Samuel Johnson once said, “Fitness is important in maintaining a healthy body and mind. Even though many of us know the benefits of fitness to ourselves, employers, and country we still seem to fail at maintaining a reasonable fitness routine in our daily lives. The difference between those who engage consistently in fitness and those who attend for a few short months following New Year’s Day may be based in intrinsic and extrinsic goals.
Do you want to get in great shape or do you want to look great? These are fundamentally two different questions that lead to different kinds outcomes. Fitting into the right size clothes to receive praise from others is an extrinsic motivation while improving fitness and ability is more intrinsic. The vast majority of people are extrinsically motivated and rely on others approval to maintain interest. Without constant approval they soon find themselves on the couch eating Cheetos.
We can find some early underpinnings about fitness values in high school where social acceptance is a key component to our socialization. A study of 500 9th and 10th graders engaging in physical education found that those who are intrinsically motivated and sought fitness knowledge did better on fitness tests than those who were not integrating fitness knowledge due to extrinsic factors (Lodewyk & Zan, 2013).
Not much change when students go to college. Of those who were involved in fitness programs, the ones who were focused more on competence and health did better than those focused on appearance (Sibley, 2013). The intrinsically motivated group maintained better aerobic ability, strength, and body fat composition when compared to the outward motivated participants.
We now know that high school and college students are more fit when they engage in activities for their intrinsic enjoyment. According to a study of peace keeping Norwegian soldiers stationed in Kosovo the basic variables of intrinsic motivation was part of the 1/3 of soldiers that improved upon their fitness during these times (Drystad, et. al. 2007).
Intrinsic motivation focused on improving ability and fitness was significantly more motivating than showing off to others. As a matter of fact, showing off to others was a short-lived strategy and seemed to come along with a plethora of excuses to engage in non-healthy activities. If you are going to get into shape then you should consider your reasons for doing so and how much effort you are willing to put forward on those goals without the need for social approval.
Drystad, et. al. (2007). Physical fitness, training volume, and self-determined motivation in soldiers during a peacekeeping mission. Military Medicine, 172 (2).
Lodewyk, K. & Zan, G. (2013). Fitness-specific epistemic beliefs, effort regulation, outcomes, and indices of motivation in high school physical education. SD Journal of Research in Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport & Dance, 8 (2).
Sibley, et. al. (2013). University students’ exercise behavioral regulation, motivates, and physical fitness. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 116 (1).