Written by Christopher Kelly
Feb. 15, 2020
Finding motivation to get up at 5:00 a.m. and get to the gym, finding motivation to push myself, I've got to the point where I gear up to push myself to the gym and then my mind and body go, "Why?" I don't have a good answer for that anymore. Perhaps that's where we should start, Simon. It seems like people know they should be moving their body going to the gym but somehow they're struggling to find the motivation to do it. How do you go about that?
Simon: What's interesting is that even just the words that we use about motivation, it's as though that we're looking for it inside some drawer.
Christopher: It's in the sock drawer.
Simon: It's in the sock drawer where you left it. Or when we find as though that we are lacking the internal drive or desire and we see people who don't seem to struggle with it and it creates a sense of what's wrong with me? Why don't I have that? Why don't I have this drive and desire? Some people might remember a time in their life when they have lots of it. Some people may never have had any of it and it always seemed a chore. They never feel as though they've got that fire in their belly to push or persist or to try things that are difficult. I think it starts with really a fundamental discussion of what motivation actually is and isn't.
Christopher: That's a really great place to start. Can you tell me?
Simon: I'll turn that over to you, Chris. Well, when psychologists think of motivation without trying to de-jargonize it, we often think about the reasons that we have impulses, desires or drives. So, psychologists often talk about the intensity of goal-directed efforts. In other words, motivation by definition has a goal at the end of it. It's targeted towards something. It's not just aimless energy to do anything you want to however. It's usually targeted.
Many of us realize this quite acutely because we know that we might be really motivated to exercise or to keep up a healthy habit but not motivated to clean the garage or vice versa or something. So, the first thing is that it's pointed at and has some direction to it.
The second component of that is the intensity with which we feel something, the drive, the compulsion, if anything, to do it. And all of these things are internal states that are fairly independent of what you actually do. This is really the first distinction that we try and make certainly in sports psychology between motivation and commitment. I think we've spoken about this before in the podcast.
The main distinction, of course, is that motivation is the internal experience and the commitment is the physical doing of it. You don't have to have both to be successful. Often we might be committed to things that we're not particularly motivated by and many of us think about our jobs that way. I show up every day, I do it, I'm committed to it, but I'm not actually motivated. I don't have this internal drive or desire that it does something for me. We talk about intrinsic motivation or something like that.
And vice versa. Some people are really motivated to do things but never do anything about it. I might be really motivated to play the piano or to become better as a tennis player but I don't actually practice so I don't actually do anything to it. I think a lot of people feel guilty about not having motivation when really you don't need motivation to be active. You need commitment. You need to actually do something.
One thing that I try and encourage people to think about is, initially, before we get the snowball of dopamine and all of the other things that we know are underlying the biology of motivation, of things that make us want to do something, is that let's start, first of all, figuring out what a commitment to that looks like. This requires we all have little personal pledges to ourselves.
There might be a period where I'm doing something I'm not actually enjoying and I don't want to be there and that's perfectly fine. In fact, that's often what habits start out as when you're trying to institute them. And over time, the more you do something, motivation actually grows. Motivation begets motivation. In other words, to get some motivation, you already have to be doing something. It's very rare.
There are a few things in life that are truly intrinsically motivating. They're pleasurable in and of themselves. But much of what we do in life, it takes a little bit of initial trying. We know this. Some of the psychological research, for example, is that this called motivational contagion and this notion that there are things that people don't feel very motivated about doing, assembling furniture or playing chess, but the moment that you're around people who are motivated by it, guess what happens? You become motivated by it.
So, you can catch motivation by just simply being around people who seem enthusiastic and excited to do something that previously you weren't. I guess, the bottom line here is that motivation has a momentum behind it. And, initially, you have to start, and this is why many of these habits that are so difficult to begin and continue, is that you have to be content with until the fire gets stoked I'm just going to have to be assigned or have to be content with being committed to something even if it's not particularly enjoyable.
Christopher: Okay. So, we just move to goal part. How do I get committed at 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning?
