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Crystal Clear app kfm home.png This user is a participant in the Motivation and emotion unit, 2010.
See also: Textbook
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About Me[edit]

Dieting: How do you measure up?

Hi. My name is Christie and my specific purpose within the Motivation and Emotion unit is to understand why motivation to achieve personal goals, such as sticking to a diet, frequently falls short under the onslaught of emotion or the influence of external stimuli. Why does one’s motivation to diet feel so strong and compelling one moment, only to become unimportant, or less salient, in the next moment? Are our drives so fleeting that we can not commit to a long term goal under short term pressure? These are the types of questions that I would like to explore in both my textbook chapter and my personal reflections over the course of this unit. I will attempt to uncover key processes or theories that aid in answering these questions through material in the textbook, lectures and my own personal experience.

An Introduction[edit]

Tutorial 1[edit]

In our first tutorial we answered the question: what is motivation and emotion? We were asked to break into groups and write down what we believed each of these terms meant. I defined motivation as ‘a direction of energy into action’ and emotion as ‘a short-lived psychological state’. The group extended on this definition by saying motivation was an internal drive directing behaviour; and emotion could be expressed both internally and externally, as a reaction to stimuli, through facial expressions or through a physiological response such as one’s heart rate.

James also asked us to develop questions for our textbook chapter. I composed several:

  • Why does personal motivation so frequently fail?
  • How do dieter’s avoid self-sabotage?
  • What strategies are effective in aiding a dieter who feels helpless in exerting self-control in threatening situations?
  • How do you keep one’s motivation to diet salient or can you only be motivated to engage in one task at a time?
  • How can a person get thinner and stay thinner if their body is biologically programmed to rebound back up?

The last question posed a particular problem for me, as I have read that the body will always remember its maximum weight. The more a person attempts to force their weight down, the more their system will be probe to rebound upward (Dukan, 2010, p. 111). How, then, does an individual stabilise at their desired weight or even begin to attempt to reach it? I hope that during the course of this unit I will find out.

What is Motivation and Emotion?[edit]

The textbook defines motivation as “an internal process that energises and directs behaviour” and emotion as “a short-lived physiological-functional-expressive phenomenon”. Motivation can be used to explain such questions as: who we are, what we want and why we want it. It can aid a person in reaching their potential and achieving the goals in life that are important to them. Emotions allow us to anticipate and adapt to events in our lives by organising and coordinating four interrelated aspects of experience:

  • Feelings: one’s verbal descriptions of an emotion
  • Physiological preparedness: one’s physical responses to an event
  • Function: one’s goals at any particular moment
  • Expression: one’s public communication of an emotional experience

One interesting point made within the textbook was that in regards to motivation, self-esteem is a metaphorical cart and not the horse. This analogy suggests that self-esteem is not a causal variable of motivation but, rather, an effect - a reflection of how our lives are going at any particular moment. This is contradictory to what I had initially assumed, as I had believed self-esteem to directly affect one’s motivation to diet. For example, if an individual’s self-esteem was low, their self-control may falter, thus, increasing the likelihood of dietary failure. Instead, it appears that if an individual’s diet is failing, their self-esteem will reflect this failure and, subsequently, plummet. If self-esteem does not cause motivation to sour what, then, are the causal variables of motivation which lead an individual to give up their dieting goal or sabotage their own success? I hope to discover the answer to this question throughout the unit.

Motivation can be expressed in a variety of ways:

  • Behaviour

The intensity, quality and presence of motivation is expressed through eight features of behaviour: attention, effort, latency, persistence, choice, probability of response, facial expressions and bodily gestures.

  • Engagement

Behavioural Engagement: refers to the extent a person displays attention, effort and enduring persistence. For example, a motivated dieter will pay attention to what they are eating, make a conscious effort to avoid foods that will hinder their dieting goal and persist with their diet in the face of temptation.

Emotional engagement: refers to the extent a person displays interest or enjoyment in an activity as opposed to negative emotions such as anger or frustration. A dieter may, thus, become unmotivated if they are seeing few positive results from their efforts, resulting in higher levels of anger or frustration.

Cognitive engagement: refers to a person’s active self-regulation of an activity and the extent to which they use problem solving strategies. A dieter who has poor self-regulatory or problem solving skills may, thus, be easily swayed by tempting foods, as dieting requires constant monitoring of food intake and persistence in the face of temptation.

Voice: an expression of an individual’s needs, preferences and desires, as well as the extent to which they seek to change environmental circumstances in order to meet these. For example, if a friend suggests going out for dessert, an individual may propose grabbing a coffee instead. This change in circumstance allows the individual to continue adhering to their dieting goal.

Motivation is a dynamic process that allows an individual to adapt to all of the inevitable, changing and unpredictable situations they encounter during their lives. Motivation must be recruited by anyone attempting to lose weight, as it is crucial to personal adaption and during situations requiring self-restraint. When motivation sours, personal adaption suffers and dieters may feel helpless in exerting control over their impulses. When sufficiently motivated, however, an individual’s dieting goal will become salient, dominating over their competing desires and exerting influence over their thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Type of motivation is crucial, as it influences the quality of experience and one’s ability to stick with a goal. An individual who possesses an autonomous motivation to diet will experience more favourable outcomes as this type of motivation is derived from a personal choice or interest in the behaviour. Those employing controlled motivation, however, will often diet unsuccessfully, as individuals focus on external conditions for engaging in this behaviour. Motivation cannot be separated from the social context in which it is embedded. Individuals attempting to diet must, therefore, develop strategies for adapting to different environmental demands. Motivational theories may be employed to cultivate mature defense mechanisms; promote a sense of optimism, encourage self-efficacy beliefs towards reaching one’s goal; improve mental and emotional wellbeing; as well as explain why mental control efforts so frequently backfire.

Grand Theories of Motivation[edit]


Motivation was given its first grand theory by Descartes who proposed that the ultimate motivational force was the will. He believed this force controlled all action, exercising choice over one’s passions and needs. However this theory was eventually considered to be limited in scope. Psychologists soon suggested an individual’s ability to delay gratification and resist temptation resulted from their ability to create and implement strategies and plans, rather than calling on will power.


Instincts arise from a physical substance known as genetics, leading individuals to act in a specific way. Much of behaviour is assumed to be prewired so that one may adapt to the demands of the environment. Instinct can be translated into goal directed behaviour through environmental stimuli. For example, if an individual is presented with tempting and calorie-rich food, they may begin to salivate. This inherited reflex would generate an impulse to act, driving a person to eat the food in front of them. This illustrates the constant struggle faced by dieters who attempt to override these biological urges in favour of their long term weight loss goals.


