Step 1 in getting started with reversal theory is to note that reversal theory is a general theory of psychology which utilises a structural phenomenological approach. In addition, the theory considers human behaviour to be inherently inconsistent and argues that reversals between paired metamotivational states form the basis of human personality, emotion and motivation (see Figure 2.1). Step 2 involves examining the basic features of reversal theory, and the technical terms they have been assigned, in more detail. Where examples have been provided to illustrate concepts from reversal theory, they have been taken from athletes' experience in sport.
Phenomenology is one of the major approaches in the study of psychology. It concentrates on the individual's subjective experience of life events. Structural phenomenology is the special form of phenomenology which is utilised by reversal theory. In structural phenomenology, the subjective experience of cognition and emotion, as well as one's own motivation, is thought to be influenced by certain structures and patterns. Thus, structural phenomenology provides a perspective on how human motivation is organised. Tied in with the individual focus of reversal theory is the notion that there is an inherent inconsistency in the way that people behave. In other words, an athlete who finds him or herself in the same situation on different occasions may behave in totally different ways.
Metamotivational states are mental states which are concerned with how athletes experience their motives. There are eight different metamotivational states bonded together in four pairs which co-exist separately within bistable systems. The concept of bistability has been adopted by reversal theory from cybernetics to explain the rapid changes or psychological reversals that take place backwards and forwards over time between any pair of metamotivational states. In cybernetics, a bistable system is one which tends to maintain a specified variable, despite external disturbance, within one or another of two ranges of values of the