As a 22-year-old, amateur boxer, Bradley Donohue always burned out before the third round. As his muscles tightened, his mind would go into overdrive as he tried to plan his next moves and guess his opponent’s. Between rounds one day, a watching sports psychologist told him, essentially, he needed to chill: “The ring is your playground. It’s simple, hit. Hit and don’t be hit.”
The advice struck a chord that still rings true for Donohue, now 56 and a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Donohue has made his life’s work studying motivational strategies to change people’s attitude to sport. His findings — which help train Olympic athletes — suggest people see the results they want when they are motivated to exercise with praise rather than see it as punishment. Donohue spoke to Inverse about his methods and he offers three strategies to rebalance your relationship with exercise and hit your fitness goals.
Inverse presents an all-new series, The Story of You, in which we explore one of humanity’s most enduring questions: How do you make the most of your days?
3. Ask yourself why you want to exercise
Exercise is good for everybody, but not everyone likes to exercise. The reason why some people loathe exercise, Donohue argues, is to do with their reasons for exercising in the first place.
If you are exercising because you’re worried about negative consequences — being unfit, not looking the way you want to, feeling lethargic — then your motivation is what Donohue terms “aversive.” Basically, if you are working out to prevent weight gain, offset your food, or because you think people are judging you, you are in this category.
But here is the thing, Donohue says: Whether it is yourself or another person who is fat-shaming you into moving your body, you are unlikely to enjoy exercising or stick with it long-term.
“They might exercise initially because the person feels threatened to do it, but it will not be very reinforcing over time,” Donohue tells Inverse.
On the flip side, you may start off with good intentions but something shifts and you end up in a similarly punishing mindset. For example, you’re in a gym, and someone comments on your …….