Motivation And Exercise (Part 2): What Is Your Purpose?

This is the second post in a two-part series on exercise behaviour, and specifically, the motivation to exercise. Read the first post in the series, “Motivation and Exercise (Part 1): It’s Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be”.

Identify your purpose

Motivation SignPurpose is the driving force behind why you want to achieve anything – why you want to lose weight, become fitter, feel better, and be well.  To define your purpose, think about what is most important to you.  Maybe your purpose is to have more energy to play with your kids.  Your purpose could be to treat and manage chronic disease or physical ailments.  Perhaps your purpose is related to other things you have a passion for.  Whatever it may be, living a long, full, and healthy life is likely central to the cause.

It’s important to be honest with yourself in this process, and to define a clear purpose that you can commit to physically, mentally, and emotionally.  You may find it helpful to write your purpose down; keep it somewhere you can refer to it often, e.g., in a journal, in your wallet, on your desk, in your phone, etc.

Note: There is a difference between having a purpose and having goals.  Goals are specific achievements we aim for, whereas a purpose is the reason you have goals.  Goal setting works for many (though not all), but everyone has a purpose.  Think about what gets you out of bed every morning, and what keeps you up at night!

Once you’ve identified your purpose for better health and wellbeing, the next step is to commit to that purpose.  True commitment to lifelong healthy exercise is a long-term, ongoing process that is underpinned by three essential behaviours: 1) Consistency, 2) Accountability, and 3) Adaptability.

1.Be consistent.

To know your purpose is to get started.  Consistency transforms a good start into a healthy lifestyle.  Now that you have identified your purpose, think: “What behaviours are consistent with my purpose?  And how do these purpose-consistent behaviours compare to my current behaviours?”

There are also biological benefits to being consistent and regular with your actions.  Perhaps the most sought-after psychological benefit of “stick-to-it-iveness” is that consistent actions become habits, which then become integral to our way of life.  Regular exercise becomes ingrained in your daily activities through personal, repeated acts of consistency.

RunningThere are physiological benefits, too.  Take, for example, the physiological benefit of regular physical activity.  The National Physical Activity Guidelines state that adults should be partaking in 30+ minutes of moderate intensity activity on most, if not all, days of the week.  Adults that meet these guidelines achieve better health and mood state outcomes than those who are inactive or only sporadically active (Penedo & Dahn 2005; Wing et al., 2002).  Furthermore, the positive effects of training diminish with time when training is inconsistent, due to the detraining effect.  In fact, the benefits of exercise are diminished within only two weeks if physical activity is substantially reduced (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1999).

In the quest for consistency, don’t be afraid to start small.  Consistency is more important to progress than the length of your strides forward.

2. Be accountable.

Exercise Training LogTo reinforce your consistent, purpose-driven behaviours, it pays to be accountable to yourself and to others.

Being accountable to yourself requires clear eyes and compassion for self.  Document your efforts and review them regularly; this is of particular importance if you have just begun establishing a new habit.  At Inspire Fitness for Wellbeing, we conduct health and fitness assessments for all of our clients, to provide objective information that allows us to track progressions over time.  On a day-to-day basis, keeping a training log helps to solidify the small victories along the way; with time, your log will show a history of how you’ve improved in strength, in cardiovascular fitness, and in movement control.

Being accountable to others is an age-old, time-tested technique for reinforcing positive behaviours.  Making significant behaviour and lifestyle changes can be a difficult process, with many potholes and obstacles to deal with along the way.  So enlist your friends and family as your new workout buddies!  Start training with a personal trainer.  Join a local walking club.  Register for a fun run.  Or keep us up to date with your efforts on the Inspire Fitness Facebook page! 😉

Support NetworkIn the age of the internet, an even bigger support network is right at your fingertips.  Why not start a blog, to track your personal fitness and health journey?  It worked for Ben Davis, who blogs at about his journey: from morbid obesity, to losing over 50 kg and running marathons!  Though it may seem scary at first, the public nature of the internet is immeasurably powerful for guiding and supporting long-term behaviour change.  However you choose to go about it, the bottom line is that having support from others is critical to your success.

