Exercising at Home? Motivation, and Some Thoughts on Behavior Change

You may be wondering what you are going to do inside all day with orders to shelter in place, or self-isolate? Reasonably, there are a lot of things to consider besides what you are going to do. There are the financial implications and the larger ramifications of employment, delays in children’s education, and what the future is going to look like.

Staying active while social distancing

Nonetheless, on an hour by hour basis, being inside all day, perhaps with young children to look after and work to do, can quickly become a grind. It will probably not surprise anyone who reads my posts that I am going to talk about exercise at home. It is a reasonable way to improve mood and lessen the strain while bringing physical benefits.

We are all in different places

First, let me be clear that I know RA poses several physical and functional limitations. We are all in different places. This is just a journal of my thoughts that hopefully, some may find helpful. Second, I’ll say upfront that I have found sticking to a solid routine at home requires a lot of planning and dedication.

How do we establish a good routine for staying active?

There is plenty out there on means of exercising at home. Apps, online videos, programs, and so forth. I see no need to get into that. Find what works for you. What I’m most interested here are the psychological and motivational aspects of getting on a good routine.

There are different methods to consider

Being in the discipline of health behavior, I’m going to summarize some different schools of thought on creating changes to your behavior just for readers to think about. This is just a blog post because it has been on my mind and not an academic exposition.

In the discipline of health behavior, there are myriad schools of thought on what motivates people to stick to their goals. My method for keeping track of the myriad theories is to view the emphasis on lasting behavior change as a spectrum from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. This to me is an easy method of creating a mental taxonomy so I have a reference point.

Behavioral economics to create change

As an example, the school of behavioral economics places emphasis on the incentives of behavior which is more external and contextual.

For instance, if you wanted to exercise consistently, one popular method goes something like this: you make a goal, then make a deal with a friend that if you don’t meet that goal by date x via measurable outcome y, you will give them a sum of money that will be just painful enough that you are willing to discipline yourself so not to lose it. The friend then agrees to do something particularly devious like donate that money to a cause you despise. This is likely going to be a political party or organization you are morally against.

The purpose is to create strong incentives

The idea is to create extrinsic motivation in behavioral terms by serving as both a reward for your good behavior (relief when you stick to your goal) and a punishment (fear and guilt) when you don’t. Or plainly put, it creates strong incentives for your behavior. You may find yourself very motivated to not lose a sum of money that helps your mortal enemy.

Various websites are built around this very idea. Likewise, there is a world of research about the different methods to motivate people to stick to changes. I won't go into it. I’m painting with broad brush strokes here.

Staying active by incorporating Behaviorism

How you think or feel is not the domain of the pure behaviorists. The goal is building behavioral habits with positive associations, and negative associations with breaking it. Therefore, just exercising no matter what you feel like can often result in a starting out feeling crappy and ending feeling great.

Positive associations and social reinforcement

This builds positive associations with something that is not immediately experienced as such. Do the habit for long enough, and with time, its absence will be experienced as negative, and you will seek to correct it by exercising. Social reinforcement could also be built in here, whether it be approval or social support. The result is a positive association with the act of exercising.

Intrinsic motivation

On the other end are theories of behavior that focus mostly on internal cues. There are things like genuine interest, curiosity, love of the challenge, or a desire to live consistently with your values.

Motivational Interviewing

One example of many is Motivational Interviewing. This is a technique developed to help people with addictions that has been extended to various domains of health behavior.

One method to help people find intrinsic motivation is to have them focus on their values contrasted with their actual behavior. If you say you value your family and your health, but realize that you are living in a way that doesn’t reflect that, you may modify your behavior to be who you strive to be.

Self Determination Theory

In Self Determination Theory, a state of congruence where you live according to your values to the point that both your intentions and behaviors are a fully assimilated sense of self is called integration. In other words, “This is who I am and want to be, and I live my life accordingly.”

This theory views behavior similarly to my own mental taxonomy, as a spectrum from extrinsic to intrinsic. Nonetheless, the emphasis is that lasting behavior change occurs when ones arrives on the intrinsic end of the spectrum.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Somewhere in the middle of this theoretical taxonomy is cognitive behavioral therapy and its myriad iterations that incorporate mindfulness, or acceptance, and commitment. In this school of thought, you may focus on the way you think and believe. Or, you may focus on the way you feel and how to change that via relaxation techniques or visualization.

You may also set up behavioral reinforcement of rewards and punishments that sustain or deter the desired behavior. For example, you can be taught to be more mindful of how you are eating, modify your thoughts and beliefs about food and exercise, and develop goals that are accompanied by rewards (often naturally occurring such as a feeling of accomplishment).

Find a method that helps you stay active

There is, of course, a risk here of being too brief to give the subject a thorough airing, and too lengthy to have lost the point. I’ll conclude by saying that different things work for different people.

Incorporating parts from different methods

You may not benefit from thorough introspection, but may find setting up a system of rewards for meeting your goals is enough. Or,  you may begin with external motivation via systems of rewards and punishments, build the habit, then find that sticking to something for long enough intrinsically motivates you and you can’t imagine your life without it.

Perhaps you already motivated but strapped for time. Simply sitting down and creating a schedule, prepping stuff the night before, and creating a physical space in your home may be all you need.

What has worked for me

One way or another, I have found that exercising from home is rewarding. Personally I find it is more challenging than getting outside or going to the gym. I am in a far better mood when I get at least twenty minutes of exercise a day.  I find something is almost always better than nothing.

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