One theory which stood out as applicable to why dieting might fail was Hull’s drive theory. Drive was thought to arise from one’s physiology through a range of bodily disturbances, such as hunger, which energised a person to act. Drive could be predicted from antecedent environmental conditions. For example, if a dieter attempted to limit their calorie intake, a biological imbalance may occur, triggering hunger. This would act as an antecedent condition for drive. As hunger intensified, psychological discomfort would increase, motivating an individual to service this bodily need in order to restore homeostasis. Although drive energises behaviour, habit directs it. Habits are formed through previous learning experiences, which occur as a consequence of reinforcement. Old unhealthy habits may, thus, impinge on dieting success. For example, an individual may grab a chocolate bar as soon as they feel the desire to eat. This would create a spike in endorphin levels, in turn, positively reinforcing this behaviour. An individual would, thus, learn to associate chocolate with a reduction in hunger and a positive physiological experience.

As motivation theories evolved, grand theories emphasising motivation as the source of arousing an individual from a passive to an active state, were soon dismissed and replaced by more contemporary theories of motivation. These theories recognised the inherently active and motivated nature of the individual. Motivation was seen as a constant, fluctuating force, which pushed and pulled an individual in different directions. Motivational states were also seen to occur at levels other than the biological. As such, scientists began to look into the cognitive, social and neurological influences impacting upon the individual.

The Brain and Motivation[edit]


The brain is a powerful weapon against any dieter. Diet-induced food deprivation produces a potent counterforce in the form of a ghrelin spike. Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the stomach and circulated in the blood, stimulating the brain to eat. When dieting, the stomach and intestines detect a lack of nutrients and release this hormone into the bloodstream. As a result, ghrelin levels rise and the hypothalamus detects a message that nutrients are low and creates the psychological experience of hunger. Researchers developed a 3-month diet which was given to a group of adults and included a rigorous exercise program. Participants lost approximately 20 percent of their body weight and maintained the loss for three months following the diet. However, as researcher’s monitored participants’ levels of ghrelin over the course of the diet, they discovered that ghrelin levels continued to rise, becoming chronically high. As such, dieters’ lowest levels of ghrelin and, therefore, least hunger; equated to the highest levels of ghrelin found in non dieters.

The body also produces a hunger-suppressing hormone called leptin, which is created and released by fat tissue. Through these two hormones, our bodies are able to regulate motivational states such as hunger and satiety in times of both food deprivation and weight loss (ghrelin rises, leptin falls); as well as overconsumption and weight gain (ghrelin falls, leptin rises). It appears that in order to lose weight, a dieter should not attempt to severely limit their calorie intake, as this will only encourage the body’s powerful counterforce. They should, instead, focus on eating the right foods, replacing unhealthy habits with healthier alternatives, thereby, maintaining a balanced state within the body.

Cerebral Cortex[edit]

The cerebral cortex depicted in dark violet

The cerebral cortex has been associated with cognitive functions such as thinking, planning and remembering. It is intrinsically linked to producing and regulating motivation and emotional states such as setting a goal, valuing an activity, or forming intentions. For example, this area of the brain would be activated when forming an intention to diet. The prefrontal cortex houses a person’s conscious goals which routinely compete against one another. The two lobes of the prefrontal cortex then colour these goals with emotion. These emotions strongly influence which goals a person does or does not pursue. Thoughts that stimulate the right prefrontal cortex will produce negative and avoidance-orientated feelings, whereas thoughts that stimulate the left prefrontal cortex generate positive and approach-orientated feelings. For example, a dieter focusing on the months of hard work ahead will stimulate their right prefrontal cortex. This may result in procrastination tactics, as an individual attempts to avoid initiating the first steps towards their goal. Conversely, a dieter focusing on the end results of their efforts, such as those skinny jeans they’ll finally fit back into, would stimulate their left prefrontal cortex. These thoughts may produce approach tendencies, resulting in a greater commitment to diet.

Dopamine Release and Incentives[edit]

Events which signal reward or anticipate pleasure trigger dopamine release. This, in turn, generates positive feelings. For example, when you smell a hot apple pie baking in the oven, dopamine release occurs. However, it is not the eating of the pie that triggers dopamine release, rather the anticipation of a rewarding meal. This may explain why dieters sometimes experience more pleasure thinking about junk food than they do when actually eating it. However, if the meal is more enjoyable than expected, dopamine release continues. This experience acquires incentive motivational properties which are maintained until the experience becomes unenjoyable. For example, dopamine release would stop if an individual eats too much of the apple pie, resulting in feelings of guilt or sickness. Events which are biologically significant, such as hunger, motivate the person to prepare to take action and secure the environmental stimuli (i.e. through eating). If dopamine release didn’t occur, an individual would no longer perceive food as attractive and would not approach it. This may occur when an individual suffers from depression, as decreased dopamine levels lead individuals to experience a lack of pleasure in most, if not all, activities.

Addictions, Liking and Wanting[edit]

Chocolate: an addictive substance?

Repeated consumption of addictive substances produces hypersensitivity to dopamine stimulation, sensitising brain structures to a greater degree than naturally occurring rewards. This can result in a dopamine-induced neural hypersensitisation. Hypersensitisation may not only occur from substances such as cocaine, alcohol or nicotine, but from junk food as well. The addictive quality of junk food has been likened to heroin addiction, with one researcher proposing that the overconsumption of pleasurable foods triggers an addiction-like neuroadaptive response in the brain’s reward centres, driving the development of compulsive eating (Kenny, P; Greviskes, 2010). Wanting is a motivational state that occurs prior to receiving a reward, while liking occurs after the reward has been received. Although these two motivational states usually occur together, they comprise different brain mechanisms. Liking is essentially hedonic pleasure, providing an individual with information for comparing competing choices in behaviour. For example, a dieter may choose a healthy salad over pasta for lunch based on their personal preference for these foods. Wanting can, however, occur without liking, acting as only a partial reward without sensory pleasure. Some pharmaceutical companies have been able to take the dopamine-related pleasure out of some addictive substances, such as nicotine, effectively taking the ‘liking’ out of smoking. However, much of the ‘wanting’ still remains. For example, an individual may regularly consume chocolate and as such, no longer experience the same dopamine-induced high while eating it. Consumption is, thus, a product of 'wanting' or habit, rather than true enjoyment.

Physiological Needs[edit]

Individual needs represent any condition essential for life, growth and wellbeing. Needs act to motivate an individual before damage can occur to their psychological or bodily wellbeing. These may be in the form of physiological needs which drive an individual to avoid tissue damage and maintain bodily resources such as hunger, thirst or sex. Psychological needs aid personal growth and adaption, providing an individual with a sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Social needs represent an internal and learnt drive to preserve one’s identity, beliefs, values and interpersonal relationships.

