I’ve been having a little trouble getting to the gym lately, so a recent article in Science Daily that delved into the mysteries of motivation caught my attention. The piece describes some interesting new research at the University of Illinois that suggests we should be asking ourselves whether we’re going to get something done rather than telling ourselves to do it.
The popular idea is that self-affirmations enhance people’s ability to meet their goals,” said Professor Dolores Albarracin. “It seems, however, that when it comes to performing a specific behavior, asking questions is a more promising way of achieving your objectives.”
In other words, when I got ready for work this morning I’d be more likely to squeeze in a workout after work if I questioned my ability to do so. At least that’s what the research indicates. You can read all about it here. That’s not how I tend to operate, though – at least not consciously. Take this morning, for instance. I had a good night’s sleep and woke up feeling like I could conquer the world, so I’m thinking, Hey, why not squeeze in a workout tonight? – which is different from thinking, Geeze, am I ever going to get to the gym again? and also not quite the same as, By golly, I’m really going to go to the gym tonight!
While the U of I researchers found that questioning one’s ability to achieve a goal rather than stating their intentions was more likely to spur their study subjects to positive action, my approach this morning when I stuffed my gear into my backpack sort of falls into a gray area between declaration and doubt. It’s more like a vague intention than anything else. And maybe that means I could get waylaid between my office and the locker room by the slightest distraction, like an invitation from My Lovely Wife to meet her at our local bistro right after work.
Which raises an interesting point:
When was the last time I went to the gym without letting MLW know what was up? And was that in the form of a question or an assertion? This morning, it was simply an announcement: Hey, I’m going to hit the gym after work. Does that make it less likely that I’ll actually follow through? Should I call her and ask permission as a way to fuel my motivation? Should I suddenly begin pretending to doubt my own intentions so I’ll be able to fight off any inertia (that doesn’t seem to be weighing on me at this moment) and go work out like I have every intention of doing anyway?
That ought to be enough questions to get me through several workouts.