Everyone enjoys entertaining the prospect of a higher quality life: having more energy, feeling better, looking better and sleeping better. So why isn’t everyone at the gym?
Science is just beginning to understand the psychology of motivation, especially as it relates to fitness. Researchers have begun to look deeply at the role of dopamine, better known as the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter, in regulating motivation and sparking an impetus for reward-seeking behavior.
While exercise has been clinically demonstrated to produce dopamine, research also shows that low levels of dopamine make it more difficult for people to take positive action, such as beginning or sticking with an exercise program. This explains why many people find it so hard to take actions that will make them feel better.
Often, trainers enter the picture when people are looking for a way to disrupt this futile cycle. One of the approaches that successful fitness trainers use is breaking down the fitness journey into a process with incremental rewards.
The 3 Basic Motivators
First, it’s important to understand that everyone responds to motivators differently. Gym-goers need training on how to motivate themselves through a mixture of recognition, social, and proficiency motivators.
The fitness journey is primarily the story of change, and change is never easy. Helping people to find motivation in order to move on to new places and new goals keeps them coming back for more. Each individual will be motivated in a unique way by a mix of these three motivating factors, often with a strong concentration in one area.
1. Recognition Motivators
Being recognised, appreciated and admired is the most basic motivator for all human activity. Chances are, anyone who claims to be unmoved by recognition is probably not being completely honest. Looking great and being admired is on the agenda somewhere for most people who pursue fitness goals.
Building a fitness program around this basic impulse probably isn’t a great idea as it can set clients up for failure, but there are ways to motivate people using it. A shout out on social media, or a series of selfies chronicling the fitness journey can be effective strategies. Oftentimes, clients strongly motivated by recognition will come in with their own goals, such as dropping down to a certain dress size or fitting a into an old pair of jeans. Help your clients to critically examine these goals and amend them if they are unrealistic or too rigid.
One of the best strategies for clients focused on recognition is to help them identify and build on motivators in the other areas, while giving them plenty of verbal recognition and encouragement.
2. Social Motivators
Being and feeling social is important to all people, but not everyone comes to the gym to be social. Some people come to find community, and others to get away for some precious solitude.
Find out if your client is interested in group exercise classes and events, but remember that some people may shy away because they do not feel confident enough in their fitness ability to join a group.
Designing a training schedule geared towards preparing a client to succeed at a particular class or activity can be a winning strategy for these clients!
3. Proficiency Motivators
Yes, exercise feels good, but only after a certain level of proficiency is obtained. The feeling of satisfaction people experience when mastering a new skill or task is the best motivator and is also a very strong indicator of probable success. In other words, these clients are the ones most likely to make you, a trainer, successful!
People motivated by the desire to become more skillful and competent probably already possess a high level of fitness ability and are eager to learn more. Find out if there is specialised equipment in the gym that they are curious about, or if there is a difficult move that they have been struggling with. For example, some people may want to learn how to work with a cable/pulley system or are trying to ease into a deep squat.
Building a fitness plan that leads to mastery in a new area is a winning strategy with this go-getter crowd!
Taking the time to connect with your client is essential. Be a detective. Ask questions, listen deeply and observe, observe, observe. Keep a detailed log and update it after every session.
We’d love to hear specific strategies that trainers are using in the field! How do you motivate your clients?