WHY do you work out? What is your reason? Who is it for?
Why do you work out?
Working out to lose weight? Working out to get ripped? Maybe you work out because your doctor said it would be beneficial for you to lose weight for health concerns, or maybe your partner thinks you’ll be happier if you workout. Are you working out for the bikini season? Or, maybe you’re working out because you know you should. Do any of these sound familiar? They do to us. They sound like great reasons, don’t they?
Well, here’s the truth, they don’t work long term, none of them. Even the seemingly pure motives like “I work out so I don’t have another heart attack,” don’t work long term. They may be great starting points and they may motivate a whole whirlwind of home gym shopping and membership contracts, but long term, for MOST people they’re not effective. This is research-based science. Mind-blowing, right?
Here’s why. These reasons are usually extrinsically evolved, meaning they come from somewhere outside of ourselves even if you can’t see it on the surface. “I really want to lose 20lbs,” a totally realistic goal for yourself. But ask yourself why. For most people, those answers sound something like, “well I want to look good in my bathing suit this summer” or, “that guy is so jacked and he has everything, I can do that” or, “well my doctor said it will help get my blood pressure down” even, “I want to be able to keep up with my kids.” These are all why’s based on something else…someone else. They get you into this high motivation bubble that makes you want to go to the gym or start running and you will probably until your kid is sick and needs to be picked up from school, and work gets busy, and you run out of time. Then your bubble bursts and for many of us judgment sets in and you settle in on “welp I tried.”
It’s a vicious cycle and it happens to ALL of us. Here’s the thing, by creating these “why’s” based on wants and values outside of ourselves we are contaminating our motivation with what we “should” be doing. Cognitive dissonance sets in and research shows that we’re actually motivated to rebel against things that challenge our freedom.
So, the ultimate question; How do we change our why? Well like all good things in life, it’s not easy, it takes patience and permission (from yourself). We’ve taken some cues from Michelle Segar, a behavioral scientist who has made her life’s mission to conquer this. Segar works with individuals on a one-on-one basis to help create physical activity habits. Here are some steps you can take:
How do we change our WHY?
1. Focus on today’s feelings.
Goals like, “I want to lose 20 lbs” and, “I want to workout to lower my blood pressure” are considered future health goals. For some people, these work great, but for most, they don’t. Our society has taught us to value immediate success and results (a WHOLE blog topic for another day) but we can use it to our advantage here. When you work out start to become aware of how it’s affecting your day, today. Do you have more energy? Were you more creative at work? Easy tempered? Willing to be more helpful? Feel fuc%ing awesome?! Or maybe it’s something else, whatever it is, notice it. Maybe even journal about it or write a sticky note on your desk. Notice it.
2. Walking around the block to grab your lunch… Count it!
Recently, in the CDC’s 2018 physical activities guidelines were updated to include… you guessed it, everything! That means a 5-minute walk with your dog, a 4 minute Tabata, or parking your car a little farther away at the grocery counts. COUNT IT. Own it. Believe in that. Our society has taught us to believe that a workout means: sweat a lot, work super hard, breathe heavily, crawl around on the floor when you’re done, be sore, etc. It’s just not true. Take the small accomplishments and love yourself for those. Michelle Segar challenges her clients to not change their habits or their daily routine in the beginning but to recognize that a 5-minute walk around the block in the morning with their dog is a workout. Start there. “That builds confidence and makes people want to do more which makes them feel even better and often graduate to the next level,” heard on the Art of Manliness Podcast.
3. Figure out YOUR WHY.
Start with the question, what does physical activity mean to you? Is it a chore or a gift? Start to develop some self-awareness around why you’re working out, to begin with. If you’re like a lot of people in the world and air towards the side of a chore, you’re not alone. Finding enjoyment in “today’s feelings” and starting small will help. But these questions require you to search deep and find out the REAL reason behind why you want to lose 20lbs or look great in bikini season.
4. Make exercise learning-based and not performance or achievement-based.
Performance and achievement-based exercise are the 20lb weight loss goals or fit into your favorite jeans. You’re aiming for something. Gahh…so much pressure! And, Segar’s research shows this is a less effective way to go about exercise. Instead, opt to learn (mostly about yourself). So, instead of “I missed my 20-minute bike ride this morning – darn, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just get up a little earlier and get on my bike? It’s not that hard Joey does it every day.” Try this, “Hm, I missed my 20-minute bike ride this morning. What can I do differently tomorrow to make it happen?” Be gentle with yourself and be willing to negotiate! It is not an all-or-nothing package deal, things rarely are!
The gist, be really clear about whether your intention is yours or it’s out of some type of should. This whole article is basically a summary of Michelle Segar’s research and experience working in the field. Check out her book and website if you want to learn more!