Ask people at a gym why they choose to exercise, and those responses would tend to fall into two broad categories: fear and hope. Some might fear weight gain, looking unattractive, developing medical problems or becoming weak and frail. Others may aspire to a sexy-looking body, greater strength, faster race times, better self-image, or hope for a positive sense of accomplishments.
Researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom asked undergraduate students to imagine themselves as either a physically unattractive person that they feared becoming or as having a good-looking body sculpted through adherence to a workout program. Next, the students were tracked to determine how well they stuck to a fitness regimen.
Professor Brett Martin revealed that fear clearly trumped hope as the stronger motivator. Thinking about an out-of-shape body scared the subjects into pumping iron, riding bikes and using the treadmill. But as the exercisers continued to work out, they put distance between themselves and their negative image; as a result, since they had less worry about becoming that flabby person, they cut back on their exercise program.
Professor Martin states, “Once someone moves away from their ‘feared self’—in this case, an unattractive body—because they are successful in the gym, they lose motivation. So highlighting thoughts of being unattractive is unlikely to work.”
At this point many abandon their commitment, unless they can make an important switch from being motivated by fear to being driven by hope. This is when visions of success and greatness become the moving force, when reaching for the next rung on the ladder can become a magnificent obsession.
Although fear of failure is a powerful motivator, it does not lead to great personal happiness. Being a hoper often produces a happier journey, unless the aspirations are dashed, resulting in disappointment. Perhaps the best solution is a combination of attainable aspirations tempered by reasonable caution.