Simon: Well, in the great words immortally as of the philosopher Yoda, there is no try, only do. One of the things -- habit formation is critical remembering that actions that we take are always in our control. Feelings and impressions and thoughts that we have are not always in our control. We can talk about this probably on a separate day about the myth of free will and the extent to which we can truly control what we think and feel and we now know that we really can't.
We can do it to a certain extent, but what we can always control is our behavior, assuming that you don't have a disease or a current brain injury or you're on psychotropic meds that really give you symptoms of behavioral disorders. But for the most part, behavior is in our control. Recognizing that behaviors are always in your control but expecting suddenly to be overcome by a wave of I can't wait to do this.
Because people feel guilty about that until I can find that fire in the belly that gets me doing and that's only when I'm going to start doing it. And for most people, it's a struggle to begin with. It's like anything that you don't want to do but you know that you have to to get the ball rolling. There are some strategies like, for example, to help you get out of bed early when the alarm goes off and you want to press the snooze button and your limbic system, the emotional you is telling you, "Oh, do it later. You can do it after work. It's early. It's cold out. It's warm. It's safe. It's comfortable inside." All these impulses and drives us to get us to keep the status quo, the warmth and comfort.
It becomes a cognitive challenge then to try and say, "Okay, I know I said I'm going to do this. I've signed up for my first Orangetheory class. I've paid and I've got my new shoes and it's ready, so come on. What the fuck is wrong with you?" And you got this inner fight going on. One thing that we can do, take the example of getting up out of bed, is to try and avoid getting into this limbic system emotional persuasion of getting you to stay in bed in the warm. One thing is, for example, when the alarm goes off, to count. I don't know if you ever heard of the strategy for getting out of bed?
Christopher: No. Tell us.
Simon: As soon as the alarm goes off, the moment you press the button, before you have the chance to do anything else you start counting to ten very slowly. And I don't mean the procrastination [0:07:46] [Indiscernible] as an impulsive action, you pull back the covers and just sit straight upright in bed. You get up, jump up straight up, postural hypertension. You suddenly faint because of the change in blood pressure, drop in blood pressure.
You make a commitment to just -- What counting does, because it's an automatic habit that rests in different parts of the brain that aren't really contaminated by that emotional persuasion to stay in bed is you can take up your occupying bandwidth in your head that can't be clouded out by a discussion. When we talk about counting, we're not talking about, again, the procrastination, nine, nine and a quarter, nine and a half. We're just saying one, two, three.
You give yourself a little bit of a readying. We know an artifact of the brain that's called the limited channel capacity. No different parts of your brain can be in charge of you at any one time. You can't have competing force at the same time. You can switch between thoughts quite quickly. But taking a challenge of counting or singing to yourself or reciting something, you can't also be thinking about the plot of a Netflix show at the same time as you're doing this. It's really difficult.
You're just trying to occupy space in your head and stopping this little part of you that's saying stay in the warmth and comfort and then on ten you agree to throw about the covers and get up. It's really effective strategy for getting out of bed. I think you might call it a hack, Chris.
Christopher: Really, honestly, it's not like the chimp comes roaring back in as soon as you finish counting to ten saying, "I should definitely stay in bed. It's way too cold out there. This is a bad idea."
Simon: Well, but remember, at the end of ten you've committed to have an action which is to sit up on the bed. If you think about when you wake up in the morning and your thoughts immediately go to running through a wet cold dark pavement then, of course, it's going to be difficult. What you're doing, the goal is simply to get out of bed. That's the first step. And then the goal is to, okay, do all the stuff that you need to do first, pee or whatever, and then put on your running clothes on or something. In fact, there's some strategies that work for people who really struggle with that. They go to sleep in their running gear. Have you ever heard of this?
Christopher: I think I've read about it in your book, haven't I?
Simon: Yeah. It sounds absolutely ridiculous and it looks ridiculous. For some people, it really does help, so that if you're particularly going to the gym, which is alight running shorts and a top or whatever. You go to bed in that.
One, you're just removing another barrier for you to say, "Oh, I've got to find it. I've got to dig for the drawers and not wake my partner up." Any time that you can make this as easy as possible.
