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Understanding the WHAT and WHY of Behaviour Change

In this Vision Personal Training article, we discuss the importance of understanding the what and why of behaviour change. Click here to read more.
Weight Loss Articles
Weight Loss Articles

By Matt Gedye at Hawthorn

"The only thing in the world you can control are your thoughts. But your thoughts affect everything"

 Kerry McEvoy


Consider for a moment a life without limitations - a perfect world in which anything is possible. Anything you want, you can have. What would that look like? What would it feel like? No limitations! No obstacles! Would this hypothetical perfect world seem drastically different from your life at the moment? Or would it be fairly similar? Have you already accomplished everything you want out of your life? Or is there more you'd like to achieve? Do you ever imagine a world in which everything in your life was exactly as you would like it be, and wish it could be a reality? Perhaps not, but I feel like many of us do, even if we don't necessarily realise it. A yearning for something more.

Think about this hypothetical perfect world again for a minute. How many of you started to imagine the things that you would like to have if there were no limitations? And how many of you focused more on how you would feel if you had these things? Just wanting something is not enough to act as a sufficient driver to effect change. It's certainly not as motivating or empowering as being driven by the desire to experience the feelings that you associate to what you want - being able to wake up every morning and physically feel the emotions that you create inside yourself when you picture this "perfect" world. For example, many people talk about how they're not motivated by having more money. I tend to agree. Plastic notes and metal coins are not very exciting. The things we can do with money on the other hand... Now that's a different story altogether! So if we think about a certain amount of money we desire to have (for arguments sake, let's say one million dollars), or the financial security that it provides, the opportunities that arise from having that one million dollars, and the ability to provide for our families and provide them with opportunity due to that financial security, which is the more powerful motivator? Therefore, with regard to changing our behaviour, are we better asking WHAT we want? Or WHY we want it?

The answer is both, but to varying degrees. WHAT we want needs to be something tangible and measurable otherwise we would have no way of knowing whether we've actually achieved it. But the reason WHY we want something needs to be where we are channelling our energy - the more emotional intensity we can inject into our reasons WHY, the greater the chance of success for a change in behaviour. Why is that? Because of how our brain works. There are two parts of our brain that are responsible for making decisions. The neo-cortex (located at the front of the brain) and the limbic brain (located at the back). The neo-cortex is what identifies facts, numbers and logic and interprets them, whilst the limbic brain is our emotional powerhouse. It has no capacity for language and deals only in feelings and emotions. Interestingly, one hundred percent of human decisions are made with the limbic brain. Have you ever had a pleasurable or painful experience in which the intensity was so strong that you just couldn't put into words how you felt? Those are signals from your limbic brain (which remember has no capacity for language). We never make decisions based on facts and logic. We always decide on something by using our emotions - by how we feel about something. So when it comes to affecting change we need appeal to the part of our brain that works in feeling and emotion rather than logic. Therefore, when setting goals and imagining WHAT we want, we also need to have a very clear understanding of WHY we want it!

Having a strong sense of WHY forms the foundation of helping us develop and maintain motivation in the first place. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly) most of us develop our WHY in response to our current situation. As in, we are 'reactive' goal setters. Looking to 'maintain' rather than progress. This is particularly notable in health and fitness, where an individual will look to lose weight, because they have become overweight. They are REACTING to how their life is at the moment. Very rarely does someone in very good health decide to implement change because they don't want to wake up one day and find themselves in that position. They are already in good health, so why PROACTIVELY set goals around what hasn't happened yet? As many as ninety percent of people are motivated more by fear of pain than they are by pleasure of success, and it's that fear of pain - that realisation when they do wake up one day and see that they've let their health deteriorate, that the time comes to make the decision to implement change. All of a sudden the reason WHY becomes powerful and emotional. But they're negative emotions. They illicit fear. They make us upset, and they force us to make a change that we know will be difficult because if we don't, the consequences of not doing so, becomes a terrifying thought.

We all know this though. So why do we still choose to set goals REACTIVELY rather than PROACTIVELY. Why not chase after what we want rather than try so hard to avoid what we don't? Again, the answer comes back to our society being more motivated by fear of pain than pleasure of success. Imagine if this wasn't the case though. Imagine waking up every morning filled with ambition and drive, with a genuine excitement because all your tasks throughout the day bring you one step closer to achieving your goals.

Changing your behaviour, not because there's anything wrong that you're REACTING to, but because there's something you desperately want that you're PROACTIVELY striving for! I have no doubt, that almost all of you will have heard something like this before, so why do we still not do it? Why do we procrastinate on what we want and act instead to avoid what we don't? It's because the thoughts we associate with the emotions of fear and pain are so strong and powerful. But pleasurable emotions such as joy, love and passion have just as much, if not more power! We just need to PROACTIVELY choose to focus on these emotions. Some of the best advice I was ever given came from Kerry McEvoy, the founder of Max International College for Fitness Professionals, who said "the only thing we can control are our thoughts, but our thoughts affect everything". If you spend your time thinking about all the negative circumstances that you're REACTING, to then it's highly likely that you'll wake up one day and that fear of pain will drive your change.

My challenge to you is to be PROACTIVE and think and imagine with joy, love and passion and actively seek what you want. We only get one life! Surely it makes more sense to wake up in the morning and go after what we desire rather than run from what we fear! Only YOU can do that though. Only YOU can actively choose to think about what excites you and fills you with an eruption of excitement and passion. And it all starts with a strong reason WHY. But actively choose to decide that WHY you want WHAT you want is because it will fill you with happiness, love and excitement. Setting goals should be an exciting and motivating process. It should be like being a child again writing a Christmas list to Santa. If you ask a child what they want, they will always answer with something that brings them excitement, never something to avoid pain. Obviously we don't exhibit the same level of naivety that a child does and our perception of the world changes based on our experiences. But that's because we only ever spend time thinking about how bad those experiences were. Surely it makes more sense to want to create amazing experiences, and it all starts by actively choosing to do that and having a deep passionate and exciting reason WHY.    

*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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