Today’s blog post has been inspired by an impromptu conversation which a colleague and I struck up in the ladies’ room at work, having not seen each other for a while. Oh, don’t we ladies know how to make the most out of those precious 5 minutes away from our desks to have a good chinwag!
It went something like this:-
Colleague: Hmmm, I am feeling quite peckish, but lunchtime is still a long way away…
Me: Well, I happen to have brought two apples as a mid-morning snack, I am happy to share if you want one of them?
Colleague: Awww, you’re so good with all your healthy eating stuff and you look great as well, as always!
Me (slightly blushing having just realised that I may be perceived as a slight weirdo with two apples hanging out of my pockets): Awww, that’s very kind of you to say that, yes, I still love going to the gym and running, too!
Colleague: You’re sooo good, how do you keep up with all of that?!
Being very much accustomed to reactions like this, I muttered my usual nonchalant answer around genuinely enjoying the gym classes and running outdoors. However, after we parted, the question really started to bug me why only a relative minority of people are able to smash their fitness goals and maintain a lifestyle which preserves the positive results (with seemingly effortless and joyful ease); whilst others end up being stuck in the endless cycle of ‘trying again’ and never getting very far.
I happen to have quite a few friends and colleagues who have launched themselves into working towards a fitness goal, but then fell off the wagon, and ended up feeling frustrated, asking me what was wrong with them and why others like myself seem to be better at motivating themselves. If this resonates with you, especially in relation to your health and fitness goals, you have come to the right place!
I have quite a radical idea about why you may not be achieving your goals: it is because motivation and will-power based determination simply won’t cut it in the long run (even though they are useful to get you started on the ‘straight and narrow’ when you are trying to make a positive change in your life.) Lau Hanly who is a regular contributor on the Girls Gone Strong website has summed it up nicely why motivation and determination do not have a lasting power in our lives:-
‘Motivation is an emotion, and since we can’t sustain any intense emotion over a long period of time without serious burnout, relying on an emotion (i.e. motivation) for behaviour change is just setting ourselves up for failure’.
What I do believe is that the key to achieving success in all areas of your life is to align your goals and aspirations with your personal values. So on this basis, I believe that the key to success lies in pursuing your fitness goals in service to your values.
Let’s start with the basics – what are values? Many people think values are the same as ethics and virtues. However, values are much deeper than that – our values define what truly matters in our lives, the very things that give us purpose and keep us grounded like the roots of a tree. Our values therefore are a reflection who we are deep down, they guide us in how we respond to certain situations and the key decisions we make in life (e.g. who we marry; what we study at university; what career we pursue; whether we want to have children or not; what charitable causes we want to support; how we spend our free time and money; which political party we vote for, which religion we follow – if at all, and so on).
Identifying and living your values is one of the most powerful tools available to you to help you become the person you want to be, to help you accomplish your goals and dreams, and to help you lead and influence others. You may recognise a few of these people who have built their lives on their values, and as a result, left a life-transforming legacy in the world:-
Oprah Winfrey (believing in self and not allowing circumstances to dictate your life); Malala Yousafzai (education for women); Mother Theresa (service to others and compassion); Nick Vujicic (living without limits); Martin Luther King (equality and civil right for everyone)
Well, of course, no one is expecting you to become the next Mother Theresa or follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, however it is easy to see that when we align with our values on a daily basis, in all walks of life (e.g. work/career, health/wellbeing, family/home, handling our finances etc.), we have more energy and feel more fulfilled because we are leading from what is important to us. On the other hand though, when we do not align with our values, we feel less authentic and become demotivated which reflects in our failure to achieve any kind of goals.
So how can you apply this approach to achieving your fitness goal?
Let’s say you want to hit a certain number on the scale, because you want to look and feel better. You know exactly what you need to do in order to get there, because your doctor/personal trainer/Shaun T/the TV presenter on Channel 4 etc. gave you the formula for success:
…you need to make better food choices
…you need to eat less calories
…you need to go the gym more regularly
…you need to get adequate sleep
…you need to better manage stress in your life
…you need to quit unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol
…and so on!
You know what it takes to manage all of this… if you just got up an hour earlier to fit in a bootcamp workout before going to work; if you just headed to the running track after work instead of crashing out on the sofa at home with a bowl of Nachos; if you just took a bit of extra time to learn a few healthy recipes instead of relying on the convenience of take-aways; if you just picked up a protein shake instead of a glass of wine; if you just had all the time and willpower in the world…
I’ve got this!
Let’s face it, most of us simply cannot summon the will-power, energy and motivation to sustain these behaviours day in, day out (otherwise there would be more Zuzka Light’s and Daniel Craig’s walking down the street). We get stressed, we get tired and ill, we get swamped with work, we are needed by our families; ‘life happens’ and we get bogged down and forget we ever felt motivated. Besides, life likes to throw us curve-balls all the time, only to disrupt our carefully planned our approach to achieving our goals – and that’s when we are most likely to feel defeated and just give up.