Christopher: You're reminding me of that episode of Absolutely Fabulous, Ab Fab, do you remember that, when -- I forget which one of the women it was but she would go to sleep with all her hair done and her make up on and a cigarette in her mouth.
Simon: All she would do is light it when she wakes up.
Christopher: Exactly. And she'd wake up in the morning and she hasn't moved even half an inch. Everything, her hair is still perfect. Her makeup is still perfect and all she needs to do is reach up for the lighter and light the cigarette.
Simon: That's right. That's perfect. In psychology terms, what we're trying to do is we're trying to strengthen the relationship between intention and action. Intention is the statements like I plan to do this. Action is actually doing it. Where most people break down is converting an intention. Most people have all the intentions in the world but they don't really convert it to action. In fact, when you look at the statistical correlation when it comes to exercise between intention and action, it's about 0.2. And those of you that know correlation, 0.2 is tiny.
Christopher: That's not strong.
Simon: It's explaining a tiny amount of variance in action by the intention. We know that they're already pretty weak. Intentions aren't good enough. What you have to do is to have what we call implementation intentions.
How do I plan to implement this intention to actually get up at 5:30 and go to my Orangetheory class or whatever it happens to be? And so you start thinking about all of the steps, the behavioral steps that you need to do to make that happen rather than just, again, waking up in the morning and hoping that you can find clean laundry to put on, dig in through drawers in the dark.
All the barriers are stacked against you about why it's difficult to do and our brains will play a whole host of tricks on ourselves to convince ourselves why today isn't the day that you should try. "Well, we're going to do some laundry and they're going to be up early. My wife or husband is going to be up tomorrow and it'll be easy and the kids will off so it's easy. I'll do it tomorrow." Before you know it, tomorrow becomes there's always tomorrow.
You can increase some implementation intentions by having a little plan. Okay, I'm going to do the count to ten before I get into my bed. I'm going to sleep in my running clothes as silly as this might seem. All we're trying to do is get the ball rolling. We're not saying this is a lifelong strategy for being an exerciser, you sleep in your swimming costume. They pinch. You probably know that, Chris. They're tight around the crotch.
Christopher: I'm wearing a pair of Speedos right now, as it happens. I'll leave you with that thought.
Simon: I know. Please don't.
Christopher: How do you go about creating a habit as a general rule? I feel like there's an algorithm for forming new habits that's worth talking about.
Simon: Yeah. I mean, so cognitive psychologists, some neuroscientists and sports psychologists have tried to figure this out in recent years. There's a great opportunity for plug for a book written by Charles Duhigg called the Power of Habit.
Christopher: I've been butchering his surname.
Simon: Well, I probably have to and I'm sure he--
Christopher: I think you're right. I've been saying Duhigg but I think you're right.
Simon: The concept is that all habits, good and bad, share a common neurological loop, for want of a better word. That loop is a simple triad of things that we need to -- think of it like the scaffolding or the architecture of a habit and they have three things in common. For every habit, there's a trigger or a cue. It's a bit like the habit's starting pistol, the thing that reminds you what to do.
It could be something external, the sight of a half empty wine bottle in the fridge. That's a cue to say, "Oh, I really fancy a glass of wine." It could be an internal state like boredom as a sign, "Oh, I'm going to eat something." It could be something that's environmental like temperature conditions or humidity or whatever or social situations. Every habit has a cue.
The next part is that every habit has a routine or ritual that we go through. This is a behavior, a little sequence of things that we go through to find the pellet, in rat maze terms or whatever. Like cravings at night, for example. I hit the Red Vines or the cashew butter or whatever, the Ben and Jerry's is for you. You'll find yourself -- and most of us are really blissfully unaware that we're going through the same habit.
If you were to put a little camera in the corner of your kitchen and you were to follow your habits, follow the patterns, the way that you open cupboards and how often you open your refrigerator and where you look and where you sit down again, we're remarkably consistent. We're creatures of habit. That's the second, all habits, good and bad, have a little routine associated with a sequence of behavioral actions.
