People who have negative thoughts are less likely to get themselves to the gym, according to a new study. In other words, thinking, “Why bother?” is certainly not a good way to motivate yourself to get off the couch.
The researchers examined over 800 Americans in an online study, asking them whether they believed in a “just world” (the belief that their positive actions will lead to constructive results that improve their lives). Participants who didn’t believe in a just world were more likely to not exercise, the researchers found, compared to those who did believe in a just world. This was especially true for people who were already overweight or obese and had experienced weight discrimination in the past, hanging onto a “what’s the point” mindset.
People who accept weight discrimination and negative views of themselves end up perpetuating the bad cycle, believing that they’re lazy and won’t amount to anything. “When someone feels bad about themselves and is applying negative stereotypes to themselves, they give up on their goals,” Rebecca Pearl, a researcher at Yale University and author of the study, said. What this might be is a form of internalized oppression, when people internalize negative stereotypes directed at them, which then make them perform less effectively. Internalized oppression has been described in several different studies, including one in which women who identified themselves as students at an elite college consistently scored better than similar women who identified themselves simply as women.
“Threats to belief in a just world may lead to negative outcomes for health behaviors and psychological well-being among individuals who have experienced weight bias and perceive it to be pervasive,” the authors write in the conclusion. But this “why try” effect can be diminished by analyzing your beliefs and accepting the notion that believing your actions can and will be constructive. Life may not always be fair, and the world may not always be just — but your personal actions to better yourself are an individual effort that should not be influenced by societal pressures or internalized oppression.