Outside-In: The Extrinsic Approach to Exercise
Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
— George Bernard Shaw
By now you’ve heard or read most of the reasons that you should be physically active. You know at some level that exercise is a great way to lose weight. Exercise can also help you live longer as well as reduce your risk of certain kinds of diseases, such as coronary artery disease, obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis. The complete list of the benefits of exercise is longer than the ride lines at Disney World.
So why are so few people exercising? Well, most folks say they don’t have enough time, don’t know how, or that the effort is too much. In fact, most people just don’t have the right mindset for exercising because they’ve been brain-washed by what I call the Outside-In approach to behavior change. For example, most of us focus on exercise as a way to look good, be fit, or lose weight — ideas that focus on the outcome of exercising. Therefore, they don’t have a lot of motivational impact.
The Outside-In approach focuses on the logical and rational reasons that you should exercise. Outside-In emphasizes things outside yourself; the reasons and benefits of exercise come from external sources, which lead us away from the exercise experience itself. On the surface, the reasons are good. Who doesn’t want to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease? Who doesn’t want to live longer? Who doesn’t want to lose some weight? Ironically, the onslaught of focusing on these external factors may even have the reverse effect on people: they make us less likely to become regular exercisers, which leads to more people being overweight and having a greater risk of suffering diseases.
If the Outside-In approach worked, 98 percent of the people who spend billions of dollars on weight loss products and programs wouldn’t gain the weight back or add even more pounds within six months to a year. And the number of obese people in the United States wouldn’t have risen from 12 percent in 1991 to 18 percent in 1998, resembling a communicable disease epidemic. The incidence of diabetes would not have increased by 6 percent in 1999, which led the director of the Centers for Disease Control, Jeffrey Koplan, to state, “This dramatic new evidence signals the unfolding of an epidemic in the United States.” Approximately 300,000 Americans would not die prematurely each year due to physical inactivity and poor nutrition. The Outside-In approach to lifestyle change is literally a dead-end street.
The effects of the Outside-In approach are summed up by a CDC epidemiologist, Ali Mokdad: “The message is out there: lose weight by increasing your physical activity and changing your diet. But nobody is doing it.” That’s because the message doesn’t connect with your mind, heart, and soul. The Outside-In approach to behavior change has no staying power. You don’t transform your thoughts and feelings to make exercise an enjoyable and uplifting experience.
Why Outside-In Rules
Almost without your knowing it, Outside-In causes you to say things to yourself such as “I know exercise is good for me. I should get out there and do something.” “Why can’t you get your lazy self over to the gym, you good-for-nothing sloth.” “I have to lose weight before the summer so I can fit into my bathing suit.” None of these statements will motivate you to exercise regularly, but I hear people say them all the time.
Without getting too bogged down in history and sociology, the main point is that Outside-In dominates our behavior because of the social, political, and economic structure of Western civilization. The main words guiding this structure are rational and analytical. We live in a society dominated by a rational view of life and people.
It’s no wonder, then, that our mind listens to and at some level accepts much of the information about health and fitness because it is based on research conducted from a rational, analytical perspective. It’s everywhere — scientific journals, TV, magazines, newspapers. Whenever something is made rational, such as health and fitness, the focus is primarily on outcome: longevity, disease reduction, weight loss, and fitness.
This logic points us to the future: if we do this, then that should or will happen. Rationality focuses us on the desired products of exercise, but it moves us further away from any awareness and enjoyment of our exercise. The typical Outside-In approach completely ignores the fact that exercise is an experience and that people can be motivated — or not — by that experience.
Behavior change approaches such as eeducating yourself on the benefits of exercise, motivating yourself with rewards and incentives, and undergoing health screenings will largely fail. But exerrrrrcise scientists keep trying to convince you. In 1995 a group of them published a host of physical activity guidelines in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They state, “Successfully changing our sedentary society into an active one will require effective dissemination and acceptance of the message that moderate physical activity confers health benefits.” Although these guidelines are well intended, they come from the Outside-In approach. As Ken Goodrick, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, says, “We know that if everybody exercised a few hours a week, Type 2 diabetes would be virtually nonexistent. The trick is motivating everyone to do it.” There’s no trick, really. It’s just that as humans our behavior is not always rational. Before my wife and I gave up caffeine, there were times when we would drive the 45 minutes from our town to Cincinnati just to buy a cup of a certain brand of coffee. During the ride, we would tell each other how crazy we were being. We could have easily bought coffee in our own community, but the mental and emotional connection with the taste of the coffee available in Cincinnati made us do something that on a rational level seemed downright dumb. To change your behavior, you must tap into this deeper mental, emotional, and spiritual connection — what we sometimes call “irrational behavior.” In essence, exercising regularly is irrational, and those who do it did not come to it solely by convincing themselves of all the wonderful, rational benefits.
Are You Tired of Hearing How Good Exercise Is for You?
In fact, only about one of five people exercise regularly, even though most people know about the health benefits of exercise and say they want to exercise.
When people are continually bombarded with Outside-In information, they begin to feel a helpless, mindless malaise toward moving their body. Or they get so desperate to “repair the damage” that they try things that are ineffective at best, unsafe at worst. Why else would some people take a pill before going to bed thinking that they will lose weight while they sleep? The Outside-In informational approach scares people, but they don’t know how to find the key to their own motivation. So they turn to things that are just taking their money or feel guilty while doing nothing.
So don’t feel too bad if you haven’t been able to stay with a fitness program that you tried to follow in your newspaper or favorite magazine. Most of these approaches just spell out how to do the physical parts of exercise. For example, an article in Cooking Light magazine by Gin Miller, a fitness expert, laid out a 4-week progra...