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    Study into Members’ Physical Activity and Motivation; Part 2



Study into Members’ Physical Activity and Motivation; Part 2

Do your exercise and fitness goals ever sound something like this?

  • The doctor says I’m pre-diabetic so I have to go to the gym so I can lose a few kilos
  • I need to cut out salty foods, or I’ll have a high chance of developing high blood pressure
  • I need to spend less time sitting in front of the T.V.

All of these sound OK on the surface, don’t they? Preventing diabetes will without a doubt, lead to a better standard of living. Reducing the likelihood of heart disease definitely lengthens your life. And spending less time with the T.V. could lead to more family time or physical activity.

But the chances are high that these goals won’t get you, the goal setter, anywhere and might even leave you feeling a little depressed. This is because each of these goals expresses the desire for the goal setter (you) to move away from an undesirable state. Also they do not provide a specific outcome or target. These are Avoidance Goals.


Conversely, the conventional wisdom tells us that you are more likely to succeed if you set “Approach” goals. Think of Approach Goals as something you want to move towards.

So, if we look again at the goals you’ve “set” above and rework them so that you are setting approach goals. (Think about where it is you want to GO versus what you want to leave behind) They may look something like this:

  1. I will increase my exercise to an hour a day, 4 days a week, so that I become strong, fit and be a great role model for my kids, plus a nice side effect I’ll gain is that I’ll prevent developing diabetes
  2. I will get some professional assistance with my nutrition and weight management, as being in control of my eating with help me feel empowered and confident – the health benefits of lower blood pressure will come later
  3. I will only take time for T.V. after I have walked the dogs and helped the kids with their homework.

A key point here is to incorporate a measurable outcome. In the examples above the measurable outcomes are in italics. Having an outcome helps you know when your goal is achieved. And that will make you feel good and motivated to do more!


Recently Tamasin Taylor completed a study in the gym looking into the exercise intentions and behaviour of our members here at True Women’s Fitness and Well-Being, Manukau. This study was completed as part of Tamasin’s PhD Thesis in Psychology at University of Auckland. As part of her study, Tamasin tested the hypothesis that “Approach” goals are more effective than “Avoidance” goals.


In the results of her study using data from our members’ responses Tamasin found that,

1) When taking “intended” visits to the gym into account:

  • Those who had made avoidance goals a higher priority, were significantly less likely to achieve their intended gym attendance goals.
  • On the other hand, those that made approach goals a higher priority, the higher chance they had of attending the gym for the number of days they intended.

2) There was a significant positive correlation between self-competence (belief in self-ability) and approach goals. In other words – People who believed that they are able to succeed had placed approach goals at a higher priority than avoidance goals.

However, it should be noted that the direction is unclear at this stage ie. whether people with high self-competence make approach goals, or whether making approach goals causes high self-competence…..Maybe it goes both ways? More research in the future to be done here.


So in a nut shell ….As a gym population Tamasin found that we do conform to the general theory. You are going to be far better off and more likely to succeed if you set more Approach Goals than Avoidance Goals.

Think about the reasons why you are undertaking a fitness or nutrition regime. Are these reasons because you are avoiding something or are they because you want to move towards something (I want to avoid being sedentary versus I will incorporate a walk of half an hour into my daily routine)


For more help with setting approach goals as a priority over avoidance goals please use this work sheet.

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