All needs generate energy. Thus how one need differs from another is through its directional effects on behaviour. A hunger need differs, not in the amount of energy it generates, but in its ability to direct attention and action toward seeking out food. For example, if a dieter skips a meal, this will result in a deficiency in food. This deficiency creates hunger, a physiological need. A physiological need occurs from deficits within the tissue and bloodstream, as well as from water loss, nutrient deprivation, or physical injury. If this physiological need remains unmet for an extended period of time, biological deprivation can become so great that it dominates attention and generates psychological drive, a term used to depict psychological discomfort. Psychological discomfort is represented by emotions such as anxiety or pain, as the body believes itself to be encountering a potentially life-threatening situation. This psychological drive motivates the individual to service this unmet bodily need through eating. Negative feedback enables the eating behaviour to inhibit the drive once the body is satiated. This removes the underlying need and calms the psychological drive through a process called drive reduction. Following this process, the individual returns to a satiated state for a time, known as homeostasis, until this cyclical process begins again. It is critical to note, however, that it is not the antecedent of skipping a meal that causes the motivated behaviour of eating, but rather the intensity of one’s hunger drive. This process may also help explain why dieters frequently fall victim to binge eating when attempting to restrict their food intake. As a result of limited intake, the body might believe itself to be in a state of food deprivation and attempt to restore homeostasis by triggering an urgent drive for food. The individual would experience a state of intense psychological discomfort, motivating them to consume whatever food was at hand. This could potentially lead to overconsumption or ‘binge eating’. However, after engaging in this behaviour, the individual would no longer feel compelled to eat and thus begin to question whether their binge was truly a result of hunger, or simply a lapse in self-restraint. This would lead to feelings of guilt or shame, in which an individual would attempt to make up for their ‘failure’ by imposing harsher self-restrictions on their future dietary behaviour. Unfortunately, this very act would retrigger this cyclical process, thwarting their dieting attempts once again.

Dieting can be further explained by one’s inherent biological processes, as hunger and eating involve a complex regulatory system of both short term daily processes operating under homeostatic regulation (glucostatic hypothesis) and long term processes functioning under metabolic regulation and stored energy (lipostatic hypothesis). These two theories are explored below.

Glucostatic Hypothesis[edit]

Short term hunger cues regulate an individuals eating behaviour. The glucostatic hypothesis argues that when blood-glucose drops, people feel hungry and want to eat, as cells require glucose to produce energy. As a result, when a cell has used its glucose to carry out its functions, a physiological need for glucose occurs. Glucose is monitored by the liver, which sends out an excitatory signal to the lateral hypothalamus, the brain center responsible for creating the psychological experience of hunger. This center contains specialised neurons that respond to both the sight and taste of food when an individual is somewhat hungry. However, if the lateral hypothalamus is over-stimulated, it may cause a person to overeat, potentially resulting in obesity. When the liver detects high glucose levels and bloating during eating, it stimulates the ventromedial hypothalamus, which acts as the appetite’s short-term negative feedback system. Appetite also rises and falls based on non-brain based cues. Peripheral bodily cues include the mouth, stomach distensions and body temperature. The main non-brain based hunger regulator is the stomach, which empties itself at approximately 210 calories per hour, an interesting fact for dieters who would like to expend more calories in a day than they consume.

Lipo (fatty) static (equilibrium) hypothesis[edit]

Fat cells or adipose tissue

Fat cells, also termed 'adipose tissue', produce energy and are monitored by the body. According to the lipostatic hypothesis, when the mass of fat stored by the body drops below its homeostatic balance, fat cells secrete ghrelin into the bloodstream to motivate individuals to increase food consumption. Conversely, when the mass of fat stored rises above its level of homeostasis, fat cells release leptin into the bloodstream to encourage individuals to reduce their food intake. A by-product of this hypothesis is the set-point theory, which argues that each individual has a biologically determined body weight that is predetermined by genetics. Hunger and satiety depend on the size, rather than number, of fat cells within the individual and these can fluctuate over time. When fat cell size is reduced through dieting, hunger arises and persists until eating behaviour allows the fat cells to return to their natural set-point size. Physical activity and prolonged calorie restriction can counteract this effect, however, by decreasing the size of one’s fat stores. Additionally, eating behaviour may be either inhibited through self-regulatory motivation (e.g. goal setting or monitoring of one’s weight); or stimulated by environmental influences such as the time of day, stress, situational pressures, or the sight, availability, smell, appearance and taste of food.

According to this hypothesis, dieting may be essentially ‘wishful shrinking’ and an essentially pointless exercise in self-restraint. This arouses a question for all dieters – how can anyone possibly attempt lose weight if their body is attempting to defend its genetic set-point every step of the way? Social norms provide one solution. One theory suggests that small groups develop and enforce social norms about what is appropriate behaviour. Deviation from these norms can result in interpersonal rejection or a reduction in popularity. Thus if eating well or maintaining a fit and healthy figure is an ideal behaviour for the group, group pressure can become an even more potent eating signal than one’s physiology. This may aid attempts in reaching one’s weight loss goals. In contrast, if group norms encourage dieting for the wrong reasons, such as a desire to be ‘celebrity thin’ rather than simply being healthy, individuals may internalise these group norms and develop eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating.

Restraint-Release Situations[edit]

Dieting can also interfere with an individual’s physiological regulation. Dieters attempt to bring eating behaviour under cognitive, rather than physiological, control. This often results in binge eating as the dieter becomes increasingly susceptible to ‘restraint-release’ situations or disinhibition. Studies have shown that dieters who were given high calorie foods were often prone to consuming more than non dieters and became increasingly vulnerable to binge eating. In my own experience I believe this may be largely due to a dieter’s preoccupation with all the things they believe they can’t consume. As a result, when given an opportunity to treat themselves, they may actually consume more than they really want or need. I have often found that when imposing strict conditions on my own eating behaviour, such as ‘I will only eat this’, rather than ‘I will try to be healthy and only eat when I’m hungry’, I become increasingly anxious and fixated on all things I feel I’m missing out on. The pressure quickly becomes too much and I begin questioning why I would put such a ridiculous restraint on myself in the first place. Before I realise it, I’ve eaten something I told myself I wasn’t allowed. My thoughts then move to all the other foods I wasn’t going to have. I think to myself ‘well I’ve already had something bad, might as well go nuts’. The next thing I know, I have given myself permission to start binge eating. This pattern of bingeing is known as ‘counterregulation’. Counterregulation describes dieters who eat very little while nibbling, yet eat quite a lot after a high calorie ‘preload’, one of the many conditions that unleash dieters’ bingeing behaviour. The comedian Janette Barber provides an accurate and humorous description of the type of behaviour displayed by binge eaters. She states “when I buy cookies I eat just four and throw the rest away. But first I spray them with raid so I won’t dig them out of the garbage later. Be careful, though, because that raid really doesn’t taste that bad” (Quote Garden, 2010).

