You don't need me to tell you—the research is in! Exercise is a breakthrough medicine. In the long term, it enhances the health of our brains and bodies. It improves neuroplasticity and learning (Hotting & Roder 2013) and helps us avoid, delay or treat many health issues, both physical and mental (CDC 2017). What's more, we don't need research to tell us we feel good and perform well if we exercise—when we move our bodies with enthusiasm and vigor, we get calmer and clearer, our energy increases, and we are more productive. We may even glean creative ideas as our minds wander during exercise.
Yet, even with the overwhelmingly positive short‐ and long‐term benefits of exercise, around 50% of people never quite make it a consistent habit (CDC 2017). Good intentions abound, yet the inner dialogue, or self‐talk, reveals ongoing disagreements among an inner family with competing interests. While one voice may say, Let's get moving and get fitter, so I'll be healthier, other voices drown it out. One may say, I am too busy, while another says, It's boring, and a third says, I'm too tired. The inner decisional balance is weighted toward a no‐go decision on exercise, even in the face of its amazing benefits.
How can we help people sort through the inner conflicts that keep them on the fence? The phenomenon of the mind's inner family of separate, unique characters was brought to life as the inner world of 11‐year‐old Riley, portrayed in the Oscar‐winning Pixar movie Inside Out. There may be at least nine characters to tune into, each with a distinct life force speaking through its voice and emotions (Moore 2013; Moore, Phillips & Hanc 2016). Whether you experience your mind as multiple or not, these life forces are well‐grounded in science as important aspects of the human psyche, likely evolved from basic needs for survival, growth and actualization.
Having an inner family, with inherently competing interests and needs, is natural and normal. And while inner debates and conflicts make the experience of being human a messy affair—for all of us!—effective negotiation and collaboration are possible, as we'll find out.
The Executive Manager
First let's connect with the Executive Manager, the inner organizer and self‐regulator in charge of planning, scheduling, managing the to‐do list, and keeping the inner team on time and on track. Often overwhelmed by Rebecca's overstuffed life, her Executive Manager is chronically exhausted: The last thing I need is to add another priority to the to‐do list. I'm already way too tired when I hear the wake‐up alarm. Plus, I'd much prefer some time for deeper thinking about work projects. At the end of an exhausting day, I bag exercise so I can do some more work after dinner.
The Standard Setter
The next voice to tune into is the Standard Setter, responsible for performance and achievement, for setting ambitious goals and getting us there. This is the life force related to self‐esteem: Am I fill‐in‐the‐blank enough? it asks. It tracks external standards, making sure we fit in and gain respect and validation from others. This family member can be a hard taskmaster, a tough (inner and outer) critic. Rebecca's Standard Setter is annoyed at the state of affairs: Many of our friends are exercising 5 days a week, so what's wrong with us! C'mon, let's get with the program! Quit the excuses, you lazy . . . !
Next up is Autonomy, captain of the human ship, as we learned from Ed Deci and Rich Ryan, who developed self‐determination theory. Autonomy wants to see us marching to our own drummer, authentic and free to make choices that serve our values, interests and preferences. The master of self‐interest, Autonomy is prone to rebelling against others, inside and out, particularly those who don't "get us," who don't share our values or who tell us what to do. Rebecca's Autonomy is rebelling under the pushy voice of her Standard Setter, along with the preachy voices of friends who are fitness nuts: I'm just not a natural exerciser like them, says Autonomy. I don't like intensive cardio exercise‐‐it's not for me. Back to the couch to watch a movie or read a book. It's time to do something I choose for a change.
Now on to Confidence, which is dedicated to being strong and competent. The internal assessment of competence, our knowledge and skills related to a particular activity, can be a source of inner turmoil. You can do it, says the Standard Setter. No, I can't, says Confidence. For Rebecca, Confidence is not happy at all with the impossible goals set by the Standard Setter, and as such is aligned with Autonomy. Confidence is full of self‐doubt with respect to exercise: We haven't been exercising much for years. We simply don't have the ability to re‐engineer work and family life to fit it in. Forget about it!
To learn about other "family members" and how to use the inside-out coaching approach to help your clients, please see "Coaching Your Fitness Clients: Inside Out" in the online IDEA Library or in the March 2017 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800‐999‐4332, ext. 7.
ILLUSTRATION BY KEN KELLEHER.