Maintaining a consistent exercise routine is often cited as a challenge, with motivation being the elusive factor for many. However, recent research sheds light on how the type of motivation can significantly impact not only your willingness to exercise but also your mental health. The study, which delved into the motivations of 650 avid exercisers, discovered a correlation between certain types of motivation and mental health outcomes.
Individuals who held beliefs like “I am a loser if I do not succeed in things that matter to me” and “I have to be viewed favourably by people that matter to me” were more likely to resort to self-pressure and guilt as motivators for exercise. Surprisingly, this group not only exhibited a reluctance to engage in physical activity but also showed a higher susceptibility to poor mental health.
The research unveiled a concerning trend – those who relied on guilt and self-pressure as motivational tools were at an increased risk of experiencing symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and stress. This negative mindset, characterized by dogmatic beliefs like “I must” or “I have to,” creates an unhealthy approach to exercise, with potentially severe consequences for mental well-being.
However, the study also highlighted a more positive side. Participants who reported lower symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress exhibited less extreme, rigid, and negative ways of thinking. These individuals found motivation in healthier forms, such as a genuine love for the activity and a recognition of the value and importance of exercise in shaping their identity.
The connection between mental health and one’s thoughts and actions is reciprocal, suggesting that cultivating a positive mindset can contribute to overall well-being. Notably, individuals with less extreme and negative thought patterns were more likely to adopt constructive motivations for their workouts.
The study proposes a solution in the form of rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), a psychological approach aimed at challenging and altering deeply ingrained beliefs. By transitioning from self-pressure and guilt-ridden motivations to recognizing the value and potential enjoyment in exercise, individuals can enhance their overall well-being.
For those looking to break free from the cycle of negative thinking and lack of motivation, there are practical steps that can be taken:
1. Think Critically About Your Thinking: Analyse your thoughts about exercise. Are they negative, unhelpful, or self-pressuring? Challenge these thoughts and work on adopting beliefs that make sense and contribute to your exercise goals. Instead of viewing exercise as a chore driven by guilt, see it as an enjoyable activity that aligns with your aspirations.
2. Realize You’re Not What You Do: Embrace your imperfections and acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes. Failing to meet a particular goal does not define your worth. Acceptance of shortcomings allows for better resilience and facilitates staying on track with your fitness objectives.
3. Harness the Power of Want: Discover an exercise activity that goes beyond the physical aspect. Join an exercise group, make new friends, or reignite a passion for a former hobby. Genuine enjoyment and a sense of fulfilment will make you more likely to stick to your exercise goals, shifting from a mindset of obligation to one driven by genuine interest.
In conclusion, while exercise is undoubtedly crucial for physical and mental health, the manner in which it is approached matters significantly. Guilt-driven motivations may do more harm than good, underscoring the importance of finding joy and purpose in physical activity. By fostering a positive mindset and embracing exercise as a pleasurable pursuit, individuals can not only achieve their fitness goals but also safeguard their mental well-being.