state people who say I lack the motivation to get to the gym are in) to intrinsic motivation. Each of these different types of motivation exist along a continuum in order of how strong that motivation is towards inciting action, with intrinsic motivation being the strongest. Intrinsic motivation represents being motivated by the act of performing the activity itself (i.e. enjoyment, interest, satisfaction). We then see 4 kinds of extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation represents being motivated by external factors such as money, vanity, rewards, fame, status or the avoidance of negative consequences (see where all of these things sit on the motivational spectrum below). This all comes from a theory known as Self Determination Theory, which is something we work into our entire philosophy and way of practice through the principle of empowerment (you can see us talking about this throughout most of our articles on this blog).
What we find is that in almost all cases, intrinsic motivation comes about as a result of a strong initial desire in the form of external motivation (e.g. seeing someone who looks fit and healthy inspires an individual to get in the gym and in the process of working towards becoming fit and healthy under the guidance of an expert that individual realises the amazing benefits that the gym has for their life as a whole). The key to creating this kind of strong intrinsic motivation is setting the environment around you up for success and leveraging the amazing biochemical processes that dictate how our brain works.
Setting Yourself Up For Success [Hacking Your Psychology]
There are 5 main ways that we like to use in order to effectively set yourself up for success. They involve using the power of our biology to effectively set your life up so you can move closer toward being the person you want to be each and every day.
- Start with why [Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Simon Sinek Before]. This is the most fundamental component of achieving intrinsic motivation. It’s what you will fall back on when the going gets tough (e.g. My why is that I want to help maximise human potential. Whenever I do something difficult I think back to my overall goal & ask if the action I’m about to take right now is going to move me closer to that). We recommend defining exactly what it is that you want to get into exercising for and clearly outline this. This may take some digging (e.g. someone who goes to the gym to lose weight, often actually wants to feel more confident in their social interactions).
- Set a realistic goal & map of how you will get there. This is why we like to use the movement hierarchy & our programs typically last 12 weeks, with 4-week re-assessments. It gives us enough time to see results, but isn’t so long that we can’t correct course if we have to. What we then do is map out that 12-week plan in respect to the rest of the person’s life leading up to the main reason they came to see us. This helps us set up a realistic timeline that will help them achieve what they want most out of their life.
- Measure progress set to key milestones to make sure you’re moving in the right direction. Progress is one of the most fundamental things to human happiness and is the most powerful thing we can harness towards achieving our goals. The key is to clearly define objectives along the way and have a way of measuring that allows you to see results (e.g. perhaps this is a body fat % as opposed to simple numbers on the scale so that you aren’t thrown by a potential red herring when trying to lose weight).
- Do something daily (or as often as possible). We need to remind ourselves as often as possible to elicit the change that we want. Change is a matter of frequency and habit and the more often you practice the stronger the habit loops become in your brain. This will make it far easier to undergo the activity you need to be motivated to do & may even start to make it enjoyable as you begin to expect the rewards ahead of you. This could come in the form of rituals, reminders or routines. Sometimes it might even just be watching programs on the subject or simply visualising it [see why this is beneficial through the power of mental practice].
- Have support. This is why they say having a mentor is absolutely invaluable. Someone who has been there and done that is the absolute best way to ensure you have an accurate measuring stick and a journey that is actually taking you to where you want to go.
All of these mechanisms described above are carefully woven into how we operate at MTP. We use these tactics because we understand how holistic human physiology works. From brain function to function of the individual body systems. Ultimately we are creatures of habit. Our brain operates on a feedforward loop of reward mechanisms (dopamine-driven) and when we leverage these mechanics we are able to create just about any outcome that we desire.
Our Psychological Needs
Stemming from the above concept of motivation, it is worthwhile mentioning the 3 deep psychological needs that help for intrinsic motivation to be created. These are essentially the need for competence, autonomy & relatedness (see definitions below). When someone feels like these 3 things are being satisfied in their chosen pursuit, then a strong sense of intrinsic motivation is likely to arise. If we take the example of the person above who got into the gym because they were extrinsically motivated by someone who looked fit and healthy and happened to become intrinsically driven once they saw how their entire life became better we can see this more clearly.
