The Secret to Fitness Success: You Gotta Want It
I am going to share with you a trainer secret - all of my clients see me because they want to get something out of their training. Big secret, right? I say this a little tongue in cheek, but I don't really have any clients who come to me to chit-chat for 60 minutes while doing a couple of squats (I just try to be good at making it seem that way). ;) Everyone has a goal of some sort, and my most important job is knowing what that goal is.
But here's the thing: While everyone has a goal, not everyone has a motivator. What the heck does this mean? If you have a goal, you're motivated, right? WRONG. Making goals is super easy. I have a goal this year to pay off my car. There, that was easy! Goal...check! But the bigger question is WHY? For me, now that I've hit my 30's, I've been hit by the security train. A lot of recent choices in my life, from the type of car I bought to financial goals to my home security system purchase, have to do with security. I guess that's something you start thinking more about when your invincible 20's end. So my motivation is financial security - I don't want to have to worry about money in my future, so my goal is to aggressively save now.
When it comes to fitness, this is the time of year when goals are flying left and right. Lose 20 pounds. Stop smoking. Stop swearing (I gave up on that one about 2 years ago...). Stop making too many goals (check!). But why are people making these goals?
Before I was a trainer, I was a psych major at Michigan, and one of the biggest take-home messages about the human psyche is goals work a heck of a lot better when they are motivated by intrinsic factors (i.e., things that are important to YOU) as opposed to extrinsic factors. For me, financial security makes me feel safe, happy, content, driven...these are all internal factors that don't come from guilt, a commercial, a spouse (been there, done that), a worried family member, etc.
The same is true in fitness. We know we are "supposed" to exercise and eat right - Dr. Oz and every other "expert" has made this beyond clear. But can this really sustain someone to keep up the habit? (Survey says no!) Are these experts holding our hand every day on the way to the gym, making sure we do all of our exercises and don't wuss out and call it quits early? Do they make sure that we eat at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day? If our motivation lies in a bunch of shoulda-coulda-wouldas, I can almost guarantee you that your fitness goals are going to last about as long as this darn hipster beard (in fact, I think the hipster beard might outlast them).
It's fine to set a goal because you know you should - that's half of what being an adult is being about. But every goal you set, whether it's fitness or otherwise, absolutely has to have an INTRINSIC MOTIVATOR if it's at all important for you to achieve it. And don't let anyone tell you what your intrinsic motivator should be (because then it wouldn't be very intrinsic anymore, would it?).
I will share some of my motivators...you will see that some are kinda heavy, while others are totally not (in no particular order):
1. I want to look good in my clothes. Period. I have absolutely zero shame in saying this. And by "good" I mean, my own definition of what makes me feel happy in my clothes. Not any current trend in bubble butts, big boobs, or whatever else is trending right now. (How the hell do body parts trend, anyways?) Which brings me to #2...
2. I struggled for years with an extremely debilitating eating disorder. I literally thought about food every waking moment. (Unfortunately, that is not an exaggeration, as much as I wish it could be.) At times, doctors suggested I try antidepressants. I'm not gonna lie, they made me feel like s***. I remember going to Metro Beach and having to sit down on a bench and "take a rest" like I was 100 years old and promptly falling asleep in the car on the way home. Exercise, particularly cardio, is my Prozac. It works like a charm for me, and helps me stay fit to boot. (Disclaimer: I fully acknowledge that some people need antidepressants or other psychological medications to feel good, and that's awesome. I'm just sharing my own experiences.)
3. My dad died of pancreatic cancer when I was 23. I exercise because I want to be as fit and healthy as I possibly can and I learned the hard way that not everyone can exercise. I exercise because I am blessed to have an able body that moves and I honor that by moving frequently.
4. Moment of truth: I hated gym all throughout school. That's right, your trainer hated gym class! Horrors! I honestly went so far in middle school as to be an "office aide" and "counselor aide" and then got through 9th grade required gym by running the mile as fast as I could to make up for my inability to throw free throws or serve a volleyball. (I was damn good at badmitton, though!) Speaking of which, apparently the struggle with free throws even plagues collegiate athletes, like this dude:
Case in point: "Fitness" motivated by grades (or anything else external) is not a great motivator. I only took up other forms of fitness through my love of figure skating, enjoyment of running on the track, and an awesome roommate who introduced me to the gym in college (thanks, Mo!). I soon discovered an entire world of fun cardio (Zumba!), weights, and eventually Pilates. This is my playtime. Now I am motivated by the desire to do things my 16-year-old self thought she couldn't do. Too often we act like we are set in stone once we reach about 30, but the truth is, you can mold yourself into whoever you might like to be (it might not happen quite as quickly, but it's still possible). Some of my most kick-a** clients are learning stuff at 65 and 72 that would put 20-year-olds to shame (and they are not former athletes, either). They make me so darn proud, and it comes from their internal love to learn new stuff and never ever be content saying, "I'm too old for that."
So it's time for a little self-reflection. You probably know why you are working with a trainer, exercising, or even just reading about fitness in general. These are your goals, and they are super important to have. But what motivates you? What gets your butt to the gym? What makes you pop in that exercise DVD? What makes you lace up your tennies and go for a run? Make sure you can answer this question and, more importantly, make sure your answer is something that comes from within, not from someone or something else. This is the secret to fitness success, and, eventually, finding love in fitness.