Other preconditions for binge eating include depression, as depressed dieters typically gain weight, while depressed non dieters typically lose weight. In my opinion, this is highly unfair, as the depressed dieter would eat as a means of comfort, only to feel guilty as a result. This, in turn, leads to a greater likelihood of binge eating and intensified feelings of depression. This phenomenon is also seen in anxious dieters, alcohol consumption and dieting, as well as conditions that threaten one’s ego, such as failure at an easy task or giving a speech. It appears that attempting to regulate one’s eating behaviour through cognitive, rather than physiological, control may often result in the very behaviour we are trying to avoid. Life can be a bitch for the

Cognitive Regulation[edit]

In situations where an individual believes their physiologically regulated weight no longer measures up to their social or cultural expectations, they will decide that it is time for their mind to take over the regulation of their body. However, as seen above in restraint-release situations, this can be a very difficult battle to win. In order to be successful, dieters must first become numb to internal cues of hunger and substitute conscious cognitive controls for unconscious physiological ones. One major problem with this method of attack, however, is that cognitive controls do not feature a negative feedback system. Dieters may, thus, become vulnerable to binge eating during events that interfere with cognitive inhibitions (e.g. anxiety, presence of others, alcohol).

Types of Motivation[edit]

Dieting behaviour is autonomously motivated when individuals experience a sense of personal volition and choice when engaging in a behaviour. Conversely, behaviour is controlled when individuals believe themselves to be engaging in this behaviour due to external pressure or coercion. The relative degree of autonomy versus control can be viewed along a continuum of motivation, known as the 'perceived locus of causality'. This continuum is characterised by intrinsic motivation and identified regulation, two types of autonomous; as well as external regulation and introjected regulation, two types of controlled motivation (Ryan & Connell, 1989; Hagger et al., 2006).

Autonomous Motivation[edit]

Intrinsic motivation: reflects motivation that is driven by an enjoyment in the behaviour itself. It arises from one’s psychological needs and innate strivings for growth. An individual may, therefore, engage in dieting behaviour for the challenge it presents or the pleasure derived by meeting one's need for competence. Intrisic motivation can also aid in creativity, heighten persistence, promote a higher quality of learning and provide optimal functioning and wellbeing.

Identified regulation: represents an extrinsic form of autonomous motivation that is driven by the pursuit of personally-valued goals. An individual may, therefore, be motivated to diet because of the importance they place in being a particular weight or size.

Research suggests that those with high levels of autonomous motivation are likely to perceive their dieting goal as personally relevant and valuable (Sheldon, 2002; Hagger et al., 2006). Autonomous motivation has also been linked to perceived competence, with individuals feeling more confident in reaching their weight loss goal and engaging in future dieting behaviour in order to satisfy their need for competence. Evidence suggests that autonomous motivation leads to a greater tendency for individuals to critically examine the importance of the outcomes for engaging in dieting behaviour. As such, they will be more likely to find dieting-relevant information within their environment, pointing to the significance of continuing this behaviour. This leads to a more positive attitude toward dieting in the future (Hagger et al., 2006).

Controlled Motivation[edit]

External regulation: reflects behaviour that is motivated by contingencies administered by others, such as gaining: a reward or avoiding punishment. For example, an individual may diet to avoid rejection or gain praise from a disapproving parent.

Introjected regulation: refers to behaviour that is motivated by contingencies administered by the self. An individual may diet in pursuit of positive affect, such as a boost in self-esteem; or the avoidance of negative affect, such as guilt or shame in one's appearance (Hagger et al., 2006).

Individuals with high levels of controlled motivation will focus on external conditions for their engagement in dieting behaviour. Reserach links controlled motivation to poorer wellbeing, frequent negative affect, less frequent positive affect and lower overall life satisfaction (Strong & Huon, 1999).

Research suggests that employing extrinsic motivation to achieve a goal interferes with one's quality of learning and performance, as well as their long-term capacity for autonomous self-regulation. However, in my own experience of dieting, I have found the opposite to be true. I find strategies of reward or punishment to be quite effective in times when intrinsic motivation is low. For example, only recently did I impulsively give my friend something very important to me in an attempt to control my eating behaviour. I told her that if I fail to eat well, she would be able to keep what I had given her. Only if I was able to maintain a healthful style of eating to the point where I no longer craved sugar, or resorted to binge eating, could I ask for it back. Although my desire to eat well remains autonomously motivated, I have found that an incentive to remain in control provides me with the support I need to combat high risk situations. When self-control is low, this incentive makes an otherwise overwhelming goal seem suddenly worth pursuing.

Psychological Needs[edit]

Self-determination theory is based on two assumptions: people are inherently active and there is a reciprocal relationship between a person and their environment. As such, the psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness act as inherent sources of motivation, arousing a desire within the individual to interact with their environment in order to advance personal growth, initiative, learning, social development and psychological wellbeing. These competencies emerge from maturation, as well as opportunities and challenges presented by the environment. The extent to which the environment frustrates or supports these psychological needs will determine whether an individual’s inner resources are enriched (facilitating development), or thwarted (resulting in less optimal development).


A personal training session

Autonomy is relative. It is the need to experience self-direction and personal approval over the initiation and regulation of one’s own behaviour. Existing within autonomy are three subjective qualities: perceived choice over one’s own behaviour; perceived unpressured willingness to engage in a particular behaviour; and perceived understanding over the cause of one’s behaviour. For example, providing a person with an ‘either-or’ choice offering would not provide a sense of autonomy. Only when a person is offered unrestricted choices that reflect his or her own personal goals, values and interests, do they feel a sense of need-satisfying autonomy. This leads to positive post-choice functioning, enhancing intrinsic motivation, engagement, development, preference for challenge, creativity, effort and performance. An obese person choosing to diet out of a desire to get healthy would, therefore, experience a greater sense of autonomy and an increased chance for success, over someone who had been given an ‘either-or’ option to diet by family or friends. Environments, relationships, social contexts, and cultures are able to either satisfy one’s need for autonomy (autonomy supportive); or neglect, frustrate and interfere with one’s need for autonomy (controlling). For example, if an individual hires a personal trainer, the trainer may pressure the individual toward a prescribed fitness goal or weight, using social influence techniques to the extent that controlling (rather than autonomous) motivation initiates and regulates their activity. This would dampen the individual’s own inner motivational resources, as they would begin to rely on the personal trainer for external sources of motivation. When this external source is taken away, motivation plummets, subsequently leaving the individual to return to their old habits. In contrast, a personal trainer who exhibits an autonomy-supportive motivating style may attempt to motivate their client by encouraging initiative and working collaboratively to solve the underlying causes of the individual's resistance to a healthy lifestyle. They might also identify and nurture the individual's own interests and preferences during each training session. This would enhance motivation, as the individual would be displaying some level of autonomy in the choices and goals they made.


