So January is behind us now…the month of “new year, new you.” Did you set goals for your health and fitness this year? If so, and you’re like most of us, the enthusiasm has already waned. Life takes over, change is difficult, information overloads us. We all want to be healthy and fit – even achieve an epic goal such as completing a triathlon, obstacle race, or running event. But what does it really take to make those goals a reality? Two things: smart goal setting, and self-acceptance.
At first glance, these two concepts seem contradictory. If you accept yourself as you are, why set goals for improvement?
I believe that goal setting and self-acceptance are actually essential companions. In other words, accepting yourself as you are today is vitally important to keeping yourself on track, and especially getting back on track when things, inevitably, don’t go as planned.
I’ve written before about SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Timely. When your goal doesn’t have all of these qualities, it’s often a recipe for failure. I’m not a huge believer in the “dream big” philosophy; rather, I understand how the brain responds to success and achievement. Every time we succeed at something, accomplish something we set out to do, or move out of our comfort zone, even just a little, we get a hit of feel-good brain chemicals as a reward. And that reward is incredibly powerful. Not meeting a high-reaching “dream goal” has the opposite effect, and we give up, feeling like a failure.
This effect demonstrates the power of “process” vs. “outcome” goals. Process goals are based on actions we take ourselves – where we are in control. Outcome goals are often only achieved when everything comes together perfectly – and much of which is outside our control. Read more about process goals here.
A big part of self-acceptance is the ability to see exactly where you are, right now, without judgement. Accepting where you are in your fitness journey does not mean giving up before you get started. Instead, reframe your current state or ability level as just a starting point. The best place to start is right where you are. This is truly the way to form a foundation for your goals. You may have far to go, but every step will get you closer. Every little success is another gold star on your homework, and proof to your inner self that you are capable.
Many of us have a perfectionist mindset. While this can serve us well to some degree, eventually that internal “task master” can squelch your progress. Constant self-criticism often leads to an internal rebellion, if you will – a struggle between doing what you know you “should” do (i.e. your workout or eating healthy); and “cheating.” While initially “cheating” feels good, it usually leads to a knee jerk response of even more perfectionism – and a vicious circle ensures.
How to break through this cycle for good? Embrace self-acceptance.
The foundation of any fitness or training journey is accepting your physical body, your mind and your spirit, just as they are. We all have imperfections, either real or perceived. Think about what aspects of yourself you’ve struggled to accept. Is it some extra weight, your current running pace, your fear of failure even? Accept that this is where you are now, and that you are taking steps in the right direction toward change.
What about motivation?
“I just can’t get motivated to __________.” The “blank” here is something you want to do to move you closer to something you want to achieve.
It’s a common misconception that in order to want to do something, you must first feel “motivated.” In fact, motivation is the effect, not the cause. It’s the action itself that produces motivation, not the other way around. Read more about motivation here.
First, accept that you are feeling this way – and don’t beat yourself up for it! Instead, acknowledge the feeling, and even explore it a little. What’s behind it? Then simply take one small step – and you’ll begin to generate energy that propels you forward.
Some personal examples:
- When I don’t feel motivated to write a new blog post, I challenge myself to take just one small step – sitting down at the computer and pulling up my list of topic ideas. Then I feel “motivated” to take one more step, this time selecting a topic that sparks with me today. Now I’m feeling even more motivated. Then I open a blank document, type the title, and suddenly I’m off and running. I set the timer on my phone for however much time I have (or want) to work, and when time’s up I can either keep going (which I usually want to do) or I give myself permission to stop at that point.
- When I have a particular training session scheduled – let’s say it’s a run intervals workout – and I’m not feeling motivated to do it – I challenge myself to do just one small step: putting on my running clothes and going outside. Once I’m out in the fresh air, I make a deal with myself that I’ll do my warmup and two intervals. If I don’t feel like continuing, I give myself permission to stop and go home. 99% of the time, my “motivation muscles” start to fire and I finish my workout as planned.
Accept Yourself – Enhance Your Training
Once you find self acceptance in the present, you may find that making choices and taking actions that move you toward your goals come much easier. Your choices are based on who you are, instead of a struggle for instant perfection.
When, inevitably, something doesn’t go as planned, you’re not a failure. Temporary setbacks, obstacles and “bad days” are just a part of the journey – they don’t define you. You still accept yourself for the amazing person you are, which allows those obstacles and “bad days” to become just another part of the process.
In life our first job is this: to divide and distinguish things into two categories. Externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.Epictetus
Accept yourself, and embrace the journey.
Laurie Kelly, CPT, CES, is a Road Runners Clubs of America Certified Run Coach. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and an ITCA-Certified Triathlon Coach. Based in Denver, Colorado, Laurie works with clients one-on-one to help them live healthy and active lives, and achieve their unique fitness goals. Contact her here or follow her blog at www.dragonfly-fitness.com.