Ever since we were little, teachers, parents, and coaches have advised us on the benefits of motivational thinking. “Visualize yourself making the goal!” “Picture finishing the project, and you will!”
Over the years motivation may have come in other forms. Hanging a picture of the bikini you want on the fridge to encourage weight loss. Promising yourself a fancy dinner out if you stay in and eat healthy for a month.
But it turns out, thinking about the reasons to exercise or lose weight probably won’t help you. On the other hand, thinking about the actions you need to take in order to be more active and eat healthy can actually help you reach your goal.
It’s called “directed thinking.”
A recent study took two groups of students who did not regularly exercise and asked one group to think about reasons why they should exercise. For example, to improve their health, increase stamina, or lose weight. The other group was asked to list specific actions they could take to increase their amount of exercise, such as working out with a partner or getting a gym membership.
The students were asked to remember and list their reasons or actions for eight weeks, and then researchers checked in to see if they had made any changes in their habits.
Turned out that listing reasons to exercise had no effect on the students. But the students who listed the actions they could take actually ended up increasing the amount of exercise they did and improved their cardiovascular fitness.
The researchers hope this study can help people change the way they motivate themselves and others. While goals are also important to set and visualize, without spelling out different steps you can take to meet your goal, you might find yourself stuck in a rut.
As we mentioned in our New Year’s Resolution article, the best way to meet your goals is to have specific targets and keep track of your progress. You should also make sure to do research into how to achieve your goals. For instance, if you’re trying to lose weight, but you’re on a budget, look around for deals on gym memberships through your job, school, or health insurance. Try to find discounted exercise machines or videos through online sites. Also, make sure to take stock of any current health problems you have and find the best ways to exercise without aggravating your problems.