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The Perception of Exercise Motivation

Some people were born to exercise. They do not find it any more difficult to motivate themselves anymore than it is to hold a steering wheel while driving. But there is another breed of human that I happen to fall under. I require quite a lot of motivation. But once I got myself to the treadmill, it is, often, easier to finish what I started.

On the other hand, two questions I thought, if I can answer those, I will continue to exercise more or less indefinitely: 1. Why is it that even when you have done the same routine 6 times a week for past year, do you still sometimes find it (much) harder to exercise than on other days? 2. How can I ‘trick’ my mind to make it easier for myself the more I exercise? To answer the first question, we have to understand not only the physiology of the body, but also the ‘psychology’ of perception. For this theory I am ever grateful. Basically, it states that the brain has an ‘central governor’ whose primary purpose it is to prevent the body over-exerting itself. A too great heart rate, a lack of coronary blood flow, breaking bones or “shredding muscle” can lead to, well, damage to the body and death. To a layperson in exercise and medicine like myself, at least on an intuitive level this ‘makes sense’. There are a few ways that I have found to ‘suppress’ this central governor. I will use rowing as an example. In most gyms, the rowing equipment has digital computers that indicate parameters like rowing time, energy used, intensity, distance rowed etc. By choosing parameters and continuously rowing at the same parameters, you can ‘override’ the central governor by showing ‘it’ that you can finish the same routine over and over without doing harm to your body. Also, the more you do the same thing over and over, the more motivated you become that you can finish the same routine no matter how much energy you feel you have. Another concept that might be involved in exercise motivation is depicted in Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational. A person that has tried out a new coffee shop and enjoyed the experience, will likely try the experience again the next day – because the previous experience was favourable. Thus, the person effectively stands behind his own previous behaviour. This is known as self-herding. Following the same exercise regime over and over, you (in the rowing example) follow your previous (favourable) rowing experiences in a continuous cycle of conditioned behaviour!

I have found the central governor theory and a knowledge on perception very useful in motivating myself to exercise. I am quite sure that self-herding and other conditioning ‘schedules’ will allow people to better motivate consumers to purchase on a continuous basis.

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Werner van Zyl
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