In a recent article, I made the case for not needing to have fitness goals. I argued that, for people merely looking to lead happy, healthy, strong lives, setting goals has the potential to be, at the very least, cumbersome and, at worst, downright counterproductive.
I do think everyone should have a why.
Now, it could be argued that a why and a goal are the same thing, so let’s make this distinction: a goal is tied to a specific, measurable outcome [I want to squat 500 pounds; I want to get down to 12% body fat]; a why is a more nebulous, less-measurable (but no less important) outcome [I want to keep up with my friends playing Ultimate Frisbee; I want to avoid chronic illness as much as possible].
Why “Why” Matters
By their very nature, whys have the potential to be broader and further reaching than goals. Though that might sound like a bad thing, it actually opens them up to being much more deeply rooted and meaningful, too. For instance, exercising in order to provide your children with a strong, healthy role model is a fantastic why that isn’t tied to any specific outcomes.
We can use whys like these push us on, especially when times get tough and motivation wanes.
[And because I’m me, I have to clarify that I don’t mean “I’m tired and rundown and sluggish, but I should hit the gym - for the kids!” That would be silly - get some sleep! I mean “Bleh, I’d rather sit and do nothing. But I should hit the gym - for the kids!”]
Additionally, without an endgame or specific outcome in mind, you have an ongoing, consistent, unwavering source of motivation. You can achieve a specific body fat percentage, but you’ll never go to the gym enough times to be “done” with setting a good example for the younglings in your life.
Making Choices: Part 1
We are in a constant state of decision-making.
I’ve previously made the point that any choices we’re presented with can be viewed on a never-ending, overlapping spectrum (or, more precisely, A Spectrum of Spectrums*). Rather than “a healthy choice and an unhealthy choice,” it’s more accurately "a more healthy choice versus a less healthy choice (with several other choices in between).”
What needs to be clear about this spectrum, though, is that it is not fixed. As you change and morph and adapt throughout your life, so will your spectrum.
How is your spectrum arranged at the moment? Well, that depends on your why.
If you are trying to build muscle, for instance, you might make the choice to lift weights 4-5 times per week. But when your life gets busier with work and you also have to cat-sit for your neighbor when he goes to the Galapagos for 6 months, you might shift to more of a “maintain my muscle mass without getting sick” type of why. As such, you would be wise to cut back and maybe only do some full-body workouts 2 days per week.
Things change. Go with the flow.
[*I know "spectra" is the correct pluralization of "spectrum," but I think "spectrums" flows better here. So...there.]
Making Choices: Part 2
In addition to our own choices, we are also in a constant state of hearing what decisions other people are making. Without a clear grasp of our own why, it can be difficult to distinguish what’s best for ourselves from what’s best for someone else.
When I work out, I’m usually surrounded by people with bigger muscles than me who are lifting more weight. And while I would often love to emulate their physiques or athletic feats, my why of wanting the mobility and strength to continue lifting weights well into my 90s supersedes my desire to build muscle.
Don't get me wrong, I do like building muscle and want a little more of it. But my choices will be based primarily on longevity; any choices that help me build muscle will first have to support that.
There might be some similarities in our approach to exercise and nutrition, but when it comes to that spectrum of spectrums, mine is going to look a lot different than theirs overall.
You might not need a goal, necessarily, but a reason for doing what you’re doing can only help.
What about you? What’s your biggest why?