And then the final part is the payoff, the reward. What does doing this behavior make you feel? In some cases, it's really obvious. If you're having a glass of wine and your reward is both the taste but also a buzz from the alcohol and so on. There's a reward. Sometimes that reward might not necessarily be directly connected to the actual behavior in question. It might be that, for example, eating out of boredom. I might not be actually less bored but it might be a distraction strategy or it might be it just takes my mind off of it.
Because I'm so enjoying the pleasure of the food or whatever it happens to be. Because all habits follow this little neurological loop, the way to break and make habits is to think of them in those three terms and dissect the triggers, the routines and the rewards for the habits. The book has a few great little worksheets for actually how you do this. The cliché of self-monitoring is the cornerstone of behavior change is that what we do with habits first.
Christopher: That's where you start. You write down.
Simon: That's where you start. What is your habit? What is the payoff? A good example of this is folks who -- I deal with quite a lot of folks who are struggling. One of their health habits is they want to cut down how much they drink. It might be that we know that your habit always happens about between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. at night. I'm just giving this as an example of constraints to when I do these things. I find that my habit is I might come home from work and I put my bag down and I speak to my spouse and I flip the TV on and then I open the refrigerator and I open a beer or pour a glass of wine and I sit down.
I'm trying to really, okay, one glass of wine is okay. And then I have another and another or whatever. I'm really trying to stop at one or have none at all. One of the things that you can do when you go through your little trigger routine reward is that you find out, well, okay, I like the idea, the routine is that I have something in my hand, it tastes good.
What I did that we use quite a lot is to substitute with carbonated water, fizzy water. When you're trying to do this, you buy a bunch of 12-ounce bottles of Perrier or whatever it is and you have these in the fridge where you would typically have your wine or your beer and instead of taking that you take a bottle of water, you sit down and then you start to sip this.
The nice thing about carbonated water is that, one, it has mouth feel. It actually tastes something. Having some carbonates in your stomach, it does have this sense of satiation even though it's not completely the same. You don't get a buzz from the alcohol. But many of us find ourselves drinking simply because out of habit. It's not actually certainly because they feel any better. All those that are chronic drinkers, they don't even like it anymore.
By substituting these things, the routine or the ritual of it, and I'm not even changing the reward, the buzz of alcohol, you can actually start to deconstruct habits and substitute. Another strategy is to simply manipulate the triggers. So, have no alcohol in your house during the weekday or have anything that the sweets that you crave, that they're in a Tupperware and they're in a garage or the bottom of the garden or outside the house. I have to physically go outside to do this.
All you're doing in psychology terms is stimulus control. You're controlling the stimulus to actually do the behavior or the action. Often that's enough. Any time that you can disrupt your routine or disrupt your triggers, often that's enough to change your habits. Another example is if you travel away from home and you're on business or you're staying with friends or you're just out in your unusual circumstances for you, some of those usual habits and now suddenly you don't have the cravings anymore. They're not habituated to your environment because everything is unusual.
Even something stupid as how you rearrange your furniture changes television viewing behavior, for example. Or, obviously, not having alcohol in the fridge. If I'm going to have to walk to a liquor store to buy, that's an obstacle I can't be bothered to do. You're just increasing the cost of doing that. They're all effective.
Christopher: The light bulb moment for me when I was reading that book, the Power of Habit, was the evolutionary psychology part. I love to think about what these behaviors would have been for in times gone by.
Simon: You mean what a habit is for?
Christopher: Yeah, what a habit is for. Of course, it's on autopilot and it's really easy for people to understand. Do you remember the first time that you backed your car out the driveway and it was a big deal? Actually, my lower driveway at my house is a narrow lane. The first time I tried to back out of there it was a terrifying ordeal. Now, I can do it at 30 miles an hour whilst listening to a podcast and with Ivy asking for a glass of water whilst she's in the backseat and it's all on autopilot.
That frees up my mind to do other things. Do you think that would have been a huge advantage for us in the past? If you think about it, if all of your higher order reasoning was taken up through motor control so that you could locomote yourself across the room then there wouldn't be much chance of you solving any complex problems, right?