Competence involves a psychological need to be effective in one’s interactions with the environment. Key environmental conditions for competence include:

  • Optimal challenge and flow

Flow is a pleasurable experience that involves concentration and a holistic absorption in one’s activity. It drives a person to repeat this activity in the hope of experiencing this state again. It occurs as a result of a person using their own skills to overcome a particular challenge. For example, a positive motivator for a dieter may be experiencing flow during a challenging exercise activity. When skill level and challenge level are both moderately high, concentration, involvement and enjoyment rise. This perfect match creates flow. If the exercise task is too challenging, however, the individual may believe the demands of the activity outweigh their own personal abilities. Alternatively, when personal skill outweighs the challenge, individuals experience low task engagement, minimal concentration and emotional boredom. A dieter should, thus, strive for an exercise task which is both challenging and achievable.

  • Performance feedback and the perception of progress

The decision to diet is, in itself, difficult. However, one’s need for competence is only fulfilled when the individual engages in the behaviour and begins to see their first real glimpses of feedback. This may be in the form of weight loss or an increased level of fitness. This perception of progress would justify an individual’s previous efforts, motivating them to continue.

  • Information and guidance in reaching one’s goals

In order to diet successfully, a person needs a highly structured environment to offer goals, guidance and consistent responsive feedback. This support and feedback may come in the form of friends, family or a personal trainer. As a result, a person is better able to meet the challenges they set themselves, solve any problems that may arise (i.e. temptation while going out to dinner with friends) and progress towards their weight loss goal.

  • High tolerance of failure

One difficulty when dieting is that people are equally likely to experience failure as they are success. The fear of failing or ‘falling off the wagon’ may squash one’s need for competence and motivate avoidance behaviours. The social context in which a person engages in an optimal challenge must first tolerate error, as error making is essential for optimising motivation and provides more benefit for learning than immediate success. Failure is, therefore, not defined by slipping up or 'falling off the wagon' but, rather, in never being brave enough to try again.


Relatedness involves a psychological need to form emotional attachments and warm, affectionate relationships with others. As an important motivational construct, relatedness drives us to gravitate towards people who we trust to take care of our wellbeing and moves us away from those who do not. This improves our overall functioning, increases resilience to stress and decreases psychological problems. Emotionally positive interactions and the creation of positive social bonds both satisfy one's need for relatedness. Exchange relationships are built between acquaintances and those doing business, operating on the giving and receiving of benefits such as money, help or emotional support. Communal relationships involve those who care about each other. For example, a dieter may hire an expert to aid them in achieving their weight loss goal, while their friends and family would provide support and encouragement consistent with their emotional wellbeing. Additionally, the dieter may internalise the values and regulations of those close to them, adopting similar habits of eating as healthy friends. When a person is successfully maintaining a diet, they can become highly engaged in the task. This, in turn, leads to higher self-regulation of eating behaviour, greater persistence and effort to reach one's goal, as well as increased enjoyment in the challenges set.

Social Needs[edit]

On a daily basis needs work their way into our consciousness to affect thoughts, emotions and desires. The thoughts that pop into our mind are able to tell the story of which social needs are particularly salient at any time. Socialised needs are not innate, but rather learnt through personal experience, our unique developmental history, as well as social opportunities and demands. These teach individuals to expect more positive emotional experiences in some situations over others, activating emotional responses to need-relevant incentives in their environment. These needs are unique to every individual and are an acquired or learnt part of our personality. Over time we acquire preferences in different activities, which lead us to pursue particular hobbies or careers.


Quasi-needs originate from situational demands and pressures, inducing specific wants and desires. They affect how we think, feel and behave on a daily basis. This may occur in the form of money when going out with friends, self-esteem if rejected by a potential love interest, junk food when feeling low, or an umbrella when it begins to rain. When a situational demand or pressure is satisfied, the quasi-need fades. For example, a dieter may feel the need to eat junk food in order to compensate for low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy when with friends. Once they have satisfied this need, however, the quasi-need will disappear. To combat this potentially destructive cycle, a dieter could develop alternative strategies to satisfy their need for self-esteem, decreasing the likelihood of succumbing to junk food when situational pressures are high. Additionally, the fact that the need for junk food disappears as soon as one submits to temptation demonstrates that this is not in fact a full-blown need and not a condition essential for life, growth or psychological wellbeing. Although it should be obvious that junk food is not essential in life, I find that whenever I have a craving for chocolate, it usually feels like a life or death situation. No longer can junk food addicts use the excuse of ‘life or death’. From now on it looks like I’ll have to admit that my cravings have more to do with pressures from the environment than they do with my actual needs.


The need for achievement originates from social, cognitive and developmental influences. This need may combat against junk food addiction, as it drives an individual’s desire to eat well and maintain self control when confronted with temptation. This, in turn, enhances one’s self-competence. All achievement situations share a standard of excellence. A person can be energised by this standard, knowing that their performance will produce an emotionally meaningful evaluation of their own personal competence. For example, self-esteem may be heightened when an individual successfully loses weight. Weight loss goals constitute a mastery goal, as they aid in developing one’s competence, making progress, improving the self, as well as overcoming difficulties with effort and persistence. Those high in the need for achievement will respond to this challenge with approach-orientated emotions such as hope, pride and anticipatory gratification. High-need achievers choose moderately difficult to difficult to tasks, perform better, are energised by pride, show more effort and persist in the face of failure. They also take responsibility for both their successes and failures. Conversely, those low in achievement needs will respond with avoidance-orientated emotions such as anxiety, defensiveness and the fear of failure. Low-need achievers exhibit procrastination tendencies and choose easy versions of tasks. A dieter low in the need of achievement may, thus, jump on the ‘fad diet’ bandwagon, looking for a quick fix or easy weight loss solution. In order to achieve permanent weight loss, these indivduals may, instead, need to look at adopting healthier long-term dieting strategies.

Goal Setting and Striving[edit]

Cognition is a messy umbrella construct that unites an individual’s beliefs, goals, plans, expectations, values, self-concept and judgments. These mental constructs act as causal determinants leading an individual into action. According to pioneers within the cognitive study of motivation, individuals possess mental representations of their ideal states of behaviour, environment and events. For example, a dieter may be aware of their current physical state and perceive a mismatch between this and their ideal state. This creates a sense of incongruity, which motivates an individual to formulate a plan in order to remove this feeling. The test-operate-test-exit model represents the mechanism by which plans energise and direct behaviour. An individual will first test their present state against their ideal, motivating them to operate on the environment through a planned sequence of action. For a dieter, this may be in the form of a stringent exercise and diet regime in order to lose those extra few kilos. The individual would continue to engage in this behaviour, testing and re-resting their present and ideal state, until their ideal is realised. When this occurs, the individual would terminate the plan and exit the test sequence.

Contemporary cognitive models no longer view plans in such a fixed or mechanical way. Plans are, instead, seen to be adjustable and changeable in a similar manner to behaviour. Within this paradigm, incongruity between the present and ideal state arouses a ‘corrective motivation’, or decision making process in which the individual weights up many different routes of action. A second factor considered is the translation of a plan into action, as individuals frequently encounter a range of situational demands or personal constraints and inadequacies that render their plan useless. Corrective motivation, thus, allows an individual to continuously revise their plan if it is found to be ineffective.

