Finding Motivation to Change

If you are ever interested in what motivates people to change, weight loss is a great example. While we all agree that eating less and exercising more are the keys to losing weight, we probably don’t all agree on just how that is accomplished.

According to Dr. Linda Solbrig, from the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, that is just the point.  As she explains, “Most people agree that in order to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise more, but in many cases, people simply aren’t motivated enough to heed this advice – however much they might agree with it.”

The solution, suggests Solbrig, is to let people come up with their own solutions.

Functional Imagery Training (FIT) does just that. FIT is a type of training that makes use of multisensory imagery to explore changes by teaching clients how to elicit and practice motivational imagery themselves. Everyday behaviors and optional app support are used to cue imagery practice until it becomes a cognitive habit.

Comparing FIT to Motivational Interviewing (MI) – a technique that sees a counsellor support someone to develop, highlight and verbalize their need or motivation for change, and their reasons for wanting to change – Solbrig and her team recruited 141 participants, who were allocated either to a FIT group or a MI group. Maximum contact time was four hours of individual consultation, and neither group received any additional dietary advice or information.

So which technique was more effective? Users of FIT lost 4.3cm more around their waist circumference in six months – and continued to lose weight after the intervention had finished. Specifically, after six months people who used the FIT intervention lost an average of 4.11kg, compared with an average of 0.74kg among the MI group; and six months after the intervention had finished, the FIT group continued to lose weight, with an average of 6.44kg lost compared with 0.67kg in the MI group (Solbrig et al, 2018).

Solbrig explains, “It’s fantastic that people lost significantly more weight on this intervention, as, unlike most studies, it provided no diet/physical activity advice or education. People were completely free in their choices and supported in what they wanted to do, not what a regimen prescribed.”

Instead, FIT comes in with the key aim of encouraging someone to come up with their own imagery of what change might look and feel like to them, how it might be achieved and kept up, even when challenges arise.

Some of the strategies used as part of FIT included asking participants questions like: “What would losing weight enable you to do that you can’t do now? What would that look / sound / smell like?”

Then, participants were encouraged to use all their senses. Professor Jackie Andrade, Professor in Psychology at the University of Plymouth, is one of the co-creators of FIT, explains: “FIT is based on two decades of research showing that mental imagery is more strongly emotionally charged than other types of thought. It uses imagery to strengthen people’s motivation and confidence to achieve their goals, and teaches people how to do this for themselves, so they can stay motivated even when faced with challenges. We were very excited to see that our intervention achieved exactly what we had hoped for and that it helped our participants achieve their goals and most importantly to maintain them.”