Simon: Absolutely. So, habits and routines, they serve a very powerful function. It's not so much laziness of the brain but it's really a strategy to make your brain more efficient so we're not sapping out valuable metabolically expensive resources on trivial things like I need to walk so which foot do I put in front of the other or how do I open the door again or how do I drive? Your brain loves habits because it makes it easier to get through life. Some people have tried to estimate how many decisions do we make a day? We don't actually know that even though the statistics gets 35,000 decisions.
We make a lot of decisions a day and most of them are subconscious. If we try and consciously think about every decision we'd be a dithering mess. So, any opportunity you can give for your head to put something, stuff it into an auto routine, the better. And if we can do that with habits that are good for us, even better. It's that unfortunately we also do it for habits that are not so good for us.
Christopher: It sounds like we got off track but we really haven't. So, get back to the topic at hand which is motivation. I mean, if you can create a habit out of this then you don't need motivation and I can't say I've done this successfully with too many things but one of the things I've definitely been successful with is doing chin-ups.
I installed the chin-up bar at the end of my shed and now whenever I get back from a bike ride I do ten chin-ups. In fact, every time I walk near the shed there's my trigger and I find myself doing chin-ups. And quite often I'll get to number eight before I realize and I become conscious. You daydream and your mind is on what you're having for dinner or something else. I get to chin-up number eight before I realize what I'm doing. I didn't need any motivation to do the chin-ups at the end of my bike ride. It was just something that now happens automatically because of this habit formation.
Simon: You might find that you become motivated to do chin-ups as you get into a habit of doing them. So, even though -- because it's not purely subconscious decision making. It might be that at that time you just see the bar, you go over to it, but you're still aware that you're doing chin-ups and you might even start to see the benefit of doing chin-ups, is that you're getting more muscle tone or stronger upper body and that becomes motivating.
You're stoking the -- that's when you start to stoke the motivation fire as the motivation begetting motivation. Absolutely. Any opportunity you can get. There's this notion in habit formation called habit stacking. Habit stacking is simply rather than trying to insert a new habit into a random point in our day, is that we take an existing habit, something that we do on a very regular basis and we just tag on the new habit to that so it becomes associated with that.
Then you got a look at -- your habit is you already ready ride four times a week or whatever it happens to be and you always come back and put your bike in the same place. It makes sense to have a chin-up bar where you can see it. The example I've always given of a former colleague of mine at Stanford called B.J. Fogg who successfully managed 200 push-ups a day by habit stacking to when he flushed the toilet. I don't know if you know this yet.
Christopher: I do know this story and I've tried it with every time I boil the kettle. I'm a ferocious tea drinker and I boil the kettle many times per day.
Simon: And do ten push-ups when you do it.
Christopher: Yeah. I have to say I'd be less successful with that one. I do it sometimes. It's like the habit starts to fade away if you don't keep reinforcing it. I'll go through periods where, again, I'm doing the press-ups before I've even really thought about doing the press-ups and then other times I just forget about it and then it seems like the more it just becomes less and less likely to happen.
Simon: It fades, right, yeah. So, some behaviors that you just do once or twice a day like cleaning your teeth or something like that is probably going to be easier to do initially, or even once a day. Because if you're doing ten, 12 times a day it's a lot to process. You can transfer that stack to something else once you want to do more of them.
A good rule of thumb with anything that's challenging and that takes commitment to do even if you lack the motivation is to start off really small and find a little tiny version of this that you can insert into your day that takes one minute or two minutes and so on. It's not about, well, surely I'm not going to get any stronger by doing four push-ups in a day. That's not about it at this point. It's not about the stimulus of the push-up. It's about creating a behavioral habit because four can turn into ten, can turn into 15 and so on.
Christopher: What do you do for people who struggle to find motivation because it would appear that what they're doing is not working? That's something that we hear about a lot. I've been doing this for a while now and it doesn't seem to be making a difference. I'm struggling to stay motivated.
