As I continue to search for better ways to optimize our training in the gym and life outside, I came across what I think is an interesting and powerful correlation between algorithms, habits, epigenetics, and motivation.
I am breaking down this connection in more detail over the next several weeks but I wanted to start with the idea of motivation. Piers Steel, author of the book, “The Procrastination Equation”, did a meta analysis on papers related to the science of motivation and came up with an equation. The equation is Motivation = Value x Expectancy / Impulsivity x Delay. You could also add “Energy” to this equation and say that Motivation = Energy X Value X Expectancy / Impulsivity X Delay. In this equation we need the numerator (Energy, Value, and Expectancy) to be high and the numerator (Impulsivity and Delay) to be low, if we want the highest motivation.
I discussed the importance of Energy in a recent blog post and here I feel it is applicable because even,if you are motivated, you need energy to take action.
We can break down each of the other parts of the equation, as well. Value could also be considered your “WHY”. We have discussed this on many occasions and it is certainly applicable here. The bigger your “WHY” and the more connection you can make to it, the greater chance you will be motivated to take action. Of course, in this example, the “WHY” is only part of the equation.
Expectancy could also be considered your belief. No matter how much you say you truly want something and how big you say your “WHY” is, if you do not believe you can achieve it, your motivation to take action on a consistent basis is not going to be high.
Impulsivity in many ways could also be considered distraction. In modern society, the opportunity for distraction is at an all time high. Technology overall is a fantastic thing but it can also be an incredible distraction. If we are not aware of this potential for distraction, we let the tools use us rather than us using the tools. For me, I would say that television is probably my biggest distraction. During the week I am up early every morning and don’t get home until after 7pm on most nights. Although I value my sleep and know its importance, it can still be easy for me to get sucked into watching television and missing out on some of that much needed sleep. For instance, I would not say I am a fan of professional basketball yet I find myself sometimes staying up an extra 30 minutes to an hour to watch the playoffs. This can be true even if the game is between two teams I could care less about. Where do you find yourself being distracted?
Delay can mean procrastination and that you keep putting off something you have every intention of starting. As coaches, we see this version of delay on a very regular basis. A few of my favorite examples are:
1. I need to get in a little better shape before I come to the gym. (How has that been working for you?)
2. I really would like to learn Jiujitsu. It seems like such a cool art to learn. ( So, whats stopping you and when would now be a good time.)
3. I’m going to start my diet next week, month, year etc. (I’ll give you a different way of framing this. If you are eating, you are already on a diet. So, rather than thinking you have to change everything at once just make one small change today rather than waiting for the opportune time for the perfect mystical diet.)
Delay doesn’t have to only be about putting things off but can also be about setting goals that are too far in the future or too big to be accomplished in the near future. It is fine to have audacious long term goals but you still need to reverse engineer those goals to what can be done in the present in order to maintain your motivation.
So, what do algorithms, habits, and epigenetics have to do with motivation? The connection lies primarily in belief. When we think of what makes us what we are, what comes to mind? Some may say that our genetics play a huge role in who we are. Others may say that we are in control of who we become and the result of who we become is based on our actions and behavior. There has been a debate of nature vs nurture for some time but I think everyone would agree that both play an important role in who we are and who we become. I am currently taking a taking a course called “Epigenetic Precision Performance Coaching” and am finding it fascinating. We are all born with certain genetics and depending on what you deem as important, it is certainly true that some have been blessed with better genes than others. However, what I find most interesting is that how our genes get turned on or off or in other words expressed is largely due to lifestyle factors. Science emphatically supports this and if you believe this then you should believe you are largely in control of your health and fitness because you are ultimately in control of your lifestyle behavior.
Our lifestyle can be though of as a set of algorithms. in his book “Homo Deus” Professor Yuval Noah Harari says, ” Algorithm is arguably the single most important concept in the world. If we want to understand our life and our future, we should make every effort to understand what an algorithm is, and how algorithms are connected to our emotions.” If you think of the majority of your day as a series of “IF/THEN ” statements you can see his point.
Another way of thinking of algorithms is a series of habits. Again most of our day is habitual. So, the quality of our day and ultimately our life is largely based of the habits we have established on a daily basis. These habits affect our gene expression for good or bad.
If you understand this process, you then should have the belief that you can change almost anything. Therefore if you truly value something your expectancy of being able to achieve it should be high and as result your motivation.
Change and improvement may not be easy. It certainly may not be fast but it does not have to be mystical. Change and consistent progress is possible. It is simply a process. More on this process in part 2.