Instinct theory states that motivation is the product of biological, genetic programming. Consequently the theory proposes that we are all driven by the same motives as per our evolutionary programming. As a species, our behaviours and the drivers of these behaviours, are innate. As a result all of our actions are essentially instinctual.
It is the collective motivation to survive that is fundamental to this perspective. Because we are all genetically 99.9% the same, all of our motivations and drives are derived from the same instinctual programming.
For example, instinct theory proposes that parents don't play that big of a role in the development of their children. Consider a mother staying awake all night with her crying infant in an attempt to provide comfort. Instinct theory states that this is done for no other reason than the mother being programmed to behave this way. The theory would not attribute this behaviour to wisdom, or habituation, or being brought up in a specific way. Nor would having strong or weak female role models or anything else other than pure biology.
Issues arise with this perspective when considering that not all instincts are universal. Many theorists believe that instincts are subjective and are governed by individuals and their differences. Moreover not all people exhibit the same attachment levels or behave in the same way.
Today instinct theory is more relevant within a biological context in that heredity and genetics are still studied in an attempt to understand the influences that affect human behaviour. These studies would usually be in the context of more traditional instinctual motives such as aggression and sex.
How might instinct theory relate to exercise motivation and change?
Instinct theory offers some useful insights into exercise motivation. Instinct tells animals (humans and other) to take the easiest path to survival. This may offer some explanation to those of us who are overweight and choose to live a sedentary lifestyle. I mean, why would you change when you are surviving? And quite comfortably, too. Living this lifestyle represents the path of least resistance, which is the path we are all instinctively programmed to take. In the same way lions or any animal for that instance are not programmed to purposefully expend energy for non-vital reasons, so too are humans. This offers a different view on why we do the things we do and provides a good starting point from which to examine the status quo.
So the question becomes ‘if your current unhealthy situation is still meeting your instinctual needs, how do you reverse the process?’ How do you get to a point where you feel your situation is unhealthy and needs to change?
IT’S GOT TO BE ABOUT SURVIVAL! As instinct theory is most relevant when considering more universal instincts, especially these related to survival, it may be useful where possible to make links between your survival instincts and your motives to exercise. You can’t outwit an instinct, but you can buffer it as best you can. Consider boxers or those people involved in combat sports. It is our natural instinct to reel back from a punch or strike directed at us. While a boxer still has these instincts they counter the effects through repetitive training and thinking. They think about a punch differently and train to respond to a punch in different ways so that when they are faced with this threat, they can, to some degree at least, override their instinct.
In the same way boxers combat their instinct to not be hit we can combat our thinking regarding inactivity and exercise. Exercise needs to become vital to your survival, in your own mind at least. You need to elevate the importance of exercising until it becomes equally important as the other things you do day-to-day to survive.
For example, you might relate your own survival with the need to exercise, by continually envisaging exercise as a vital source of nourishment for the body and mind. Without exercise you would picture your body degenerating and becoming weaker and weaker until you get to a point where you are physically incapable of surviving. Or you may continually tell yourself that you are programmed to move and be physical. To not move would be ignoring what makes you human.
However you do this, the end result must be that you view exercise as necessary to your survival and that without it you would essentially be giving up on life and on living.
Take a moment to consider how instinct theory is relevant to the things you have done in the past or the things you are doing currently.