Simon: Yeah. It's interesting. There's a psychological theory actually that connects exactly to that. It's called expectancy theory by a guy called Vroom, a fantastic name, the name Vroom. Expectancy theory, which is really a theory of motivation, is about one that you have to evaluate your ability to be able to do something. Do I have the skill set to do it? It's pointless to want to habit stack a pull-up, for example, if you can't do one because you'll always experience failure.
But then you also start to think about whether it's going to be motivating or not, is whether I think that thing, that action I'm going to do is actually going to lead to the outcome I want. Is it going to make a difference? And that's where for many behavior people had become unstuck. For example, they might choose a dietary regime designed to weight loss and they're not losing weight. In fact, some people might actually gain weight initially for a whole host of reasons.
And so it's undermining a core tenet of motivation, is that there's no instrumentality, and psychologists told us, between behavior and outcome. And then the third part is that is this important to me? Is it connected to my value system? So, trying to institute a behavior or find motivation for something that I don't ultimately think is very important I might see that I'm going to get better at it and it's going to help the instrumentality but I don't care about that. It's not that important to me.
So, we try and work on all of those things and it's part educational. One of the things that we know for motivation is we want to give people results quickly to increase that instrumentality notion. If you have to wait a long time to see any benefit there's very little chance that people will stick to it. You want to try and get them to see results quickly. That has implications to how we design programs to increase motivation.
Christopher: So, at what point do you cut and run?
Simon: I hate to keep psychologizing about this. This is what we call goal disengagement. At what point do I say, you know what, I've tried, I've committed enough resources to this, time, effort, and it's not working and I can either keep going and hope for a better result, which is what we psychologists talk about learned helplessness, you keep doing the same thing over and over again. It's a shock to rat or mouse in the maze is getting the same outcome.
There's no clear threshold for where that is and it probably varies a lot by whether you're talking about exercise or diet. But you can set expectancy. You can actually set expectations about that. If you're saying to someone about who is going to start a new regime to lose weight, you say to them, "You're probably not going to lose any weight for three or four weeks. In fact, you might even gain a little weight to begin with and that's perfectly normal."
But if you don't have that conversation, when they're weighing themselves on day three and they're not seeing any change then it's really just undermining that instrumentality. It's a point which is guided by the science. At what point should we start to see some results? What does some of the clinical research tell us about when we should start to see some results?
And if you don't see those results, the first port of call is you, okay, is there any sort of self-sabotage going on? What's the fidelity with which someone is really sticking to this behavior? Diet is a great example for this because people actually believe that they've stuck to it to the nail. But if you were to actually do some little audit of their behavior you'll find that they've done usually something along the way that they haven't stuck to it.
They've convinced themselves that they have. They might even be aware of it, that they're doing this. If it passes the sniff test, they have done everything, we should see results by now and it's now started to undermine their motivation then it's probably time to cut and run. Goal disengagement as a strategy, knowing when to quit, is really important for our own emotional and psychological health as well. Resources are valuable, how much time and energy and money we put into something. And there's no point keep slugging away when there's no change. So, try something different.
Christopher: So, you wouldn't just say to someone, "No, you're just going to have to resign yourself to being overweight for the rest of your life." You will just say, "You got to find another way."
Simon: If you truly want to undermine all hope then, yes, you can do that. I think that hope is also extremely powerful motivation. You try something else. It might be that outside of the -- diet is one of these interesting, or weight loss is one of these interesting things. A lot of the things that we're discovering over the last five years or so, is that a lot of the things that we held as golden truths of biology and metabolism are not actually true.
Calorie is not a calorie, one of those. Calories, trainers worldwide still stick to this myth of calories, 3500 calorie deficit a week is a pound a week. Hang on, I'm in that and I'm not losing weight. We know that the biology metabolism is far different. So, it's being sensitive to what some of the science is telling us as well. One thing we don't want to be doing as coaches or trainers is automatically blaming willpower or lack of motivation.
"The problem is with you. The action is it's you that's doing something wrong. I can't help you if you're not going to stick to that." Because I think it's a question of finding the right match or finding the strategy that does work. You might even have to come back to that strategy that you started to begin with. They might not actually be ready to tackle that completely yet.
