3 Techniques to Use If Confidence Is a Barrier to Exercise

Part 3: Everything you should know for when it's hard to act on your intentions.

Posted Sep 27, 2020

In my last two posts, I introduced a practical method for addressing barriers to physical activity. If we know what influences us, we can design an intervention to maximize our chances of success. Interventions use behavior change techniques. These techniques should have an impact on the source of influence that is making it more challenging for us to act.

Behavior change techniques are intervention components used to change the determinants of behavior. In this post, I will provide you with some of my favorite techniques to either enhance capabilities or reduce the need for specific skills.

What Is Capability?

Over my spring break in eighth grade, my dad took me to Gold's gym. He showed me all the different machines and took me through a workout. I felt so proud of what I had accomplished. I was hooked. Years later, still with my dad at the YMCA now, I bench pressed 135 for 10 repetitions for the first time.

With the gift of hindsight, my first routine was not technically challenging. At my best, my bench was 225 for 10. I improved but more importantly, I was excited with each level of improvement.

I learned that by working a muscle and putting it under progressively more challenging circumstances, I could get stronger. Our psychological strengths and capabilities are like muscles. With practice, they can get stronger.

Capability is a person’s psychological and physical capacity to do the behavior.

If capability is an issue, we need to address skills, whether that is the psychological skills to do the behavior or the physical skills needed to achieve a certain level of performance.

Behavior change techniques that address capability-related barriers can address the three levels of influence; the individual level, the relationship level, or structural level.

Individual Level: The Starter Step

A starter step is the first step in a sequence of behaviors. Lifting weights in the gym is the end product of several steps that came before it. You changed into your gym clothes, you grabbed your keys, walked to your car, turned it on, and drove to the gym.

Thinking of all these actions put together can stir up some resistance. That is a lot to do. Starter steps reduce this resistance but focusing on the first thing you need to do to get the ball rolling. In this example, I might think of my starter step as getting in the car. That doesn’t feel too taxing to me. If I can get in the car and turn it on, I will go to the gym.

Relationship Level: Hire a Coach

There is no point in suffering through second-guessing what you are doing in the gym, wondering if you are exercising properly or if the program you are on makes sense. If we have a health issue, we see a doctor; if it’s time to do our taxes we hire an accountant; if we want to do renovations on our home, we hire a contractor.

Trying to do any of these things on our own could prove to be a headache at best and disastrous at worse. We don’t need this rugged individualism approach when it comes to our fitness. This is especially true with strength training or weight loss.

At some point, it can become more expensive and frustrating to not hire a coach. If you are unsure of yourself, ask around for information on a reputable coach. Be sure to let the coach know exactly what you are looking for. Maybe it is to improve your exercise technique, to obtain a program, or to provide accountability. A trainer can steer you in the right direction, reduce your odds of getting injured, help you build confidence in your technique, and keep you on track.

Structural Level: Defuse Disablers

Think of these structural factors as anything that is outside of your mind or your social network. Recently, I was out to dinner with some friends that were in town. The menu at the restaurant had the calories listed for their food. I was astonished that some meals were over 1,500 calories! This little piece of knowledge on the menu prompted me to act more knowledgeably.

My lack of knowledge of caloric content would have been a disabler to me making the best decision.

Pivoting over to exercise, what environmental factors draw us away from behaving intentionally? What disables or impairs our ability to self-regulate?

The environment should not thwart your ability to do the things you want to do. It should promote them. I encourage you to self-monitor your behavior by doing the following:

Over the course of the next week, examine what you did and where you were when you did it. Did you find it hard to exercise once you sat down on the couch to watch television? Can you diffuse this disabler by unplugging the television and making it face the other way? The more friction you can create for the “bad” decision, the easier the “good” decision will become.

When a Confidence Barrier Occurs...

Most goals cannot be achieved without overcoming barriers. Belief in one's ability to succeed and having a strong sense of self-efficacy is vital for success. Progress towards a goal can be thwarted by one of two things: lack of capabilities or lack of confidence. If capability or confidence was the issue, try some of the behavior change techniques I have provided. In the next post, I will cover what to do if motivation was the issue.