What’s Your Why?
I went to TJ Maxx the day after Christmas (big mistake) and noticed that the exercise clothes had been moved to the front of the store, smack dab right in front of your face. It was an immediate reminder that the gym is about to get packed, and I need to leave more than 30 seconds before class to find parking. New Year’s Resolution season is upon us.
We’ve all heard that the majority of people that set resolutions don’t follow through with them, especially regarding exercise. In fact, we’ve all probably set New Year’s resolutions that we’ve forgotten about by February. It seems like New Year’s resolutions get a bad reputation and people make more fun of people for setting them rather than supporting each other. Heck, retailers even know this and are trying to capitalize on our short-lived intentions.
I love and embrace change, so I enjoy New Year’s resolutions. I like talking about them with other people and setting my own. I think we should celebrate anytime of year that motivates us to become better versions of ourselves. I’ve found that the people that follow through with resolutions have a meaningful “why” behind their goal and their motivation is more intrinsic than extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is defined as, “Acting without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.” On the flipside, extrinsic motivation involves an external stimulation that drives you to change or continue your chosen behaviors. “The motivating factors are external, or outside, rewards such as money or recognition. These rewards provide satisfaction and pleasure that the task itself may not provide.”
Motivation is a widely studied topic, especially in regards to exercise. It’s easy to list 10 reasons why you “should” exercise, but it is probably much harder to list 10 reasons why you “want” to exercise. Children provide the best example of an intrinsic motivation towards exercise. They will exercise (aka run around playing) for hours, simply because it makes them happy. Research has shown that the more intrinsic the motivation, the greater the chance of sticking with a behavior. While extrinsic motivation may get you started and help you develop short-term adherence, intrinsic motivation is what will keep you going long term (Teixeira et al., 2012). A New Year’s Resolution might start as being extrinsically motivated, but the key to long-term change is finding how to develop intrinsic motivation for that behavior.
Here are some tips to help you develop intrinsic motivation and to convert that New Year’s Resolution into long-term behavior change:
Do something you enjoy.
This one is first, because it is most important. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, it will be very difficult to continue doing it long term. You don’t have to absolutely love every part of the activity, but some part of it needs to bring you joy. For example, I enjoy lifting weights, but I don’t like every exercise involving weights (I’m looking at you overhead squats). I still know that I enjoy lifting weights, in general, so I keep doing it. There are so many ways to move your body, so you will be able to find something you enjoy. Remember, it is about what brings you joy, so don’t compare yourself to other people.
Get involved in your training.
Instead of passively coming to class and just going through the motions, become actively involved in your training. Set goals that are important to you. Share those goals with the coaches and ask how they can support you. If you want to be able to do a pull-up, learn about what types of movements will improve your strength to perform that movement. Add those movements into your weekly routine, either before or after class. Also, ask questions in class, so you can better understand why you’re doing certain exercises. I promise Dan has a method to his madness, just ask and start soaking up the knowledge
Master the basics.
Learning how to do the basic moves for any activity will increase your confidence and enjoyment. The first time I went to a Zumba class, I felt like a complete fool. I was going the wrong way for most of the class. After learning some basic cues and moves, I was able to stop thinking so much and actually enjoyed the class. I still don’t think I look like I know what I’m doing, but I just avoid looking in the mirrors. A good place to start for GF Strength and Conditioning classes it to master the squat and the push-up. If you want to get stronger and learn the basics of lifting free weights, you should checkout the Free Weight Foundations class on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6:30-7:30pm. You can go to 8 classes a month for just $50!
Set and celebrate small goals.
Did you just do a front squat with a barbell for the first time? That’s awesome! Celebrate that accomplishment. Setting big goals has its purpose, but smaller more realistic goals will help keep you motivated along the way. If jump roping isn’t something you are naturally good at, then don’t tell yourself you are going to do 200 jumps in a row. Sure, you can work up to that, but how about aiming for 25 jumps first? Then you can work up to 50 and so on. Make sure you recognize these wins. Your accomplishments are a big deal and will help you develop the desire to keep improving your skills. If you’re comfortable sharing your accomplishments with the coaches and other athletes in class, please let us all know. We want to support and celebrate you!
Recognize the way exercise makes you feel.
We’ve heard about mindful eating, basically listening to your body and paying attention to what it’s experiencing while eating. Try to do the same thing while exercising. Identify how you’re feeling before, during and after the entire workout. There may be some negative feelings associated with the workout (aka burpees), but there may also be times that you feel really good. Maybe you feel strong after doing a push press or your heart beating quickly makes you feel energetic and alive. You may have come into class tired and stressed, but leave with a mood and energy boost. Hold onto those positive feelings and remember them when you feel like just giving up or are trying to convince yourself to go to class. Remember, at some point throughout the workout, you will feel good and it will be worth it.
Your motivations will likely change throughout the years, and these tips can be applied to many aspects of your life. I used to love running, but my knees didn’t agree with me. When I injured myself running , I had to dig really deep to find my “why” again and to develop new intrinsic motivations for exercise. I still enjoyed moving for the most part, but I deeply missed that sense of accomplishment that came from finishing a run and being outside. But, I understood that I needed to take care of my body if I wanted to continue to move it for the rest of my life. I started lifting weights and seriously enjoyed the feeling of being strong. I changed my “why” and found new ways to motivate myself. Now, I move my body in all sorts of ways for many different reasons:
I go to yoga to stretch my body, release the tension in my hips and feel amazing for the rest of the day. Do I have to do it? No, but I do it weekly, because I enjoy the feeling.
I walk to enjoy nature, soak up some vitamin D, listen to an audiobook and explore new places.
I lift weights to be strong, so I don’t have to rely on other people to lift things for me. If I want to arrange furniture in my house, I can.
I swim to allow myself time to think and reconnect with an activity from my childhood that I enjoy doing.
I run to remind myself how great it feels to move my body quickly. Then I stop after a couple miles, because I know that’s all my body can handle.
I do burpees, because I can and I love feeling accomplished afterwards.
I go to GF Strength and Conditioning classes to meet new people, learn new exercises and leave with a smile on my face.
I challenge you to write down your “why” for any New Year’s Resolutions you set and to determine if your motivation is intrinsic vs. extrinsic. Remember, it’s ok to get started with extrinsic motivation, but try to use these tips and any other strategies that work for you to find internal motivation. Your future self will thank you when you’re still doing the positive behavior many years down the road!