Christopher: How do you find motivation when your situation has changed? For example, your work schedule changes or you're away traveling and then suddenly your little key routine-reward thing is all messed up. I guess, really, the conclusion, the punch line to this podcast is fuck the motivation. It doesn't really matter.
Simon: No, I don't think that. I mean, we can come on -- because there's quite important discussion to be had about how do I nurture the golden ticket of motivation which is intrinsic motivation? How do I get the fire in the belly to do things for its own sake? We can talk about that and how to do that, what we know from the research in a moment.
But for things that are fundamentally you don't connect on this intrinsic level -- I don't actually enjoy this. I know I need to do this. I know it's important. It becomes a commitment challenge problem, not a motivation problem. Motivation may come out of that by being around people who are enjoying it and actually get on that snowball and dopamine, all the other things that we know, but suffice to say that, one, give yourself permission to not enjoy things that are good for you. But also to have contingencies. In NBT, we often talk about having a habit prioritization strategy.
We use this little traffic light metaphor for, say, listen, when you're in different situations that most of us are in fairly routine or similar environments, it might be one is home, one is hotel, if I'm traveling a lot the hotel might change the city but the concept of being in a self-contained unit away from home is fairly standard, or some other aspect of your life.
How do I design a habit routine, triggers routines in those environments? It might be, for example, I struggle with eating and I have to do a lot of business dinners or lunches and I get to these places and I don't want to be the guy that orders the Caesar's salad. I want to not be the, "What's wrong with you? Why are you eating that?" The social conformity of it. If you're going to eat at a restaurant and you're trying to be quite fairly, you're instituting new habits, then you should really know what's on the menu before you even show up. You've got some planning ahead of time to do.
Christopher: This is getting back to implementation intentions.
Simon: Implementation. It comes down to implementation intentions. What do I do if someone says or ridicules me for choosing the Caesar's salad? What come back or what response do I have? This is the same way that we train teens to say no to drugs, to say no to cigarettes. It's the same strategy. How do we cope with the social norm environment that is screaming at us to conform and not do that? Lesley, my wife, who's never liked drinking alcohol. She's a Scot as well, which is fighting her own DNA. I don't know what's wrong with her.
Christopher: Are you sure she's a Scot?
Simon: And so when you go to college or university in Britain, there's a strong conformity or expectation to drinking in university culture. She never liked it. You would literally be ridiculed if you didn't drink. What do they do? Lesley is not the only one. Many athletes are like this. You would have your beer bottle or whatever and you'd actually have water in it so people would not question you. You have a drink that looks like a gin and tonic. You may slice a lime and ice cube. It's actually soda water. You can think ahead of time of what you can do to resist some of that pressure or to have a canned set of responses whether they're true or not, it doesn't matter, to cope with that environment.
Christopher: Which is all well and good until people start getting drunk and then it gets really boring. If you've ever done that. I've heard Richard Bronson talk about that, that he drinks bubble water with cranberry juice in it so that people think he's drinking pink champagne. He never said this but that would be my observation.
Simon: That's funny, yeah.
Christopher: But once people start getting drunk, it gets old fast and I just want to go home. But maybe that's just me.
Simon: I know. Well, the nice thing is that once people start getting drunk they care less and less about dissecting your own motives. It's a challenge. But the goal of it, I guess, the take home message here is implementation intention. Planning how you're actually going to do this ahead of time and having strategies that are ready. It's 101 of changing these behaviors.
Christopher: Since you brought up that example, I think it's a really good one. What do you say to people when you're the one choosing the strange option at the restaurant? That's me every time we go to a restaurant. And that's if you can get me in a restaurant which is pretty difficult these days. What do you say to someone when they're asking questions about why you're making different choices from the menu?
Simon: I'll take Lesley as an example. She might just say, "Listen, I've got a really delicate stomach so I really have to be careful what I eat." It might be that, "I'm trying a new program regime. I'm trying to be good. I'm trying to stick with it." If you don't want to say any of that, you could make something up. There's nothing with a few white lies to reject the pressure or coercion to do something to go along with a group.
