Wishful thinking

(December 7, 2017) When it comes to physical activity and exercise it seems that so many people are never really that satisfied with what they get, or are getting, out of exercise – in fact the statistics would show that most people tend to give up in disgust after a short trial. We’ve all tried a new exercise, a new routine or a new diet with high hopes and expectations of success. Somehow though, we are never quite skinny or buffed enough, our blood pressure or cholesterol hasn’t been lowered enough to matter, or we have simply not become fast, strong or fit enough – some of us move on to the next thing and some of us just simply stop moving. Disappointed we start to slip, lose interest or faith in the routine, and eventually give up.

Polivy and Herman (2002) writing in the American Psychologist labelled these types of cycles as “false hope syndrome” – something they say is fuelled by unrealistic expectations particularly when it comes to the likely speed, the amount, ease, and consequences of self-change attempts. They also suggest (not about exercise necessarily) that we were expecting to be happier, more popular, more attractive, and more likely to get picked for the job or the team as a result of our efforts – but none of that really happened either.

Following on from my last post about the media driven glut of information, it seems we are forever gazing and grazing – searching and looking for more, faster, better – the quick fix or the magic solution. So Polivy and Herman (2002) argue that this false-hope syndrome might just be a problem of overconfidence. And where does that overconfidence come from? Well, it’s not based on experience, cos most of us haven’t tasted the sort success that we’ve been wishing for – so, I reckon those unrealistic expectations come from the way that advertisers and the general media draw us in with promises of easy change, quick fixes through killer exercises or essential nutrients. And of course they dangle all of those ‘bodies beautiful’ and genetically gifted athletes in front of us as proof that it’s not too difficult to accomplish. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t set meaningful goals for ourselves, but we do need to have a series of goals that will definitely allow us to taste levels of success along the way. We’ll chat some more about reality checks on navigating our way around false hope syndrome.