Setting a plan to achieve a desired goal fills an individual with hope. Unfortunately, there is a wide gap between goal-directed thought and action. When striving for a goal, an individual must identify the objectives to be accomplished, define goal difficulty, clarify the goal specifically and specify how and when their performance will be assessed. After identifying these goal-related factors, an individual can then form strategies for goal-attainment, as well as the necessary implementation intentions that represent a plan of action as to how one’s behaviour will unfold. This specifically addresses how and when an individual will initiate behaviour, persist in the face of difficulty or setback and resume behaviour after interruption. Persisting at a goal in the face of daily challenges can become overwhelming. Implementation intentions, thus, act to create a type of close-mindedness which excludes external distractions and narrows ones attentional field to the goal-directed behaviour at hand. When an individual becomes vulnerable to distraction or interruption, implementation intentions motivate an individual to return to the behaviour.

Mental simulations provide a tool in which an individual can visualise putting their plan into action and develop problem solving strategies to overcome daily obstacles. The visualization of a goal outcome produces little productive behaviour, as it represents wishful thinking or fantasy. One must, instead, visualise themselves encountering potential setbacks while attempting to achieve their goal and devise appropriate strategies for goal-directed action. For example, a dieter might visualise a night out with friends during at a point in the evening when the rest of the table is ordering dessert. In response they would develop a strategy for maintaining focus on their goal, visualising themselves ordering coffee rather than a tempting treat. This would help the individual prepare for real life scenarios and ultimately facilitate goal-directed behaviour at a time when self-restraint is weak.

Personal Control Beliefs[edit]

Efficacy and Outcome Expectancies[edit]

One's expectancies of what will happen hold important motivational consequences for future action. If an individual does not believe they will be able to diet successfully, their motivation will likely falter at the first sign of resistance. However, if an individual believes themselves capable of exerting control over their environment and producing favourable results, they will be motivated to exercise personal control over their eating behaviour and stick to a diet until they reach their goal weight. The strength with which an individual exercises personal control over their life’s outcomes can be attributed to the strength of their expectancies. Efficacy expectancies ask the individual “can I do this?” and reflect one’s judgments in their capacity to execute a particular course of action. These expectancies increase the likelihood that an individual will behave in a particular way and aid success towards achieving a goal. They also act as the building blocks of self-efficacy beliefs. Outcome expectancies ask the question “will what I do work?” and reflect one’s judgment that a particular course of action will achieve its desired outcome. Outcome expectancies form the building blocks of learned helplessness. As such, when an individual perceives an outcome to be outside of their person control or independent of their behaviour, learned helplessness is developed. Efficacy and outcome expectancies are separate determinants in the initiation and regulation of behaviour. In the case of a dieter, efficacy expectancies pertain to one’s confidence in their ability to successfully restrict eating behaviour and maintain a diet; while outcome expectancies pertain to one’s beliefs that dieting will lead to a reduction in weight over time.

Self-Efficacy Beliefs[edit]

Self-efficacy beliefs are more general than efficacy expectancies, reflecting one’s ability to translate their skills or personal resources into effective performance. Self-efficacy becomes important when situational pressures are high and one's abilities are tested. For example, an individual may feel confident in maintaining a daily exercise regime under times of low stress. However, when situational demands are high, an individual’s skills are put to the test. They must have what it takes to control arousal, so as not to get overwhelmed; as well as manage their time, so that exercise continues to remain a priority. Under such circumstances, self-efficacy may be replaced with self-doubt. This leads to anxiety, an increase in negative thinking and a decreased ability to cope. Self-efficacy and self-doubt, thus, act as two motivational variables determining how well an individual will cope when their skills are put under pressure. A judgment of one’s own self-efficacy in carrying out a specific behaviour is determined through reflective thought. It is within this process that the individual attends to and weighs the importance of multiple sources of efficacy information. This includes how the individual has behaved in the past, one’s physiological state, watching another person perform the behaviour and persuasion by others. For example, an individual wanting to diet may experience strong self-efficacy beliefs in their ability to reach this goal as a result of receiving a pep talk from friends, recollecting experiences in which they had successfully reached a health-related goal, or witnessing the dieting success of another. An absence of fear, stress or tension also heightens one’s self efficacy beliefs, providing feedback to the individual that they can cope adequately with the demands of the situation. Strong self-efficacy beliefs will also determine how long the individual persists at the dieting behaviour, as well as facilitate persistent coping efforts in the face of task difficulty or setback.

Mastery Beliefs[edit]

A helpless motivational orientation

Mastery beliefs represent the extent of perceived control an individual has over attaining positive outcomes and avoiding aversive ones. For example, an individual who has been dieting with little success may possess weak and fragile perceived control beliefs, as they believe their personal behaviour to hold little effect on the outcome. In contrast, an individual who experiences success will foster strong personal control beliefs, as they perceive their dieting behaviour to have a direct causal link to the outcomes they experience.

Individuals react to failure in many different ways. Those possessing a mastery motivational orientation hold a resistant portrayal of the self during encounters of failure and react by remaining on task and persisting in the face of setbacks. Those with a helpless motivational orientation hold a fragile view of the self during failure and respond by giving up and acting as though the situation is out of their personal control. When a situation becomes challenging, the motivational significance of mastery versus helplessness becomes clear. Mastery orientated persons are energised by setbacks and focus on how they can remedy the failure, subsequently, increasing their efforts and changing strategies until their goal is realised. Helpless orientated individuals withdraw from a challenge and fall apart when encountering setbacks, believing failure to be a sign of their personal inadequacy. I can unfortunately relate to the latter orientation. I have frequently found myself doubting my own self-worth as a result of failing to achieve a goal, specifically, sticking to a diet or reaching an ideal shape. I will often fall into a negative state of mind, questioning my own abilities and becoming anxious with the idea of having to start all over again. Under the onslaught of such emotions my problem solving abilities typically collapse. I begin to focus on why I have failed, rather than how I can remedy the situation. This often leads to self-sabotaging behaviour, as I allow myself to ruin the rest of my day or week by binge eating, falling victim to despair or empty promises that I will ‘start my diet again tomorrow’.

The Self[edit]


One interesting topic introduced earlier in the textbook and further discussed within the chapter ‘The Self and Its Strivings’ is the concept of self-esteem. As noted in my first reflection, self-esteem is not a causal determinant of motivation. Boosting one’s self-esteem will not serve as a motivational intervention to achieve a particular goal. It is, instead, a byproduct of one’s successes and failures in life. Motivation would, therefore, be increased by improving an individual's coping skills for facing adversity and challenges.

