The latest issue of The Journal of Applied Sport Psychology is focused on single-subject research design. This is a valuable methodology of inquiry where the impact of various interventions can be precisely monitored over time. The journal shares innovations in research methodology as well as a few current studies in sport psychology.
Reading academic journals is not a common form of relaxation for most, yet taking a moment to understand a basic principle of single subject design can help you maximize your exercise behaviors. Sometimes through either divine fitness inspiration or shear frustration with one’s sloth-like self, a myriad of wellness behaviors are all adopted at once. A new diet filled with fruit, vegetables, and fish. Four days a week of cardio and resistance training. Taking the stairs on the way up and elevator on the way down. And the replacement of the office chair with a physio-ball. With such an extreme lifestyle makeover you will certainly reap all of the physical and psychological benefits of exercise… right? It certainly seems likely, but is it all really necessary? Is it all sustainable? It is these two questions that suggest adopting a researcher’s mindset when you embrace wellness behaviors.
Unless dramatic, transformational lifestyle change is the medical prescription, adding a single new fitness behavior at a time will provide a more precise and positive approach. Single subject research design requires this approach due to the insights it gleans. Make a solitary change and commit to it for a fair amount of time (6+ weeks seems appropriate) and you will have a clear indication of its impact in your life. Engage in multiple behavior changes at once and the impact of each is unclear. The value of each change is lost in the haze. This is not to say that multiple life changes are not in order, but that committing to them in a patient orderly way will increase your exercise efficacy. He is how to approach fitness with a shrewd researcher's mind:
1. Choose to change one thing for your health and well-being.
2. Monitor weekly how this change is impacting your life – rating your energy level, quality of sleep, level of stress, and/or mobility are some good markers to consider. Maintaining a fitness journal is a nice approach to this.
3. After six to eight weeks, review your monitoring and appreciate if and how your one lifestyle change has impacted you.
4. Lastly take steps forward. Continue this activity if it was beneficial. Modify the activity if its benefits were a bit murky, but you believe another go at it will lead to greater benefit.
5. When ready, adopt one more new healthy behavior and marvel at its impact.
Thinking a bit like a scientist when choosing and doing fitness leads to three C’s that are important in the mental game. First you are given greater confidence in your activities, allowing you to trust their benefit and freeing you up to enjoy the experience. Next a single change at a time approach provides clarity. The steps necessary to take are focused and easy to wrap your mind around. Lastly, long term commitment is more likely. One change at time does not turn one’s life upside down and is a digestible exercise diet. In your exercise life, keep it simple and allow habits to take root – confidence, clarity, and commitment will follow.
Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos Sport Psychology Consulting and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Boston University’s School of Education. He has a decade and a half of experiences working with professional through amateur athletes – of note: US Open competitors, NCAA champions, Olympians, Stanley Cup winners, and UFC martial artists. Beyond sports, over the past five years he has served as a corporate performance and wellness consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.