Elizabeth Bailor Dressage and Personal Training

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Having Trouble Finding Your Motivation?

Motivation is a Skill  

Almost everything in life is a skill, including motivation.  Contrary to popular opinion, motivation is not some mysterious external quality that you must seek out like a buried treasure. Some people don’t have more of it than others. Motivation lives in your brain. It is a combination of cognitive thoughts and emotions that allows you to compare different possible future outcomes and choose the desired option. Great!  Now what  the heck does that mean and how is it going to get you to make the changes you’d like to make in your life?

     Here are a couple of novel concepts when it comes to motivation.  No one absolutely has to do anything and everyone already has all the motivation  they need within  them (Pantalon, 2011, p.25). As an example,  you don’t have to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. So what makes you get up? Your brain weighs the potential outcome of laying in bed snoozing, which is lovely in the short term, against the probability of  being held accountable by your boss, resulting in the long term outcome of being fired and living in a discarded refrigerator box under an overpass with your three children. Your brain considers these possibilities both analytically and emotionally and decides that you should get your sorry butt out of bed and go to work. You don’t have to get up, you choose to get up because you don’t want to live in a cardboard box. You choose to get up for both extrinsic reasons: your boss’s angry recriminations,  and intrinsic reasons: you and your loved ones are more comfortable and happy in your house than you would be in a box under the freeway.  Everyone is different and everyone’s motivation will be different. If, for instance, you hated your job more than you disliked living in a box, you might choose to stay in bed and get fired.

     The dilemma is that most  motivational  coaches don’t take psychology or cognitive learning into account.   Most motivational  coaches rely on a Tell and Sell  approach to motivation.  They tell you how to change  before you’ve even decided that change is something you want. Then they tell you their program as though their program will  magically work for everyone. And last of all, they tell you that, you should change too! The first problem with this approach is that it ignores the fundamental law of Psychological Reactance (wikipedia 2011). In lay terms this  states that if someone tells you that you should do something, you will immediately  prefer to put your eye out with a dirty stick rather than do what they just suggested. This is a hard wired  precognitive  response, “ three decades of scientific evidence clearly demonstrate that tell and sell methods not only fail to motivate; they also lower the motivation leve l”(Pantalon, 2011, p.18). If you choose to change you will do it for your own reasons not someone else’s, “your goals absolutely must be intrinsic and achievable and only goals completely within your control fit into this category. Only these types of goals keep your commitment alive” (Gould, 2007,p.157). You will only make lasting change for your own reasons and even then, long term change will be a multiple step  process requiring large reserves of commitment and energy.

     In order to make lasting changes you must go through six different steps known as The Stages of Change (Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente ,1994). The first step doesn’t really seem like a step toward change at all. In the Precontemplative  Stage (Prochaska, Norcross & Diclimente,1994, p.40) you don’t even think you have a problem. You refuse to get out of bed, you don’t care when your boss goes apoplectic and although you don’t completely love the box, it’s not altogether unpleasant, perhaps it’s summer and the weather  is nice. In the second stage called the Contemplative Stage( Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente,  1994,p. 41),  it’s getting rainy and cold outside and the box is getting soggy. Now you’re beginning to think that living under the freeway is not a good long term plan. You still don’t want to go back  to all that getting out of bed going to work responsibility but you don’t really like the box all that much. You are ambivalent. You like the idea of change but the reality of changing  seems like too much work. “people can and do get stuck in ambilvalence… Ambivalence is often experienced as first thinking or a reason to change , then thinking of a reason not to change, and then to stop thinking about it”(Rollnick, Miller & Butler, 2008,p.34). The third stage of change is called Preparation (Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente, 1994,p. 43) and in this stage you know the box isn’t working, but you need to figure out a good plan to keep you on track for change so you don’t quit and revert to your old behaviors. In the fourth step you’re finally ready to do something in this stage you take Action (Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente, 1994, p.44), positive steps toward  getting out of bed and getting another job. The fifth step is Maintenance ( Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente, 1994 p. 45), you’re working your new behaviors , you have a new job,  a new house and you don’t think getting up in the morning and going to work is a such big deal after all, although, periodically you’re still tempted by your old behavior. In the last step Termination ( Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente,1994 ,p.46),  your new behavior has become a habit. It has replaced your old habit of sleeping in a box all day.

