Mind Games – Exercise Psychology for Physical Recovery

Mind Games – Exercise Psychology for Physical Recovery

Mind Games – Exercise Psychology for Physical Recovery 401 600 CWESN

By Kamasha Robertson

Kamasha is a Sports and Exercise Psychology Consultant (Kamasha Robertson & Associates). At present she is a Sport Psychology Officer at the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) she is also a long time High Performance Badminton Player and Pan American Certified Umpire in her sport.

Sport and Exercise Psychology is a sub-discipline within the discipline of kinesiology or the study of physical activity, with a focus on the study of a wide range of physical activities including competitive sport, recreational sport, physical activity, leisure pursuits, physical education, and exercise and fitness activities (Feltz & Kontos, 2002). All these fancy definitions, but really can the application of this science truly benefit us in a world full of busy schedules, illness and sundry delectable food options? Truth is, the idea of putting the concepts of Exercise Psychology into real use into our everyday routines is something that I have personally witnessed transform lives in a positive manner.

About twenty years ago one of my brothers who was quite an avid sportsman, woke up one morning with a limp, as simple as that. From then on his life had been completely transformed as he was diagnosed with having a “Shrinking Cerebellum” that caused his body to lose all of its coordinative abilities. My family watched in horror as this once active child and skilled athlete struggled to grasp simple objects and even found difficulty in speaking fluidly. Within a year after his illness struck, though frustrated and angry, Keesh had decided that through his passion for sports, he desperately craved being active once more.

Back then he said he had no knowledge of an ‘exercise programme’ and simply began attempting one hundred pushups in sets of ten. Keesh explained that he kept pushing himself and telling himself that he could do more each day, he then added sit ups and eventually began lifting some weights. He had enjoyed the adrenalin rush that he was experiencing and was thirsty for more. Though he continues in his struggle, he says: “Everybody’s struggle is different, it may be harder or easier than mine nevertheless it is a struggle, still don’t give up!!!” He has significantly reaped the benefits of incorporating an exercise regime into his daily routine.

Keesh’s tenacity and determination strongly reflect an exercise psychology theory called Self Determination Theory (SDT). SDT represents a broad framework for the study of human motivation and personality. SDT articulates a meta-theory for framing motivational studies, a formal theory that defines intrinsic and varied extrinsic sources of motivation, and a description of the respective roles of intrinsic and types of extrinsic motivation in cognitive and social development and in individual differences (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

The most basic principles that are derived from SDT are ‘Intrinsic’ and ‘Extrinsic’ Motivation. ‘Intrinsic Motivation’ pertains to engagement in an activity because of the inherent pleasures and satisfactions it provides, to the participant, physical activities are enjoyable in their own right and require no exogenous rewards or incentives to be performed (Ryan & Deci, 2000a). On the other hand, one is considered to be ‘Extrinsically Motivated’ if activities are performed in order to obtain some separable outcome, whether it be a tangible reward, an avoidance of a punishment, or the attainment of recognition, or approval.

The story presented is a wonderful example of using that ‘Intrinsic Motivation’, igniting that fire inside of you and using it to fuel your way throughout life’s complicated labyrinth of obstacles, trials, and even joys to find contentment and to triumph. This form of motivation and its concept is particularly interesting as it is seen as a key reason for individual successes in the realm of physical activity and sport. Deci and Ryan (1985) further elaborate that intrinsically motivated individuals have a proneness to be actively moving, manipulating, exploring, and challenging oneself and this conveys multiple adaptive advantages to a growing organism.

A tendency as such is associated with increasing competence within the physical world, the individual’s capacity to cope with its demands. Intrinsically motivated activities are often characterized as fun and enjoyable, however, some argue that only activities that satisfy certain basic psychological needs will be experienced as interests. It is important to consider that within intrinsic motivation there exists a relation between individuals and activities and thus the Cognitive evaluation theory within this would require that one understands how the characteristics of an activity are experienced and engaged by the individual and how the experiences are affected by situational contextual factors and supports.

If we were to compare extrinsic motivation to the former, we will see that it possesses unique characteristics, according to Deci and Ryan (2006) extrinsically motivated people maintain their exercise not because the activities are inherently interesting or enjoyable to them, but because they have something to gain in it. As human beings we generally want to improve their health, or their looks, or because they want to stay in shape to perform other activities (e.g. Trinbagonian carnival culture), including sports.

The fact remains that most physical activities require a combination of both types of motivation, even the most enjoyable sport activities require periods of extrinsically motivated practice and drill to develop specific skills. This leads us to say that extrinsic motivation is still extremely important to the sphere of physical activities, although studies show that exercise tends to be more extrinsically motivated than sport (Frederick & Ryan, 1995; Ryan & Deci, 2006).

So perhaps you ought to begin thinking and reflecting on all those ‘New Year’ resolutions you so eagerly made in anticipation of improving your health in 2014. Real questions are how and when do you get started and more importantly maintain a regime that will have long lasting benefits to your wellbeing? Keesh’s personal credo is one of constant internal drive and motivation, he states that if he rises in the morning and finds himself moving sluggishly, he makes a promise to himself that he must improve on some aspect of his daily routine. Perhaps it is motivation such as this that can contribute to significant advancements in both one’s mental and physical health. So when you are through with your introspection you should be able to answer these questions, are you motivated to make changes, and if so, which theory are you representative of an intrinsic or extrinsic?! Whatever discovery you make, I do hope it is enough to inspire you to ditch the “I wish I could” mentality and breed the start of a “I’m glad I did” philosophy!