Life goals or fitness goals? Which ones do you set?
I recently went through a personal crisis. One that shook me pretty well, and one that made me reconsider whether fitness goals made any sense, and perhaps instead we should consider other type of goals.
I want to share this for two reasons: Firstly, if you follow my articles and my posts, and if you train with me, you might think I have it all figured out when it comes to health and fitness: the reality is that things are always ever changing, and not always perfect, because I’m human just like you. And secondly, I want you to learn from my experience and look to your own life for similar patterns that might take you down these sort of scary paths.
Are you ready to learn about it? Here it goes:
I started to hate going to the gym
Ok pause. I know what you might be thinking. Um…big deal.
True. If you’re not a gym person, or you don’t work out, this won’t phase you too much.
So I want you to put yourself in my shoes for a few seconds:
I am a personal trainer which means, if you go by the usual stereotypes, I’m supposed to loooove the gym! Others look up to me as the embodiment of health. Others listen to what I have to say. They trust me because of what I represent, and who I am. And if I don’t love the gym, how can I tell others to go to the gym??
What started like something pretty insignificant, turned into a full blown existential crisis. I started to doubt myself as a fitness leader. I started to feel like a hypocrite – here I was, telling people to go to the gym, when I myself no longer enjoyed it. What I was feeling and what I was saying started to be at odds with one another. All in all, I was in a really crappy place.
It soon became evident that I was at a crossroads. I had two choices: One, I could ignore these feelings, and keep going, forcing myself to hit the gym, pretending, just for the sake of it. Or, two, I could poke at it and try to understand what the hell was going on.
Here’s the thing – I didn’t become a personal trainer to do something I didn’t enjoy and didn’t believe in. (That’s what my corporate job was for.) I became a personal trainer to do something I loved. To go with the flow. And enjoy the journey. Even though I was now in this personal crisis of sorts.
I decided to go with option #2: to probe instead of ignore. I wanted to get to the bottom of two things: why it was that I hated the gym. And what it was that I REALLY wanted out of my fitness – that is, why I was exercising to begin with.
Getting out of the dark place
I realized two important things:
- I hated the gym because it was confining. In my head, it felt like the only way I could achieve “fitness” was through going to the gym and pumping a bunch of weights. And there’s a theme that has come up again and again in how I make my life choices: I like freedom. And equating fitness with gym was anything but that. Thus, I felt like I was failing as a fitness person because I was equating fitness with going to the gym.
- I understood why I wanted to be fit. When I first started exercising, I did it because I wanted to lose weight. Plain and simple. I wanted to lose my belly fat and look hot after having a baby. I wanted to be the hot mom that made everyone turn their heads. Shallow, I know, but that’s the truth. I worked hard and I achieved that “perfect” body. Then, when I started my business, I switched my focus to exercising because I wanted to play the part of the “personal trainer”. I figured my clients expected me to walk in to our sessions looking a certain way. I figured that when people heard that I was a “personal trainer” they expected me to look a certain way. So I equated the success of my business (and my worth!) to consistently exercising so I could look the part, and so I could uphold other people’s expectations. “I’m supposed to be this way or that way” became my mantra. It kept me going for a while, but eventually that wore out too. (That’s typically what happens when you do things to please others and when you do things because you feel like you’re ”supposed” to do them).
Now, when I examined it again, I found something different: I realized that I wanted to be fit and healthy so I can do stuff with my family: going hiking, going on bike rides, going to the swimming pool, playing at the playground. Stuff that was actually meaningful to me, that went beyond the “workout”.
Once I realized this, I felt a HUGE burden lift off my shoulders. If this is what I truly desired – if this was my life goal – to be able to do things with my family – why, I could achieve this in a myriad of different ways! I was no longer confined to the gym. I could do things outside. I could do those actual things that mattered to me: hikes, swimming pool, bike rides. And have them actually count as physical activity because they are! And also because they brought me joy! It was no longer about how many gym sessions I put in, or how much I weighed on the scale. I could drink that beer. Eat that hot dog. Indulge in that ice cream with my kid. As long as I was able to do the things that mattered to me, I was ok.
A new compass
This exploration led me to another important point: instead of focusing on fitness goals, what if we focused on life goals. Instead of “lose 20lbs”, what if our goals were “travel to a new country” or “have an active retirement”. What happened if our goals were more experiential, instead of dull, boring and confining. What if our goals were thrilling, and brought us joy, rather than force us to do things we don’t really want to be doing?
Does this resonate with you? Here’s what you can do:
- Take some time to write down 3 things that you want to be doing in your life. It’s ok for these things to be big and ambitious, and even impossible at this moment in time. Just allow yourself to dream.
- Ask yourself what’s preventing you from doing them – for me, there was nothing preventing me from doing active things with my family, and have them count as exercise. It was all in my head.
- Write down some things you want to learn how to do, and things that you want to get better at. They don’t have to be fitness or nutrition related.
- Ask yourself what from your physical activity regime, will help you with those things. For example, one client who wrote down her goal as being “to make more sound financial decisions” decided the mental clarity and focus she gained from fitness would help her with that goal.
This is the compass you can use moving forward. Keep in mind, also, that your compass will change. My compass started off as “lose the belly fat and be a hot mom”, then it switched to “play the personal trainer part” and now it’s “do stuff with family”. Each time, the compass felt right in the moment, and when it stopped being motivating, I knew it needed to change.
And most importantly, don’t do things just for the sake of doing them. If you’re feeling stuck, or unmotivated, or bored, chances are you need to do some exploring and figure out what’s going on.
The Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting – A blueprint for creating goals your actually want to achieve
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