It might, "Oh, I've had this huge lunch before we come out so I'm actually not that hungry. I'm just going to eat this whatever." Or, "I've had a bit of a dickey stomach actually over the last few days. I'm just trying to eat a bit clean for now," and so on. Because what people are concerned about is I'm eating healthily, I'm better than you because you're all eating crap. Of course, you might face some sort of backlash or judgment for that. Not many people want to be in that situation.
Christopher: What role do you think accountability has in finding motivation? We've been running this accountability challenges on the forum over at forum.nourishbalancethrive.com as a paying supporter of the podcast that you have access to this forum. I hope you've been over there and said hello. But we run this accountability challenges and I personally find that motivating. When I sit down and think about it carefully it's not that I want to do the ten minutes of meditation. It's that I want to post on the forum afterwards so I've done the ten minutes of meditation.
Simon: I don't want to be publicly shamed.
Christopher: It was very clever actually. I don't know whether it was either Tommy or Elaine had the idea of creating a matrix in a spreadsheet and then posting that so you could see who had done what today because on the forum you just post that you've done it and it wasn't really clear who had done what until he posted that screenshot of who done what.
Simon: Humans are motivated for social conformity. There's exceptions to that, of course. But for the most part, we don't like to stand out from the crowd or be different. Knowing that we're motivated by conformity, any attempts to try and play or riff on the conformity are going to help drive change. It might be not just motivation but commitment.
That's why accountability challenges really work, is that I don't want to be seen to be different. It might not just be you're the only one that hasn't been able to do this. If you don't have a luxury of having a forum where people are checking in and doing that, they might just be giving people feedback about what other people will do in this situation.
A good example of this is we coach triathletes and getting them to do gym based strength work can always be a challenge for some athletes because they see it as fairly, "Oh, it's another thing. I don't want to add on." It's like stretching they want to do. One athlete in particular never does strength work. We've tried everything in the book, education and why it's important and talked about the biology and how it helps.
The one thing that worked, and it was more of an offhand comment that I made to her, it was the, "It's funny because we have 25 athletes--" That's how I'm talking to her. "We have 25 athletes and you're the only person that doesn't do strength training. We have 24 people who do strength training." That statement alone was enough to get her to do strength training.
If everybody is doing this and I'm not -- she wasn't part of a forum or they weren't saying it but it was just recognizing that, hey, you know what, 80% of people in your situation do this. And people don't like to feel as though they're in that odd one out. That could be motivating or likewise commitment to help them stay committed.
Accountability can really work. What we have to avoid at all cost is what we call this loser avoidant bias which is this notion that when you're asking, when you opt into a group and you're all committed to something that's quite difficult and when someone, one of you, falls off the wagon and you relapse and you don't do it, that's just normal for many of us, is that you don't really want to go back, sheepish with you tail between your legs, and particularly for something that's like weight loss involved because you're not getting fit and everyone has moved on and you just fell. If I join now I'm not going to be able to keep up.
Instead of getting back in and starting from scratch again, what do you do? You avoid. You drop out altogether. And so to avoid that, what you have to do is you have to incentivize it being okay to talk about failure or relapse. We've talked about this, obviously, on another podcast but it's really important. And so all accountability, if you're thinking of being part of an accountability challenge, you can't ridicule or use a punitive, the way that you talk to people like people not performing.
You have to learn from them but you can use those methods but what will happen? Some people will be so strongly motivated or refuse that or they just lie and say they have when they haven't and that's not really helping either. It's to just say, listen, we can make really important lessons out of this. That's when the social support or the problem solving can come from the group, so people who really struggle. So, making that part of the accountability challenge. Let us know the warts and all, how the process goes.
Christopher: I think that's a great place to wrap up this episode.
Simon: And we never even got a chance to talk about intrinsic motivation.
Christopher: Oh, goodness. In the future episode, we'll talk about intrinsic motivation. Come over to the forum and let us know what you think and perhaps you've got an idea for an accountability challenge that we haven't thought of. That would be really exciting. Yeah, forum.nourishbalancethrive.com. Thanks for being a supporter. We really appreciate you. Thank you.
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