Cognitive Dissonance[edit]

When beliefs about the self and what one does are inconsistent, individuals experience a psychologically uncomfortable and aversive state known as cognitive dissonance. For example, an individual’s sense of self may include maintaining a healthy body and mind. However, the individual may also find themselves frequently binge eating in reaction to stress or negative affect. The act of binge eating is contradictory to the individual’s initial belief, as this behaviour represents an unhealthy relationship with food. The individual would, therefore, experience a sense of dissonance between the self and their actions, motivating them to reduce this dissonance by:

  • Removing the dissonant belief: one may create strategies to avoid binge eating in times of stress, or begin to dissociate the act of binge eating from their idea of being healthy.
  • Reducing the importance of the dissonant belief: trivialising or justifying the act of binge eating by believing it to be only a reaction to stress and no real threat to one’s overall health and wellbeing.
  • Adding a new consonant belief: reassuring oneself that changing the behaviour is too difficult, as previous attempts have resulted in failure.
  • Increasing the importance of the consonant belief: believing binge eating to be a sign that food companies have made their products too addictive and local grocers are in need of providing more natural alternatives.

Resistance to change depends on how close to reality these beliefs are, how central they are to one’s sense of self and how much pain or cost they would inflict upon the person to change them. For example, the individual might acknowledge the hypocrisy between their beliefs and actions, working harder to change their binge eating behaviour so that their sense of self remains intact.


Expressions of Emotion

Emotions are multidimensional phenomena that allow us to adapt and cope to different situations. They comprise four components:

  1. Feelings are rooted in cognitive processes and provide emotion with its subjective experience.
  2. Bodily arousal includes one’s biological responses which work to prepare and regulate an individual’s coping behaviour during the experience of emotion.
  3. Social-expressive provides one with the ability to communicate their emotional experience through vocalisation or behaviour.
  4. Sense of purpose gives emotion its goal-directed purpose, motivating the individual to take the necessary action.

Plutchik (1985) asserts that emotion is both cause and effect, suggesting that cognitions do not directly cause emotions any more than biological events do. Rather, it attributes the final outcome to a dynamic interplay between arousal, preparation for action, feelings, expressive displays, overt behavioural activity and cognition.

Emotions can be conceptualised at both a general level such as a family or prototype (e.g. anger) and a situation-specific level (e.g. hostility, frustration). Basic emotions are assumed to be innate, rather than acquired through experience; arise from the same circumstances for all people; expressed both uniquely and universally; and evoke a distinctive and predictable physiological response. Basic negative emotions include fear, anger, disgust and sadness, These occur from an anticipation or result of threat and harm. Basic positive emotions include joy and interest and occur from anticipation or direct consequence of motive involvement and satisfaction.

One interesting point made within the textbook was that some researchers go so far as to say emotion is the primary motivational system. Rather than physiological states such as air, thirst, hunger, pain or sex acting as primary motivators, these researchers posit that without emotion, there would be no motivation to act. For example, air deprivation generates a physiological drive which captures attention and energises a person toward one purpose. However, emotion researchers believe this loss of air produces a strong emotional reaction, namely one of terror. It is terror which then acts as the causal and immediate source of motivation to act. I’m not sure I entirely agree with this theory. When considering other physiological needs, such as hunger, I do not believe I am driven to search for food by a specific emotion. Would emotion researchers posit that it was a feeling of desperation, rather than a bodily threat to homeostasis, that drove me toward consuming food? It would be interesting to learn what emotion would be ascribed as my underlying source of motivation for eating.


Appraisal is a central component in understanding emotion. It represents an estimate of the personal significance of an event. Cognitive emotion theorists assert that it is the cognitive antecedent appraisal of an event and not the event itself that causes an emotion. Limbic system brain structures such as the amygdala are responsible for appraising the hedonic tone and emotional significance of sensory stimuli, while cortical functions add additional information to the stimuli through expectations, memories, beliefs, goals, judgments and attributions.

I believe appraisal to be a key component in the uptake and maintenance of dieting behaviour. For example, a dieter may be faced with a situation while at a party in which they can choose between a piece of cake or a fruit salad for dessert. The individual would first engage in a primary appraisal of the stimuli, determining what was at stake in the encounter. They may judge their health, self-esteem and long term goal of weight loss to be at risk, thus, turning this encounter from an ‘ordinary life event’ to an emotion-generating ‘significant life event’. They would then appraise these two desserts as either beneficial or harmful to their dieting goal based on past experience, or a judgment about which dessert is more congruent with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. An individual would then engage in a secondary appraisal of their perceived coping abilities to resist temptation and make a choice in line with their long term goals. A positive appraisal of their coping abilities may result in an emotional response such as increased confidence, leading them to approach the fruit salad over the piece of cake.

Perceived Control[edit]

Perceived control reflects one’s beliefs and expectations about their ability to interact with the environment in a way that produces desirable outcomes and prevents undesirable outcomes. It functions as an antecedent foundation upon which beliefs such as perceived competence, self-efficacy and ability, are constructed. A perception of control over a situation requires the situation to be somewhat predictable and responsive and the individual to be capable of obtaining their desired outcomes. Even within situations that are fairly structured, control may be hard to achieve. Task difficulty may act as one barrier which separates the individual from a desirable outcome. For example, a dieter might find that maintaining their during Christmas is difficult as the rest of their family indulge in treats. When this occurs, differences in perceptions of control interfere, explaining why some dieters will put forth the necessary effort to attain their goal, while others give up, perceiving the situation to be too difficult. The high-perceived control dieter might adopt the positive mindset of “I am in control of what goes into my body and no one can make eat something I don’t want to”. They will develop strategies and sophisticated plans about how to succeed at their goal, focusing all their effort and concentration on the task at hand. During performance, they will maintain a positive emotional state, monitor problem-solving strategies and regulate feedback so that their skills and strategies may be improved or adjusted to meet the demands of the situation. In contrast, a low-perceived control dieter might believe themselves to be at the mercy of their senses, allowing food to control them. They may adopt the mindset of “It’s Christmas! I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Everyone else is indulging. There’s nothing wrong with allowing myself one treat”. This mindset acts to justify the setting of vaguer goals in which dieting behaviour is not as strictly regulated. These individuals might develop fewer and simpler strategies, providing them with nothing to fall back on if one strategy fails. If the dieter finds themselves eating more than just ‘one treat’, their concentration and confidence may drop. Attention quickly begins to focus on why the task is so difficult. As cognitive and emotional engagement in the task decline, performance will drop. It is during this stage that a dieter may think "stuff it!", allowing themselves a blow out over the Christmas period and making an empty promise to ‘start again’ in the new year.