     In order to be helpful to you as a motivational  coach,  I  must understand that you will never make a long term change for my reasons, so I should probably hush up about my reasons because you really don’t care. My reasons are actually just distracting to you and make you less likely to change (Pantalon, 2011, p.18).  I would be most effective if I talked  less and instead, really listened to you and what you want.  If I actually listen I’ll be able to tell which stage of change you’re currently embracing. For instance, if you’re just contemplating a change, it could be counter productve for me to delve into how you’ll make your change because you’re not even sure you want to change at all (Prochaska, Norcross & Diclemente, 1994,p. 143). The myriad of details about how to change might send you shrieking back into your soggy box. Even if a motivational coach says the right thing, if they say it at the wrong time, it’s likely to backfire, “Using the wrong type of encouragement  can actually make a person want to do something less”( Pantalon, 2011,p.18). I would do better if I listened to your reasons for considering change and reflected them back to you for you to examine more closely (Rollnick,  Miller & Butler, 2008, p. 70 ).

      You may need support to figure out exactly what  you want and why. Thinking about  change requires some soul searching and can be an uncomfortable and very threatening process.  As an effective motivational coach my job is to help you through that process. Motivation is a skill and like every other skill you get better at it the more you practice. Skills consist of identifying key elements in the process and grouping them into small pieces. This is called chunking ( Coyle, 2009, p.77). “ Chunking is a strange concept. The idea that skill… could be created by the nested accumulation of small, discrete circuits seems counter intuitive… but a massive body of scientific research shows that his is precisely the way skills are built.”(Coyle, 2009, p.78). We just looked at how to break the huge concept of behavior change  down into six more manageable sized steps. By working through each step of the change process, you can learn to build new skills that can be strung together to create  positive new behaviors that eventually  become habituated.

     The motivation to act lives within you, inside your brain but the only way to unlock it is with your own personal reasons.  You have to figure out why you want to change,“why may be the most powerful question on earth…finding the tiny spark of why you want to change can ultimately transform your life”(Pantalon, 2011, p.13). Then you have to break the change process down into steps. Then break each step into manageable skill chunks.  In this way even huge life changes become doable possibilities. Taking even the smallest first step toward a personal goal often helps us discover the huge reserves of motivation  necessary for sticking with it and moving forward.


Coyle,  Daniel (2009), The Talent Code. New York,  New York.Bantam Dell.

Gould, Roger(2007),  Shrink Yourself.  Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons.

Pantalon,  Michael(2011),  Instant Influence. New York, New York, Hatchette Book Group.

Prochaska,  J. Norcross, J & Diclemente, C. (1994). New York, Harper Collins.

Rollnick, S. Miller, W. & Butler, C (2008),Motivational Interviewing in Health Care. New York, New York, Guilford Press.

Wikipedia (2011) retrieved from the web  HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactance_%28psychology%29" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactance_%28psychology%29

 How Well Do You Walk?

Gait Loading Mechanics and Functional Change
    How well do you move? More importantly how well do you walk? At a very basic level the answer to these seemingly simple questions will have profound impacts on how much pain you experience, how much energy and performance power you have and how you feel on a daily basis. Gait is the "strongest, most chronic full-body loading event"(Z-Health, 2009) most people engage in throughout the courses of their lives.  A relatively sedentary person takes approximately 3,000 steps per day, an average person takes about 5,000 steps per day, and many fitness and health care professionals recommend taking at least 10,000 steps per day. Each step you take loads approximately two to three times your body weight into your joints.  A 200 pound person taking only 3,000 steps a day must deal with 1,800,000 pounds of force per day. Multiplied out over weeks and months  this is  655,200,000 pounds a  year (Z-Health, 2009).  "The gait cycle is the cornerstone of function that enables the human body to use the ground effectively" (Gambetta, 2007 p.30). It is important to understand the effects of of repetitive activities where ground force reaction is fairly low but the cumulative stress effect can become very high over time . Taking this ground forces math into account, it becomes much easier to see how seemingly inconsequential functional inefficiencies in your gait can create big problems with pain and reduced performance and possible long term structural changes over time.

    We are well designed to be able to walk efficiently conserving and releasing elastic energy through the sling systems of the body. Certain areas of muscles and fascia are designed to work together to create and transfer energy and force without causing undo stress to the body (Chaitow and DeLany, 2002). In most cases, unless we have an injury or illness,  we don't have to think about walking. It is a reflex action, and no conscious control is necessary. Properly functioning reflexes work together to create a coordinated and efficient gait. We are contralateral bipeds, unless restrained, our arms swing in opposition to our legs. This should happen without obvious muscular action and balances the rotation of the pelvis (Luttgens, Deutsch & Hamilton, 1992). This action helps to dissipate the ground force throughout the body.

