I had a mentor once who taught behavioral psychology in the workplace. His belief was that if one could truly control the consequences someone experienced, one could change any behavior. In a nutshell, the principles are that behavior that is rewarded continues, behavior that is punished stops and behavior that has no consequence slowly extinguishes. There’s more to it, of course, such as factors about the most effective schedules of reinforcement, type of reinforcement, etc. There was then and is now great debate about which is more effective and more ethical…the use of positive reinforcement or the use of punishment. I’ll never forget what my mentor said, which was “fear is actually the most powerful reinforcer in the world, but it’s not ethical to use in the workplace” (not that that stops SOME people, but I digress).
The point? That fear can and does determine behavior to an extent that is, well, scary.
We see this in fitness all the time. So many people are unhappy with how they feel and how they look and yet they don’t take steps to change. Sometimes these people are labeled as lazy, or as not really wanting to change but a lot of times, it’s actually fear. What is there to be afraid of you ask? Some of the most common fears:
• I have never exercised, and I’m afraid I’ll look stupid
• I’m afraid I’ll get hurt
• I’m afraid it will be painful
• I’m afraid it won’t work
• I’m afraid I can’t do it
• I’m afraid the others in class will laugh at me
• I’m afraid my trainer will laugh at me
• I’m afraid of the cost
• I’m afraid of giving up the time
In other words…
I’M AFRAID OF BEING UNCOMFORTABLE & I’M AFRAID OF THE UNKNOWN
This is so ironic, and it’s really what is really going on when anyone chooses to stay in a situation that no longer works for them. Because fear is so motivating, it’s really hard to break out of this and make a change for the better, whether it’s with fitness, eating, jobs, relationships or anything.
Fears fall into the category of either not getting what we want (or think we need) vs losing what we have. Unfortunately, it often takes a really big pain factor to push people past the fears, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have any of the fears above and they are keeping you from being your most fit self, ask yourself these questions:
• What will life be like if I DO get fit and healthy?
• If I try it and don’t like it, is there really any loss?
• What do I really have to lose?
• Do I really want to wait to be motivated by pain?
• WHAT WOULD I DO IF I WEREN’T AFRAID?
This is key, because when you really look at it, most of our fears are imaginary what-ifs, where as the reality of being out of shape or overweight is where the true risk lies. If fear is stopping you, free yourself. You’re worth it!