• Psychology of Movement
    Making long term change
  • Making long term change
  • When it comes to exercise it’s not uncommon to make a change only to find that it’s hard to stick to. Perhaps you have a few weeks where you bring more movement into your life and then go back to your old habits. You have periods of intensity but little consistency. It’s easy to think ‘ah ha I’ve cracked it’ – only to find a few weeks or months later that ‘it’...hasn’t quite been cracked.

    If this is you, then you are not alone. There is ample research to show that behaviour can be changed in the short term. However, there is less evidence on how people can maintain those changes over time. In short, getting started is not the same as keeping going.

    So what does the research say about maintaining changes to behaviour? Let’s dive into insight from the research and explore how you can bring these ideas into your day-to-day life.

    Week 1: Motives for maintenance

    Motives relate to what is driving your behaviour choices. Motives help to establish your priorities i.e. where you spend your resources such as time, effort and money.

    When you decide to do something new, such as bring more movement to your life, this is often driven by expectations of long-term outcomes, for example being fitter and stronger.

    However, researchers have suggested that your motives for starting are in fact different to the motives that will keep you going. Evidence suggests that to facilitate maintenance it is more helpful to:

    1. Enjoy doing the new behaviour. Change is more likely to be maintained if you enjoy doing the new behaviour, rather than just being focused on the long-term, perhaps rational outcomes (e.g. my health will improve). What’s more, research suggests that motivation to avoid negative outcomes (e.g. poor health) is not sufficient to maintain lifestyle choices that might prevent such outcomes. Therefore, to support long-term consistency with exercise, think about how you can set yourself up to enjoy it. For example, try a fun new activity that gets you moving, workout with friends and celebrate your successes in the moment. Find out more about how you can prioritise positivity here.
    2. Uncover intrinsic motivation. Starting a new behaviour is often motivated by extrinsic motivation. This means external rewards such as social approval. However intrinsic motivation has been shown to be a higher quality of motivation for sustained change3. This means doing something for its inherent satisfaction. You are motivated by the fun, challenge or gratification provided in the process of doing an activity – not for an outside outcome, pressure or reward. In addition, behaviour is more likely to be maintained if it connects with your values. See here (Link to blog improving the quality of your motivation) or how to tap into intrinsic motivation.
    3. Develop your identity Research shows you are more likely to maintain new habits if they are in line with the beliefs you hold about yourself2. For example, if you are someone that signs up for your first 5km run, you might go on your first run and start to adopt the identity of ‘a runner’. Developing your identity can have positive impacts on maintaining behaviour change. To tap into this, say you want to be more active - you might consider what would the identity of an active person be like? Perhaps they would choose to walk to work, take the stairs rather than the lift and get a certain number of steps in per day. Then once you are clear on what identity looks like, see where you can do those activities yourself. Each time you do, recognise it and acknowledge that you are an active person.

    As you look to tackle your health and fitness goals for the long term, think about how you can develop these three areas.

    • Can you prioritise positivity by picking activities you enjoy and celebrating the small wins?
    • Spend some time understanding your intrinsic motivation
    • Consider what the identity for your desired new behaviour looks like - how can you adopt this identity?
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