Within the field of psychodynamics, Freud observed that people often engaged in behaviour they did not want to do, reasoning that motivation must, therefore, be more complex than simply following intentional volition. His depiction of the human mind was one of conflict, positing that the conscious (ego’s) will and the unconscious (id’s) counterwill were locked in a battle for satisfaction. As the pleasure principle, the motivations of the id were seen as involuntary, unconscious and impulse-driven. In contrast, the ego represented the reality principle, with motivations organised around defense mechanisms and a delay of gratification. A key process within Freud’s theory of psychodynamics is suppression, which describes the removal of a thought in ways which are conscious, intentional and deliberate. Suppression has also been shown to fail, as thoughts and emotions can only be suppressed for a time. I believe this process to be of key relevance to dieting behaviour. For example, an individual on the first day of their diet may consciously attempt to suppress thoughts about the foods they are craving in an effort to maintain behavioural self-control. However, this activates an unconscious counterprocess. Thus, while the conscious mind attempts to suppress the unwanted thought, their unconscious mind searches for it, ironically keeping the very thought activated. Research suggests that continued suppression can lead to a very potent counterforce, or ‘rebound effect’, in which the individual develops an obsessive preoccupation with their unwanted thought. An obsession over food may, thus, lead the dieter to engage in the very behaviour they were hoping to avoid. One solution to thought suppression was to bring the suppressed thought into consciousness. Ironically, it is only when the individual focuses their attention on these unwanted thoughts that they can then let them go.

Holism and Positive Psychology[edit]

Holism employs a top-down approach to understanding the human being, focusing on the being as an integrated whole, rather than its specific parts. Holism is rooted in humanistic psychology, which aims to discover human potential and encourage its development. Positive psychology seeks to uncover “what could be?” by proactively building upon an individual’s personal strengths and abilities. This promotes the experience of well-being, positive thinking, fulfillment, resilience and life satisfaction.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Within the field of positive psychology, self-actualisation represents an inherent developmental striving for the fulfillment of ones potential. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs act as a guide to achieving self-actualisation. The most potent and urgent needs are positioned at the bottom of the pyramid, while self-actualisation is positioned at the top. Maslow considered self-actualisation to be a relatively quiet urge that could be easily overlooked in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, before self-actualisation can be achieved, each need in the hierarchy must be fulfilled sequentially from the base to the top. Physiological needs sit at the bottom of the pyramid and represent survival needs. These are followed by safety and security needs, as well as love and belongingness needs. These three sets of needs represent 'deficiency needs', as their absence inhibits growth and development. These are followed by esteem needs, then self-actualisation needs; which together represent 'growth needs'. After deficiency needs have been satisfied, an individual feels the need to fulfill their personal potential. However, in many cases, this does not materialise. People may fail to reach self-actualisation due to non-supportive internal or external environments. Additionally, individuals may fear their own potential, as self-emergence requires facing up to the insecurities of having personal responsibility over one’s fate. Self-emergence is an inherently stressful process, often leading individuals to seek escape. However, personal growth can be encouraged by a number of behaviours:

  1. An individual can decide to only make choices that lead toward growth and progression. For example, a dieter may make an active choice to no longer forgo their diet in times of stress and adopt healthier strategies to deal with this stress head on. This allows them to challenge their old habits, moving further away from behaviours that inhibit personal growth and toward those which encourage it.
  2. A second behaviour encouraging self-actualisation is honesty. For example, if a dieter is keeping a food diary, it may be difficult for them to admit on paper that they have strayed from their goal. They may see this lapse in self-restraint as a reflection of their incompetence. However, pretending it did not happen and lying to oneself does nothing to enhance motivation or progression towards one’s dieting goal. By being honest and accurately recording the slip up, the individual can then reflect on why this lapse occurred and develop strategies to counteract this behaviour the next time they are faced with a similar situation.
  3. By ridding oneself of false notions and illusions, an individual can begin to develop realistic expectations of the self and discover their true potential. An individual may have developed unrealistic expectations about their dieting behaviour, such as the belief that they are capable of losing a large amount of weight in a short period of time. However, when this expectation does not materialise, the individual’s confidence plummets, thwarting any future weight loss attempts. They might also hold the belief that once a certain amount of weight is lost, all of their problems will simply disappear. Unfortunately, weight loss does not provide a solution to all of life’s problems. What must occur, then, is the development of better skills and strategies for dealing with the world and tackling obstacles encountered during daily life.
  4. Giving up one's defenses, rather than relying on fantasy, allows an individual to develop the skills they need to become the type of person they have been striving for. For example, an overweight person might trick themselves into believing they are happy with their figure, making excuses about their weight to boost self-esteem and keep anxiety at bay. However, by giving up these excuses, they can then begin to actually start working on the skills they’ll need to achieve their desired body.
  5. Letting the self emerge provides an individual with an internal guide as to how they should be living their life. For example, rather than relying on the media to dictate how one should dress, look, or weigh; an individual can decide to listen to their own inner voice which dictates who they really want to become.
  6. Openness to experience allows an individual to live fully, spontaneously and without self-consciousness. For example, a dieter may reject an invitation to a party due to the knowledge that tempting food will be present. However, avoidance does little for achieving one’s goal, as it will never allow the individual to develop the necessary skills for overcoming scenarios such as these in the future. By soaking up every experience life has to offer and tackling these challenges head on, they will begin to develop problem-solving strategies and grow through experience.

Motivating the Self[edit]

One of the biggest questions for a dieter is how to motivate oneself during times when external pressure is high and self-restraint is low. It is during these circumstances that motivation is critical to success or failurein achieving one's goal. In order to enhance motivation, the individual must first examine and diagnose the potentials and deficits within their current needs, cognitions, emotions, environment, and interpersonal relationships.

Needs: when a challenging situation occurs, is a dieter motivated by a perception of competence or a need for achievement; or does the situation induce an experience of fear and anxiety?

Cognitions: is an individual’s dieting behaviour associated with their current self-efficacy beliefs, mastery goals, or sense of personal control; or with expectations of being overwhelmed by the task?

Emotions: does dieting provide the individual with a sense of joy, interest, or hope; or fill them with fear and resentment?

Environment and Relationships: is the dieting behaviour motivated by the challenge of competition with friends or an influential role model; or the result of external pressure and coercion?

When an individual is able to diagnose why avoidance motivation is high or approach motivation is low, they can then work towards remedying these deficits and improving their chances of successfully reaching their goal.


Dukan, P. (2010). The Dukan Diet. London, Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton.

Hagger, M. S., Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., & Harris, J. (2006). The process by which relative autonomous motivation affects intentional behaviour: Comparing effects across dieting and exercise behaviors. Motivation & Emotion, 30, 307-321.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding Motivation and Emotion. United States of America: Wiley.

Strong, K. G., & Huon, G. F. (1999). Controlled motivation and the persistence of weight-loss dieting. European Eating Disorders Review, 7, 136-146.

External Links[edit]

Motivation and Dieting Textbook Chapter

Motivation and Dieting Textbook Chapter Video Overview

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