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Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation

Monday, February 11, 2013

I recently read an article in "Today's Dietitian" January 2013, the article was "Mobile App Motivators" by Jennifer Van Pelt.

It was about a branch of Motivation Psychology called "Self Determination Theory". It separates motivation into two categories:

Intrinsic motivation-- is exercising because you enjoy it and get a feeling of satisfaction from it.

Extrinsic motivation-- is exercising for a specific reason or outcome. Like that exercise is a means to weight loss.

What they have found is that intrinsic motivation is more likely to result in long-term exercise adherence.

The article that I was reading was saying that people can cultivate their intrinsic motivation, and I feel that I have personally done that over the last 2 years on SP.

I enjoy greater self-confidence, knowing that I am doing something great for my body. Feeling that I am healthy, disease and pain-free because of exercise is huge for me. Knowing I will live longer and with better quality. Getting stronger, going faster, accomplishing goals and improving on all these levels is very satisfying.

For a while these things have been more important to me than the actual weight loss. I also have gotten over so many feelings of shame about my body and have started to see exercise and weight loss as an exclusively health-related concept. Vanity or just trying to do all this to "look better" left the scene for me a while back. It took truly enjoying my exercise and experiencing satisfaction and good health from it for about a year for the intrinsic motivation to over-come the flighty extrinsic. But I do remember what started me on SP was that one morning I decided I didn't care if I lost weight or not, I just had to try to be HEALTHY. That day was almost 2 years ago.

The replacement of extrinsic by intrinsic motivation has actually been extremely powerful and changing for me. I know that shame, fear, and then anger about self-image was what was actually holding me BACK from doing anything about my health for a while. It was a cycle that was NOT motivating for long enough to have any good effect for me. I feel sad whenever people talk to me about their own weight-loss efforts, (or lack of) and if I can see that they are in the fix I was in-- it makes me a bit frustrated. I know I can't say to them, "This is not about looks at all." Because I remember what I would have said to myself, "Yea, right... for YOU it isn't because you're not dealing with THIS jiggling love-handle." Those really difficult feelings of shame and un-attractiveness. They were not motivating! And I remember a blog I wrote about a 1 1/2 years ago where I had actually been a bit annoyed by the skinny people at the gym. I was like, "Why are you at the gym....". And now I'm at the gym for the same reason! Because I love to exercise and I want to be HEALTHY.

Losing some more weight for me will be nice. It will be a healthy thing to do. I also will be glad to look better, but this is now a fringe benefit for me. I probably have more to do in the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation area, but I'm so happy that I've been able to get to the place that I'm at.


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Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.