live it active

Part 1: Motivation and exercise

This post will be the first of many on the topic of motivation and exercise. I was asked an excellent question (thank you Julie:)) on how to help others find their motivation to exercise. This spurred me into action. Over the course of the weekend I have been investigating the concept of motivation and exercise and not surprisingly, have found a vast amount of research and debate on this particular topic.

I am going to write from the perspective that you are trying to assist someone to make a change. Please note, this is my opinion and not a prescription or scientifically validated approach (I am no doctor).

This post will discuss the stages of change which is an important concept to grasp when dealing with motivation. The stages of change (DiClemente et al., 1991) include the following: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. Researchers have found that such stages can be employed when looking at exercise behaviour. Others argue the converse suggesting that this approach is too simplistic when looking at changing exercise behaviour. I however, like the use of these stages as it provides a framework from which to work from.  

It is important when trying to motivate someone to assess what stage they may be in. For example, perhaps your friend/partner/mother is in the precontemplation stage. At this stage they are “not intending to make changes”. They are not aware that a change is needed and have no plans for future change. This is a challenging stage to provide assistance in. Trying to make the person aware that a change needs to be made could backfire, and badly. I would argue that at this stage, your chances of success are almost nil. So you wait. The motivation to change must be intrinsically motivated – it must come from the person. No one will change unless they want to.

If the individual is at the contemplation stage where they are “considering a change”, helping them to move forward becomes a lot easier. They may broach the subject with you. Engage in the conversation. Listen intently. Provide positive reinforcement. In the past I may have suggested modelling the exercise behaviour, however this too can backfire. Your actions may seem contrived and “show-offiish” (for lack of a better term). This could instantly turn someone off of exercise, especially with you.

I am not going to delve into each stage but as you can see, motivation is complex. You have to be careful when helping others to find their motivation. Your motivations will never be the exact same as someone else. Try to assess what stage your friend/family member/co-worker is in. Take the time to listen. Take the time to help (if asked for).  

In my next post I will discuss the difference between internal vs. external motivation to exercise and why one is most definitely better than the other. 

Happy listening and helping. And thank you Julie for the fantastic question!


DiClemente et al. 1991. The process of smoking cessation: An analysis of precontemplation, contemplation and preparation stages of change. J of Consul. and Clin. Psych., 59, 295-304.

Marcus et al. 1992. The stages and processes of exercise adoption and maintenance in a worksite sample. Health Pscyh., 11, 386-395.

Adams et al. 2004. Why don’t stage based activity promotion interventions work? Health Ed. Research, 20, 237-243.


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  1. * Julie says:

    Hi again Morgan, I’m very excited about your series of motivation posts. I’m so glad I asked! 🙂 I understand now that my friend is in the second stage of motivation. I know already that your upcoming posts will be very helpful. Thanks!

    | Reply Posted 7 years ago

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