3. Be adaptable.

Establishing and maintaining major behaviour change requires you to accept the big challenge to do better, while addressing many smaller challenges along the way that will test your commitment to your personal purpose.  I’m sure many of us can relate, having just emerged from the stresses and indulgences of the holiday season!

A moment of brutal truth: sometimes, the challenges will get the better of you.  But effective, long-term lifestyle change is not about avoiding failure.  It’s about addressing and adapting to the challenges with what’s available to you, so you can be better and do better next time around.

Among the most common challenges faced by individuals making significant health behaviour changes include the following:

“How do I begin?”

Start NowA start can be as small as a step.  Or even a half-step.  There are no lasting rewards for those that blast off from the starting line, then fizzle out before the finish.  You are more likely to adhere to an exercise program if you start at a level that is challenging, but achievable for your individual capacities.  Experienced personal trainers can help you to determine how to get started, as appropriate for you and for your needs.  Aim ambitiously, but act realistically.

“How do I progress?”

Light Strength TrainingThe Law of Diminishing Returns states that the beneficial gains that you achieve through training and dietary behaviours will diminish over time as your fitness and health improves.  To continue achieving improved health outcomes, your training and diet needs to progress onwards and upwards.  Again, a personal trainer is useful here to review your progress and pitch your targets a little higher, with your increased fitness, strength, and wellbeing.  When it comes to exercise, a general guideline for progression is to increase your training (through increased resistance, increased duration, increased frequency, etc.) by no more than 5% per week – provided that you can maintain the quality of your movement.  If in doubt, speak to a trainer or test out smaller increments.

What if I fail?

“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

J. K. Rowling, 2008 Harvard University Commencement Address

Ever heard the saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”?  If your purpose is to the change the course of your health for the better, you must push yourself to do things differently than you’ve done before.  The nature of pushing your personal boundaries is that sometimes you’ll win, and those boundaries will extend beyond where you ever dreamed possible.  On the other hand, sometimes you’ll push, and those darned boundaries will push you right back.

To fulfil the commitment you’ve made to your purpose is to come to peace with the likelihood of failures (yes, plural!).  When failure happens, a unique opportunity presents itself – the opportunity to accept that you’ve failed, and to be accountable for your part in not quite ticking the box.  That’s not to say that accepting failure is easy, but it is, paradoxically, critical to success in your lifelong health and fitness journey.

Motivational psychology has observed that individuals are more likely to be successful when they attribute their failures to internal (i.e., originating within themselves), unstable (i.e., changeable), but controllable factors.  In plain English, owning your failures makes you more likely to succeed in future.  Owning your failures allows you to move on, to recognise and make the necessary changes that will push your boundaries once more.

Look at failure as a chance to adapt.  Go back to the basics of your purpose, and your commitment.  Maybe your purpose has changed since you defined it?  Or your commitment to your purpose wasn’t strong, because your purpose wasn’t quite right to begin with?  Examine your consistency, and your accountability.  Could these be improved?  Perhaps better supported?  How?  Ask the tough questions: your health and fitness success depends on it.

Key points

  • Define a clear, personal purpose – what gets you out of bed every morning?  What keeps you awake at night?
  • Consistency is the cornerstone of achieving long-term health and fitness benefits, from regular exercise and healthy eating habits.
  • Be accountable to yourself, by documenting and reviewing your progress.
  • Be accountable to others, by involving friends and family, training with a personal trainer, or taking to the internet to share your journey and to develop your own support network.
  • Accept that there will be challenges and there will be failures along the way.  When you fail, own it, then adapt your purpose, commitment, consistency, or accountability as needed.

(Image sources: Balance2Health, Susan Washington, Answer Fitness, Creating High Performers, The Outsourcing Company, Consumer Reports)