01 Sep 2016

What is Psychological Motivation and How Can I Use it

Personal training

As a Personal Trainer, you need to know how to get your clients motivated and on track to achieving both short and long term goals.

Discover the principles behind self-determination theory and SMART goal setting, and see how they impact upon an individual’s psychological motivation.

Self-determination theory

Self-determination theory is a theory of motivation, concerned with supporting our natural tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. This theory bases itself on the premise that people have three innate psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy.


Defined by a self-belief in one’s ability to perform an activity well, competence is a key factor in motivation. Giving people unexpected positive feedback increases people’s intrinsic motivation to perform a certain task. In this case, a Personal Trainer giving their client encouragement and positive feedback will increase their client’s personal motivation levels for continuing to train and achieve results.


Relatedness is defined by a sense of shared experience, and can directly impact upon an individual’s intrinsic motivation. Motivation to get moving can improve in clients if they feel there is a warm, accepting atmosphere.


Ideally, people exercise to enjoy the experience. Realistically, many do so to enhance or refine their body image. Autonomy is high when people are engaging in exercise because they choose to do so, not because they feel pressured to do so from external factors.

If people can balance an extrinsic motivation with elements of exercise they actually enjoy (e.g. becoming stronger or being able to run further), they will promote an intrinsic motivation to continue exercising.

So, how can you use self-determination theory as a Personal Trainer to ensure your clients are kept motivated, determined and on track to reach their goals?

Setting SMART goals

Developed by Dr. Edwin Locke in his 1968 article, “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives”, SMART goal setting is key to ensuring high motivation levels. In determining SMART goal setting, Loche determined there were five fundamental principles that determined the effectiveness of goal setting:


To set a specific goal, ask yourself:

  • Who is involved?

  • What do I want to accomplish?

  • Where do I need to be to complete this goal?

  • When do I need to complete this goal?

  • Which constraints or requirements are going to impact upon this goal?

  • Why am I striving for this goal?

Ultimately in answering these questions, you will develop a greater purpose for undertaking and completing this goal – a specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal.


Establish a set of criteria for measuring your progress towards reaching your goal. Measuring your progress is a proven method in helping people to stay on track, reach certain targets and experience the feeling of achievement and continued motivation.

Achievable or Attainable

Decide weather your goal is achievable or attainable based upon the effort, time and other costs your goal will take, against the profits, other obligations and priorities you have in life.  Making sure your goal is achievable (even if it’s a long stretch) is an important factor to consider when goal setting. Make sure you have the tools or required elements at your disposal to start working towards your goal and be sure to plan ahead accordingly.

Realistic or Relevant

To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work.  While a low goal exerts low motivation, a high (whilst still achievable) goal can keep you motivated, as you will see regular progress over a longer time period. 


With no time frame tied to it, goals lose their sense of urgency and lower your motivation levels.“Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe, then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion to begin working on the goal.

Learn more about the best ways of training and motivating clients to reach their goals with our Complete Personal Trainer^ program.
Enquire now, or call 1300 616 180 today!

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