Their are many different theories to study when looking for reasoning behind motivation, but today I thought I'd look at the work of Hungarian Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi who describes flow as the ultimate state of motivation. I've chosen this theory as its the one I feel is most appropriate to my own case. From time to time people often comment about it being "easy" for myself to train, eat well and ride. My client Tony also suffers from people saying "its easy for him to train and eat well". What they don't see is the reasoning behind the motivation that enables him to do the things he does. Its quite frustrating to have someone comment that you have it easy when your all to aware of the effort you put in.
Csikszentmihalyi talks about complete immersion in an activity almost to the point that that nothing else matters. Its here that certain traits of Asperger's work in my favor to allow me 100% focus. My whole week is focused on being as fit and healthy as I can possibly be, and also able to compete in the sport I love. For me I won't even consider the possibility of eating something that hinders my obsession with health and sport. I readily absorb new research on health and nutrition and bring it into my lifestyle. Luckily the two components I obsess over fit well together. Human health and structure allows me to compete and hopefully remain injury free, whilst riding gives me the drive to eat well, train well and remain healthy. The same goes for Tony, he rides MTB so the healthy eating and regular training is part of a desire to know he's able to perform at his best while engaging in the activity. It works because if he performs at a level he considers below his normal, he wants to know what caused this effect. As such he tends to look after himself so that the brief time he gets on his bike is enjoyable and at a level he's happy with. While he isn't 100% focused (or obsessed) like I am, he does have an activity which creates enough passion to enable him to motivate himself at least 80% of the time.
Whether considering nutrition or riding a bike I have flow, self-consciousness is lost and I become one with the activity. For example, I frequently got told off at University for not showing how I'd worked out the root cause of the pain in a patient, yet I could pin point it. Dr Tony Attwood, explains that Asperger's gives me a unique ability to be able to predict patterns and read what's happening in the body. Attwood states "In Asperger's some things are processed so superbly that the person has areas of excellence. There's a tendency to have what we call a special interest. It means that when the person with Asperger's chooses to do something, they will become an expert at it, probably one of the best in the world at it." Attwood describes a situation in which schema of many patterns that I've seen before (in nutition, rehab or even my riding), so I'm able to predict what to do in that situation a lot quicker. Dr Attwood states that the "brain disconnects from everyday functions, and becomes one" which gives that intuitive insight which enables me to anticipate and be ahead of where I should be.
I'm frequently told by people, especially since my diagnosis, that everyone has Asperger's traits and that theirs nothing wrong with me. They're right, its not a disorder, just a difference in the way my brain works and in my opinion its hugely helpful. I spent the last 20 years wondering why I had such good will power when compared to the general public or am able to understand so quickly why people are in pain/disease.
So it appears that those struggling with eating healthy, engaging in exercise regularly or training for a sport need to tap in to those Asperger's traits most of us have. I'm not suggesting you become 100% self absorbed in a topic but we need to link a real passion into our desire to train/eat well. Whether your like me and become 100% absorbed in a topic or you just become more focused on being fit and healthy for a beach holiday, becoming a parent or any other goal.
1. Goal setting
- We need ambitious but achievable long-term goals. Those that have a reason to train and look after themselves are frequently more likely to undertake the challenges needed to reach the goal.
- We need short-term goals as well in order to move towards achieving our long-term goals. This may include training sessions, rehab, monitoring of nutritional intake and maintaining a stretching program.
Positive self-talk to reinforce your self-esteem to positively alter your belief system. Positive self-affirmation statements as used by legendary boxer Mohammed Ali who repeated the claim, ‘I am the greatest’ so many times that even his opponents believed it. Many times I meet clients who keep telling themselves that they can't loose weight. Ali said "I figured that, if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest." As individuals we need to start by at least believing in ourselves then move on to convincing others that we can achieve success. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said "Doubt can only be removed by action".
Enhancing motivation is about a changing our attitude, developing behaviourial changes in order to reach short-term goals that facilitate us get reach our long terms goals. To do this I really do feel we need a good reason. Simply desiring weight loss or going to the gym without a real goal is rarely enough.
My next challenge is learning to swim, starting tonight. I'm 35 now and have never wanted to learn despite numerous suggestions that I should. What's changed my view? I'm off to Hawaii soon and have a desire to learn to surf. So this is the long term goal that necessitates my short term goal of learning to swim. Without the reason I'd lack the motivation needed to even attempt it.
1. Csikszentmihalyi M (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York: Harper and Row
As discussed in the article above, we need a reason to change and this is my reason.