Competence & Autonomy would arise as they feel like they are in control of the improvements they are getting each and every time they get into the gym. This would’ve been heavily facilitated by them working with an expert who has been there and done that with people who are similar to them. This expert would’ve set realistic goals and rapidly sped up the learning curve of the skills necessary to create this change, as well as helping them to form the reward loops in the brain. While this person may be aiming for a goal, they recognise that this goal is only something to focus their efforts onto. They know that they enjoy the act of the gym itself, realising it’s much more about the journey than the destination. Why would this be so?
This would likely be because of relatedness as they start to identify themselves as someone who is fit and healthy and thus associate with others who value this. Their entire social wellbeing would start to shift towards this, as those they knew before would likely begin complimenting them on their changes and those they meet in future would see them in this way. The relationships they form with the people at their gym would keep them coming back, while they start to learn more about how health extends beyond just the gym and fitness itself. The need to relate to their new identity and maintain this would keep them intrinsically motivated to continue with their exercise and health habits. There would also likely be the progress principle being applied, as they notice gradual progress in their endeavours.
These psychological needs give us a deeper understanding of why the idea of laziness and a lack of ‘motivation’ is a flawed way of thinking. What we now know is actually occurring is that the person simply doesn’t possess the proper sense of self-determination in order to feel like they can actually create the change that they want to go to the gym for. This is why people who feel they should exercise because they’ve been told they should never end up particularly great results. They don’t possess a level of motivation greater than the 2nd lowest form of motivation (i.e. external regulation & the avoidance of loss).
These psychological needs also show us why true intrinsic motivation is such a strong force towards creating behaviour change. And this is why empowerment is such an important part of everything that we do at MTP Health. We use the term empowerment interchangeably with self-determination, putting it at the core of our entire practice as we know, this is what creates lasting change.
Other Practical Tips To Incite Real Change
We have found some simple practical tips can really help people to act on the concept of empowerment outlined above. By taking these into account and acting on them, there is absolutely no reason why someone can’t start achieving any goal they set for themselves, today!
- Set aside time within your day (not actually being able to connect and act on the ideas into their real-life is the main thing that halts progress for our clients). If it’s not in a calendar or scheduled in then it’s not real. That’s why we require everyone we see to put us in their calendar ahead of time. If it’s scheduled in and someone else is on the other end of the appointment waiting for them, they damn sure won’t get caught up in something trivial that will make them miss it.
- How to have self-belief. A lot of people that find it difficult to exercise and summon motivation really struggle with their self-talk. This can sound like a fluffy concept, however, what we have found to be crucial is for people to recognise that their thoughts and what they say about themselves are not exactly true. ACT is a very popular psychological methodology that explains how to act on this to create change towards one’s goals. We work this into what we do by showing people a different way of doing things that actually improves their condition and gets them back to doing what they love.
- It’s often easier than you think. Our whole philosophy is about taking action that people can actually do. Don’t want to exercise for an hour every single day? That’s fine, we can just start with 10 minutes. To us, it’s not about following a set of exact guidelines. It’s about working with the reality of what the person in front of us can do on a regular basis. Taking this into account we then come up with the most ideal program to elicit the change that is desired. Often this involves challenging false beliefs & prior preconceptions (e.g. If I only do one set of my exercises I won’t see any benefits, OR if it’s not incredibly hard then it will benefit me). This kind of all or nothing thinking is a big barrier to creating lasting change.
At MTP Health we like to dig deeper than most other people do. That’s why we can say we are able to provide the results that we are able to provide. We recognise that there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to someone’s health and injury issues. That’s how we’re able to offer real guidance. It’s because we practice effective problem solving and actually look at what recent evidence tells us. We focus on the long term aims of the person in front of us and as a result, we are able to get to the root of the problem. This helps us to foster empowerment that ultimately provides a solution that lasts.
So next time you think you aren’t motivated enough to get the exercise ‘you know you should’, have some compassion for yourself and come up with some goals that really mean something to you! We’ll be here to help you every step of the way 🙂