     This system is known as the Backforce Transmission System.(Hammer, 2007) Ground force starts at the heel and travels across the foot, through the ankle, up the outside of the lower leg to the upper leg and into the pelvis,  the force crosses the back at through the sacrotuborous ligament into the opposite side of the lower back, continues through the upper back, shoulder, and out through the opposite arm swing, some of the force even travels up into the TMJ. This system reduces the ground force over as many joints as possible using the elastic properties of the muscles, ligaments and tendons (Gambetta, 2007). However,  if something goes wrong along the way that force may travel into parts of the body that weren't designed to deal with it. When normal arm swing is prevented the upper trunk rotates in the same direction as the pelvis creating a stiff and awkward gait.  For instance, if you have reduced arm swing from a compromised range of motion on the opposite leg, perhaps from an old ankle injury, the  force on that side may travel up into your TMJ and translate into a big headache by the end of the day. Any reduced range of motion in a lower extremity will cause increased motion further up the kinetic chain(Z-Health, 2009). Even more problematic is the fact that if you practice a tense and awkward walk your body may continue that inefficient and painful gait cycle  long after your initial injury has healed causing lasting structural changes in your body.

    In simple terms, form follows function. We've all heard this expression, but what does it really mean? It means that function creates structure. The way you move or don't move will create lasting structural changes in your body over time. Wolf's Law and Davis' Law state that bones and soft tissue remodel along lines of chronic stress (Wikipedia, 2011). The SAID principle is the most basic law of human physiology it is an acronym for Specific Adaptaion to Imposed Demand. It states that "The body adapts to what it practices" (Z-Health, 2009). This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is how we build muscle and make tendons and ligaments stronger through training, but sometimes the SAID principle works to our disadvantage. Consider someone who  sits at a desk all day working on a computer and how his posture begins to change to make that position easier to maintain. In Anatomy Trains, Thomas Myers describes sitting as a "fraught and dangerous activity" because it eliminates the legs from their support function leaving the pelvis as the base of support for "the segmented tent pole of the human spine" (Myers, 2009,p.211). It is too easy to sit a way that allows  the head to come too far forward, the ribcage to collapse, the lumbar spine to go into flexion, and the pelvis to roll backward. Unfortunately, that modified structure which makes sitting hunched over a computer screen so efficient to maintain, will wreak havoc with the body, creating lasting postural changes in the the spine that can compress peripheral nerves, causing pain, compromising strength, movement and vision.

     In Z-Health we take the meaning of the SAID Principle one step further. Our definition states that the body ALWAYS adapts to EXACTLY what it practices. The emphasis on ALWAYS and EXACTLY brings up the importance of practicing and training  with precision. In other words practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent and we want to be very careful how and what we practice on a daily basis. Training with precision is imperative if we want to achieve reliable positive results.As Z-Health practitioners we strive to create immediate improvements in our clients' gait because it is the movement pattern they practice most. It is an autonomous reflexive movement pattern that they will practice at least 3,000 times a day. Also gait is the basis for most exercise patterns and improvements in gait can have wide reaching effects in other athletic training. The ability to control and use ground reaction can create improvements in movement mechanics, injury prevention and rehabilitation and strength training (Gambetta, 2007).If we improve how our clients move today and they continue to move with this improved reflexive gait cycle over time we can create big positive changes in their functional movement and help them get out of pain and reach their training goals.


Chaitow, L and Walker DeLany, J.(2002),Clinical Applications of Neuromuscular Techniques: The Lower Body, 315-317.

Gambetta, V.  (2007)Athletic Development The Art and Science of Functional Sports Conditioning, 23-31.

Hammer, W. (2007), Functional Soft-tissue Examination and Treatment by Manual Methods, 449.

Luttgens, K., Deutsch,H. & Hamilton, N. (1992), Kinesiology Scientific Basis of Human Motion, 550-557.

Myers, T. (2009), Anatomy Trains Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, 211-212.

Wolf's Law. (n.d.) Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolff%27s_law.

Z-Health (2009) R-Phase Powerpoint.Click to add text, images, and other content