The “new year, new me” crowd stops by the gym at the beginning of every January. You see it on social media, motivated statuses about getting in shape, but then a couple months or even weeks go by and the squat rack is empty. They all seemed to disappear. Does this habit sound like you or someone you know? It’s a continuous cycle among beginner exercisers where we’ll dig a little deeper into the psychology behind the success of fitness goals or in this case, lack thereof.
The term self-efficacy is defined as one’s confidence in their own ability to develop strategies and complete necessary tasks to be successful in various endeavors (1). From a professional standpoint, you may have the confidence and drive to build a business, but success in exercise-related activities seems nearly impossible. From a sport psychology perspective, self-efficacy is positively correlated with increased success in exercise adherence and increased personal fitness achievements.
Self-efficacy is a determinant of exercise behavior.
People who need the most encouragement to exercise work out the least, yet exercise increases self-efficacy. It sounds so easy. How do you get out of this contradicting situation? Moderate exercise may lead to increased feelings of self-efficacy and more willingness to try more challenging exercises in the future.
If I did it before, I can do it again.
The mastery experiences create a powerful effect using past personal successes, appropriate goal setting and exercise program design to increase self-efficacy. The initial phase of any exercise program is critical for developing realistic short-term goals that lead to early exercise successes. For example, keeping an exercise log and writing down the intensity and complexity of the workouts to track the progress is an effective way of developing self-efficacy through the mastery experience creating a sense of accomplishment.
If they can do it, I can do it too.
Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Using the concept of modeling and imagery is the second strategy of self-efficacy. Visualizing the success and becoming aware of their habits and active lifestyle can potentially implant that idea into your mind. An example of modeling is watching other people (like a trainer) perform exercises with proper form then you execute the exact exercise while looking in the mirror. Creating an image of future fitness success where you adhere to a long-term workout program, you lift heavier in a back squat, or you lose 15 pounds of fat is another method to increase exercise self-efficacy.
You can do this or I can do this.
The last strategy for self-efficacy is through positive self-talk or social persuasion from respected individuals. Work out with a partner or trainer that encourages and acknowledges your improvements in exercise performance. Positive self-talk (“I can do this!”) can also be a powerful source to promote healthy behaviors and remain focused on the outcome of the workout rather than negative thoughts.
Understanding the physical sensations during exercise may decrease any anxiety you feel during an exercise session. Experiencing muscular fatigue, maintaining and reaching an elevated heart rate, or feeling muscular soreness the next day can alleviate anxious feelings. You’re familiar with what to expect!
Physical aspects like getting faster or stronger are mainly associated with performance, but psychology also plays a role as it enhances exercise behavior and decision making. The concept of self-efficacy and the strategies discussed are not limited to just beginner exercisers. Intermediate exercisers can incorporate these practices when trying to reach the next level or get out of a plateau in fitness performance.
- Bandura,A. Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavior change. Psychol Rev 84: 191–215, 1977.
- Jackson, D. How personal trainers can use self-efficacy theory to enhance exercise behavior in beginning exercisers. J Strength Cond 32(3) 67-71, 2010.