After nearly a decade as a fitness professional I’ve come to understand some universal truths about exercise. One of those truths is that you must have goals and clarity about why you want to achieve them. I’ve asked over a thousand people what their goals are and these are the top 3 responses:
Improve body composition
Get out of pain
What do these 3 responses tell us about the general state of people? That they have poor body image, they’re in a recurrent state of fatigue, and regularly in pain. It’s not a pretty picture.
Another universal truth I’ve learned is that none of the above can be achieved without consistency. By that I’m not referring to weeks or months, but years upon years of these goals being present in your mind. That is a tall order… if you’re not enjoying the process.
Goals create the mental framework for how you approach and think about your training. The right goal can function as the “big domino,” setting off a chain reaction and capturing all your other goals in its wake. The “big domino” goal you’re missing is:
“I WANT TO LOVE EXERCISE.”
“Why love? How about enjoy?”
Enjoy seems easier to wrap one’s head around. But you don’t make time for things you just enjoy. Think about things you enjoy versus things that you love. I enjoy going to the movies - I saw less than 5 movies in theater last year. I LOVE reading before bed - I read around 20 books last year. I LOVE coffee - I make time for it every morning (I’ll skip a shower if I’m desperate). Time is never an issue for the things you love.
Loving exercise can feel unnatural to say the least but we all know these people. They describe a morning run the same way you imagine a day at the spa. It can sound insane. I understand that sentiment as I was once hated exercise. In my freshman year of high school I tried out for the football team. At the time I was significantly overweight and inactive. Part of tryouts included “Hell Week.” It was as advertised. The first day ended with sprints. Or so I heard, about halfway through the workout I took a bathroom break, hid in the stall, and never came back. Out of 50+ kids I was the only one who felt sorry enough for themself to hide. I now regularly think of exercise as one of my favorite times of day (before kid and wife it was always number 1).
Coming to love exercise wasn’t an overnight transformation - it typically play out as follows:
Hate → Tolerate → Enjoy → Love
So, how do you navigate your way through the spectrum of hate → love?
That brings us back to our first universal truth - you must have goals and clarity about why you want to achieve them. That will allow you to move from hate to tolerate and evokes one of my all time favorite quotes,
“He who has a why can bear almost any how.” - Friedrich Nietzche
If you want something bad enough, ie: improve body composition, increase energy, get out of pain, you’ll be willing to tolerate something you previously hated. Then if your exercise regimen is progressed correctly (big plug to work with a professional), over time you will come to enjoy not just the progress you’re making but the empowerment from understanding what your body is capable of.
Finally, how do you move from enjoyment to love? To answer that we have to first consider what about exercising is worth loving? This may require stripping away what drove you to exercise in the first place, which for most, was vanity. The pursuit of improving your body composition is ultimately never ending. It’s not unlike the goal of, “being rich,” or “increasing your presence and influence on social media.” How do you determine when it’s enough? In my experience, you don’t. The more you get the more you want.
If you want to make exercise a permanent part of your life - you must understand what is worth loving about it. You can love the stress release, you can love the intellectual demand of being present in your body, you can love the mental clarity following a workout, or discovering your capabilities and learning to objectively observe your failures and successes. If you are able to do all or any of the above you’ll come to learn the love that is had from living up to your own ideal. Use this language with others and most importantly with yourself. When someone asks why you exercise, give the right answer, “Because I love it.”
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”