Motivated to Move
An age old question which seems to have no clear answer is what motivates people to move? If this question could be answered, maybe we wouldn’t have 66% of the population of America classified as having some type of weight problem. Even though there is no apparent answer to this question, perhaps an understanding of the motives of individuals will provide a glimpse of why people either approach or avoid behaviors that promote moving. One area of psychology that may provide some answers, especially related to how individuals approach moving, is motivation.
Motivation is a broad disposition of the personality that is found in each individual, and it suggests motives within that cause a person to pursue certain behaviors for various reasons that fulfill a need or needs. These needs can be met from an internal or external perspective. Many of our behaviors are fostered by external motivation, in which individuals do something because they are given some type of external reward. Knowing what the reward is and more importantly that the individual wants to receive the reward strengthens the behavior. When the reward is withdrawn, usually the behavior ceases. Once hooked, the behavior continues until the reward is removed or has no incentive to the individual or the individual realizes the behavior has other benefits more important than the original reward. The original reward can continue, but over time the individual will automatically notice changes in both physical and psychological aspects of their being. So, what started out as a behavior rewarded without personal concerns, what some might refer to as other external motivation (money, t-shirts, trophies, etc.) can turn into external motivation that has to do with self (health benefits, fitness benefits, social benefits, etc.). (1) Self external motivation is seen and felt in the changes made to the body and mind. Health, fitness and social changes are just a few of the possible benefits that can be realized by starting and maintaining a program with locomotor movement. This shift from other external motivation to self external motivation is a natural progression as long as moving is continued on a regular basis for at least three or four weeks. To keep this new focus the individual, needs to become aware of these positive life changes and utilize them to further improve their life. Such an alteration in a person’s life will not come overnight but as the individual proceeds in their training he/she cannot help but notice that improving self is a great motivator to keep going. Being aware of all the previous benefits (health, fitness and social) by the individual will help guarantee a more successful program. Once this change has taken place, it is a turning point in the individual’s orientation toward self and hopefully their non-movement history. The moving now becomes an everyday or every other day experience to become fit, to heal, to reduce stress and anxiety, to reduce degenerative disease and to look and feel good about self.
From here the individual could change to an internal perspective of self, but this could take a considerable amount of time or it may not happen at all. That is, the moving becomes internalized such that a higher level of need is established and the individual continues to move because it is enjoyable to do so. It may also represent a challenge, in which the individual feels he/she can improve and achieve beyond what he/she originally thought they could do. Along with the pure enjoyment of the movement and the challenge that it may bring, the need to master the skill may also exist. To achieve internal motivation is the ultimate pinnacle for continuing a movement program.
Starting a program to move the body is not easy. The key element though is a person’s willingness to take a chance and see what he/she can do. That chance may be initiated by a trophy, a t-shirt, money (other external motivation) and lead to a feeling of wellness and health not known before (self external motivation) and eventually to enjoyment, challenge and mastery (internal motivation). Moving from the other external motivation to self external motivation is usually the path to health and wellness. Maintaining movement for a lifetime depends on the continually satisfaction a person receives from the many benefits that self external motivation provide to the individual. Along with self external motivation, the next step is to experience the internal motivation of moving, that is the enjoyment, satisfaction, challenge and mastery movement provides.
(1.) Mears, Jennifer and Marcus Kilpatrich. Motivation for Exercise: Applying Theory to Make a Difference in Adoption and Adherence. ACSM Health and Fitness Journal. Lippencot Williams and Wilkins: January/February 2008, Vol. 12, No.1. Pp. 20 – 26.