HAWTHORNE: Behaviour change and motivation – Vernon Morning StarApril 6, 2021
I hope you’re staying safe and reasonably sane during this crisis. When you think of places to visit, ambiguity and uncertainty are definitely not on my list, and yet I find myself living there! Physical activity wasn’t always my primary coping strategy, but I’m grateful for it now. Today’s article continues the exploration of the psychology of behaviour change, so if you’re struggling to start, or stay with, an effective coping mechanism, meditation, yoga, cardio, anything that’s proven beneficial, read on and let’s put together a plan that works.
We’ve looked at the components of behaviour change, standards, monitoring, self-regulatory strength (willpower), and now we turn to motivation. Motivation is the reason we take action. It’s why we start diets or exercise programs; it’s why people book appointments with personal trainers, and it’s why when it comes to successfully losing weight, improving our health, or rehabilitating from an injury, the challenge is so great.
Matryoshka dolls, those Russian nested toys that open to reveal a series of ever smaller and slightly different dolls inside, are how I picture motivation – layers, depth and sophistication that defy surface inspection. The goals we set, the actions we take – or fail to take – and whether we realize those goals is dependent on the strength of our motivation. Fortunately, that strength is not static. With a deeper understanding of the components of motivation, we can adopt, and if necessary, adapt a variety of techniques to boost our reasons for change and ensure success.
Successful change, any change, requires three things:
- Ability, the knowledge and the resources to facilitate change.
- Opportunity, the situation, the environment must allow for some change
- Motivation, the desire, the need to take action and change
With weight-loss, improvements to our health or fitness, the opportunity isn’t necessarily a limiting factor; you don’t need a gym to exercise, and you don’t need a personal chef to eat for health. It’s more often an issue with ability, understanding what to do, and motivation, taking consistent, sustainable action. In the BRAVO Formula, my online course for health fitness and weight-loss, I address ability through the instructional videos on exercise and diet. Still, more importantly, the course is about motivation and behaviour change. I define the components of behaviour change and provide examples and techniques to strengthen and maintain motivation throughout the course. Motivation is a massive, multi-layered subject, and my interpretation draws on the sub-disciplines of social, behavioural, and industrial and organizational psychology. We can use three broad categories to deepen our understanding of motivation: personal motivation, social motivation and structural or environmental motivation.
Personal motivation is our reason for taking action, and just like those nested toys, there may be complexity that goes well beyond this simple definition and example, but it’s a good start. For instance, I could visit my doctor, get a little health scare and then decide that a daily walking regimen is necessary. What exactly drives the change to get more active? Is it based on the respect I have for my physician and her expertise? Or maybe there’s a history of health issues in my family and the fear of not acting drives the change. Whatever the driver is, successful change is dependent on maintaining that motivation and taking action, continuous, long-term efforts that deliver results. Respect for an authority figure or fear of future health consequences might be enough to begin an exercise regimen, but it’s not likely strong enough to carry me from something I have to do, to something I want to do.
Social motivation is the pressure we see from our peer networks, friends, family, co-workers etc. It’s peer pressure, and it’s a powerful motivator, arguably the most powerful. Looking at it from an evolutionary perspective, acceptance and conformity within the group were crucial to our very survival. Caring what others think is hardwired into our nature, and it’s vital to understand and appreciate the role that social motivation plays in successful behaviour change and in realizing our goals.
Structural motivation is manipulating the environment, changing your opportunity to act. Think of it as installing or removing roadblocks to influence direction; it might be as simple as cleaning the cupboard of high-calorie convenient snacks, eliminating the opportunity for unhealthy snacking. Or, like one of my clients, who moved the printer from her home office on the top floor to the basement, it creates the opportunity for more healthy activity throughout the day. Either way, structural motivation is about shaping our environment to make it easier to achieve our goals.
In my experience, losing weight, changing the way we look and feel, is nearly always the reason for engaging the services of a personal trainer. An expert might have answers or the secrets to successful weight-loss, that perfect combination of cardio and carb ratios that delivers results. Switching from construction, I felt like this as well, as I focused on my ability, my knowledge regarding exercise physiology and nutrition. But with time and experience, it became clear that without the skills of behaviour change, habit formation, and motivation, the odds of success are extremely low. A complete plan for change that incorporates not only our ability but that also addresses the motivational sources of influence in our lives, personal, social and structural will increase the odds of success.
In the following articles, we’ll take our definitions of motivation, expand them and provide some examples of techniques to use for preparing a bulletproof plan for change.
Stay safe; stay well.
ABOUT SEAN HAWTHORNE:
Sean Hawthorne is the owner and operator of OneLife Health and Wellness, Kelowna’s first and longest running private, personal training facility. While working in Dubai, UAE as a Contracts and Project Manager, Sean decided to leave his successful career in Civil Engineering Technology and pursue his passion for health, fitness and helping others achieve their goals. He returned to Canada in 2001, taking formal education in Exercise Science and starting his career in the field of health and fitness. Working in collaboration with their clients, Sean and his team of health and fitness professionals strive to continually improve their skills and to help everyone reach their goals.