It’s not always about the Science

On occasion, I get asked to speak to groups about my experiences with Spastic Cerebral Palsy.  In the fall of 2013,  I stood in front of a group of health and fitness professionals and delivered a presentation about my fitness and walking program.  I spoke about why I started the program, provided examples of evidence-based methods that have been used to advance the work, and offered a glimpse of the “science” behind the approaches, routines, and daily workouts.  During the question-and-answer period, an audience member asked “What keeps you going?”

I’m not an expert on subjects such as Cardiovascular Health or Kinesiology. I do not have a complete understanding of the science.  What I did know and what prompted me to act was that my personal situation had to change.  I was losing mobility, was in pain, and I needed to take control of my circumstances.

I also knew what I didn’t know.  I was acutely aware that I did not have the prerequisite knowledge to start to break down old patterns of movement to build new patterns.

When I started, raw and intense feelings of fear and a need to change pushed me forward.  At the time, information about the theories and hypotheses about movement, mind-body connections, and how it all fit together did not interest me.  Pain — a feeling, not academic theories or evidence — caused me to engage and propelled me to act.

I read an article by Annie Murphy Paul called “The science of interest: pioneering research reveals a secret ingredient for fostering real learning.” The article defines the concept of interest and its link to learning.  The author reviews research and strategies to help librarians foster learning with youth.

I was attracted to the article’s premise about developing personal interest and engagement. Paul calls interest “a psychological state of engagement,” and describes a “push- pull” impulse that results in learning and action. [1] I can picture and attest to experiencing that “push –pull” phenomena.  The push is the need to move forward.  The pull is that stagnant state, where a person confronts the question, “Am I really ready to move forward?”

For me, my push-pull impulse centered around the idea that I had used one method of movement – using crutches or assistive devices – for over thirty years.  I knew that approach was no longer working.  The approach that has been helpful for over three decades was now causing me intolerable pain.  My presented options were few – I could continue to use crutches and deal with pain or I could create my own alternatives.  Was I ready?  What alternative would I choose?

Annie Murphy Paul uses the term “invigorated”, when she describes a person who engages. As I read the article, a line in her piece resonated with me: “when we are interested in the task, we work harder and persist longer.” [2]

Physical pain caused me to engage – the unyielding feeling started a process. I had to work through the “push – pull” phase of “Should I proceed to change how I move?” to start to actually pay attention, engage, and have interest.

Paul makes the point that when there is a clear and present interest few alternatives may actually exist. [3]  In my situation, after coming through the “push-pull” phase, I only had two choices.  The first choice was to remain in pain and use more restrictive assistive devices to manage the level of pain.  The second choice was to get interested and start to find answers and make changes to stop it.  I chose the second option.

Paul’s article discusses the process of engagement as a “catch and hold event”. [4]   A person’s interest has to be captured and sustained.  The “catch” for me was the idea that I could actually make changes that would stop the pain.

Paul’s article eloquently details the “a-ha moment” when a person moves to a state of persistent attention; where the “catch” of their curiosity has been successful and learning occurs because there is sustained interest.
When I learned I was capable of changing a very unpleasant state, I became interested in the science.  I started to study the theories and approaches suggested by the health and fitness professionals.  The theories and approaches became more understandable, logical, and digestible once I was engaged and ready to learn.

I had to see examples of the theory.  I had to visually see a movement to start to attach the premise to the exercise.  When people showed me what to do and linked the theory to practice, that was the “hold” in the “catch and hold,” phenomena; when I understood and was able to adopt and own the scientific theories.

The answer to the question “What keeps you going?” is simple. It is the “catch and hold” principle that Annie Murphy Paul describes.  I was initially “caught” by pain and fear.  The “hold” came through the exploration of options; when I put the science and theory into actual practice. I relate to it and want to see and feel what happens next.


[1]Paul, A. M. (2013, November). The science of interest: pioneering research reveals a secret ingredient for fostering real learning. School Library Journal, 59(11), 24+.
[2] Paul, A. M. (2013, November). The science of interest: pioneering research reveals a secret ingredient for fostering real learning. School Library Journal, 59(11), 24+.
[3] Paul, A. M. (2013, November). The science of interest: pioneering research reveals a secret ingredient for fostering real learning. School Library Journal, 59(11), 24+.
[4] Paul, A. M. (2013, November). The science of interest: pioneering research reveals a secret ingredient for fostering real learning. School Library Journal, 59(11), 24+.

This article were originally published in the “Endless CapABILITIES Blog”, and National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, sponsored by The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (www.nchpad.org). NCHPAD is part of the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative and supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U59DD000906 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One thought on “It’s not always about the Science”

  1. Once again, a great article!!! I like the concept of the ‘push – pull’ process. Reading the definition, an interesting concept. That you became interested in the theories and approaches and incorporated them in your work is commendable. And to be reminded that there are options. I know I cannot imagine your circumstance – the challenges, fears, pain, and HARD EARNED SUCCESSES. You are a strong woman!!!

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