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Motivation Part 2: A Showdown With Encouragement

Part one of the motivation series explored the concept of motivation as it relates to just exercise. We continued to explore this concept to see if there is such a thing as too much motivation and/or if motivation can ever have an adverse affect, again as it relates to just exercise. Our conclusion: sort of, though the reasons may not be what you expect.

We found quite the blurred line between motivation and encouragement; it appears too much “encouragement” (or in some cases, anyencouragement) does have an adverse affect on exercise.

Go figure.

The Oxford Dictionary defines encouragement (noun) as: “The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.”

That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? In fact, part of our job as professional fitness trainers is to encourage clients to reach their potential as people, as well as their goals. Yet, false, based on A LOT of input from people from all over the country. Before we jump into the good stuff, I want to clarify that the people are not clients of ours, they’re just average Americans who took the time to post about their experiences. Moreover, these experiences are a mix of group class settings as well as one-on-one settings, where the encouragement was given by both participants as well as instructors. Now that that’s out of the way.

The majority of people felt that encouragement such as “You can do it!” “Don’t quit, don’t stop” “You got this!” was/is:

  • Distracting. Example: I was doing just fine holding a plank position for 2 minutes when suddenly I hear “don’t give up, we’re almost there!” being shouted at me, derailing my focus and reminding me how difficult holding this position really is, and how much it actually burns.

  • Condescending. Example: I’m in the middle of a cardio burst, actually feeling pretty good about myself and out of nowhere I hear, “you can do it, don’t give up” and now I’m thinking ‘I didn’t think I couldn’t do it, now I kind of think I can’t do it. Now I don’t WANT to do this.’ I feel like an idiot.

  • Pressure. Example: I’m not the fittest person, having someone say to me “don’t stop, keep it up” makes me feel pressure to complete the exercise perfectly, or like I’m less than capable.

  • Annoying. Example: When I’m concentrating I don’t need cheerleaders; that would annoy me to no end and make me want to quit.

Not everyone felt the same way, a few people actually felt the opposite:

  • Helpful. Example: When I’m working really hard during an exercise and I’m ready for it to be over hearing things like, “you can do it, you’re almost done” remind me that I KNOW I can finish strong by just continuing on.

  • Motivational. Example: The group classes I attend are very “cheerleader” heavy and I love it. It makes me work harder than I would on my own.

This all begs the question, if ‘encouragement’ means something so good, then why does it feel so bad? Curious indeed.

Another part of our job is to motivate clients along the way to help them meet their goals. In our last post we identified how difficult it can be to motivate yourself, let alone someone else. So are we miracle workers? Wizards? Hardly. We also identified in our last post that finding motivation can be made simpler by asking yourself a few questions. Well, shocker, that’s how we do it too. In our studio, we ask our clients all sorts of questions during initial consultations to specifically find outwhy they’ve come to us looking for assistance.

If I want to motivate a person who came to me because of a hypertension diagnosis I might do that by reminding them why they came in the first place,

‘Yeah, it burns now, but that’s nothing compared to always having high blood pressure.’

If I want to encourage that same person, I might do that by saying,

‘You’re doing great, keep up the hard work!’

Both are seemingly positive, one seems more positive than the other and yet those two statements are often interpreted completely differently, often negatively. In fact, the latter being borderline insulting to some. So what’s the biggest difference between the two?

Motivation, again, is the general desire or willingness of someone to do something and encouragement is …giving someone support, confidence, or hope. Since Oxford and I are on a roll with definitions, a desire is: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.

There’s definitely a place in exercise for those strong feelings that give us motivation. Those same feelings are driving the energy throughout your body to keep it in that plank position for minutes on end. Desire comes from within. Encouragement is given. Confidence has a place in exercise too, though if someone is already confident then is more really what they need? Support is also incredibly helpful in exercise, when it’s needed, otherwise it can come off as intrusive.

In the end we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not motivation that you can have too much of, it’s encouragement. However it’s not even that you can have too much of it, it’s that encouragement is best when someone actually needs it. That’s the Foss perspective and we’ve even updated our initial paperwork to reflect the importance of both in exercise.

Have you ever been encouraged unnecessarily while exercising? Are you in a place where encouragement is as important as motivation to exercise? What about the flip side, have you ever needed encouragement to get through exercise but weren’t able to get it?

That’s where we’ll leave it for today. Until next time, peace.

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