But what if you approached your fitness goal differently, by shifting your focus on your deep-rooted values behind those goals, rather than being fixated on what you needed to/had to/should have done, which, let’s face it, can be really draining and even demotivating, as you are constantly psyched up on the deliverables.
Going back to my example, a values based approach to the weight loss goal is more likely to yield you results, if you start by asking yourself what are truly important to you at this stage in your life, and how losing weight could potentially help you achieve those things. The answers some people may come up with are, for example: –
- Spending quality time with your children is important to you – By keeping fit and not carrying too much extra weight, you will have more energy to keep up and play with them.
- Serving your local community is very close to your heart which you want to continue to do as long as you can – In order for you to remain mobile and functional as you age (instead of needing to be pushed around in a wheel chair as a passive ‘observer’) you need to keep your weight under control to prevent many obesity related illnesses that could stop you from serving.
- You love travelling and exploring new places with your partner because sharing these experiences bring you closer together – So by keeping fit and keeping the excess weight off, you will be physically able to do some pretty cool stuff together and grow as a couple.
- Your career in the army/police force/RAF is your calling – Being fit and being a healthy weight is a requirement for you to be able to pursue a long term career in these type of jobs.
The values I used above to illustrate my point are related to family/independence/having fun/career as the driving force being the weight loss goal. Of course, you may come up with different ones, because each one of us have a different set of values, and these may also change as we move through different stages of life and as we encounter different experiences and influences. Also, there are no ’right’ or ‘wrong’ values that drive a fitness goal; the bottom line is that you are connected to what brings you fulfilment!
My own fitness pursuits (both indoors and outdoors) are directly fuelled by some of the values I hold dear:
- Taking pride in hard work (I think ‘talent’ is overrated, quite frankly);
- Being strong and resilient;
- Pursuing beauty and adventure;
- Freedom and self-sufficiency;
- Wellbeing and health;
- Self-care and looking great (aka overcoming ageing gracefully!)
Keeping fit and remaining in good shape help me live out some of my values, which in turn make feel good about myself and at peace; and if I feel good about myself, I can give more back to the world and have more fulfilling relationships!
If you have not thought much about what your values are, this may a good time to start doing that. Carl Jung the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist said that
‘Those who look outside dream, those who look inside awake’
So imagine how your life could change if you awakened yourself by tapping into the power of your core values, and let them guide you in whatever type of goal you have set out to achieve?
The best advice I can give you to uncover your own values is as follows (I am borrowing the wisdom of a colleague of mine):-
- Reflect on your experiences
When you are feeling emotions frequently, notice them and think about the possible root causes. For example when you feel frustrated, annoyed or upset, then it normally means one of your core values is being stepped on by someone or something. (E.g. you may be feeling frustrated when you are consistently asked to work late and you value spending your evening with friends/family.) Equally, when you feel happy, excited, or proud, it can mean that one of your core values is being honoured in some way. (E.g. feeling happy when someone thanks you for your hard work if you value recognition).
- When you are clear on what you don’t want, think about what you do want
Then go and talk to people who can help and support you make the change you are seeking!
- Accept who you are
For example, I have learned that I am someone who thrives on having fun and engaging in hobbies. This value became especially important to me after I realised in my mid-twenties how much I missed out on by spending most of my childhood, teenage- and young adult years burying myself into studying and work, and not allowing myself to have much fun at all, due to my strong sense of ‘duty’ and ‘conscientiousness’. I used to think that it was wrong to place so much emphasis on having fun indefinitely, I thought I must draw the line somewhere and just ‘grow up’ and focus on some more ‘serious’ and ‘adult’ stuff. I feared I was selfish, shallow, and un-Christian; I felt I failed people closest to me, and I felt guilty, desperately trying to do the ‘right’ thing.
Now I look at this value differently, after spending a lot of time in prayerful reflection: I know that by prioritising time to recharge my batteries through relaxing and fun activities (which also happen to include running and going to the gym), I can function much better and be a better friend, wife, and hopefully one day a better mother, because I know way too well from my own experience that not placing enough importance on these things would make me feel burnt out, fed up, impatient and not very nice to be around in general!
So please do not try to change who you are because you will only end up bruising yourself – really badly. Someone once said that ‘Values are not like laws – you cannot break them. You can only break yourself against them.’
I hope you found this article interesting and useful. If you would like to read more articles like this, please sign up to my email list and connect with me on Twitter @TrainStrongBlog and Facebook: www.facebook.com/trainstrongtolivestrong.