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Future-oriented self-perceptions, or possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986), represent how individuals think about their potential and their future. To explore the cognitive processes involved in the decision to exercise, the possible selves of 203 middle-aged women from a university community, representing a range of exercise behaviors, were examined. Comparisons were made of possible selves identified by participants across levels of exercise behavior, and the ability of possible selves to discriminate exercisers from nonexercisers was examined. Group differences were most evident in possible selves related to body image, with hoped-for and feared selves more likely to be described by inactive individuals than by their more active counterparts. The self-regulatory mechanisms of self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, and importance discriminated nonexercisers from exercisers, particularly long-term exercisers. Findings support the conclusion that possible selves related to exercise is a useful construct for examining the process of behavioral change and for planning future exercise interventions.
The author is with the Dept. of Human Services, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904.