At the very end of my last fitness post, I mentioned the importance of having goals that make you feel like you’re exercising because you want to, not because you feel like you have to. And that is absolutely one of the most essential elements of keeping up with a fitness program; you have to be doing it for the right reasons. Let me explain.
When I first started going to the gym on a regular basis, I was doing it to lose weight. That’s a common goal, and I was serious about it, but the problem was that I had limited motivation for doing it. I mentioned last time that I had several mental breakdowns out of frustration – I was losing weight, but slowly enough that I couldn’t see a visible difference, and I had never been overweight so I didn’t feel like it was that important that I continue to lose it. Essentially, weight loss was too slow to seem like I was making any progress and not important enough for me to accept that progress would be slow.
I did keep going, in part with the help of my boyfriend’s emotional support and in part because I was training for a 10K and I didn’t want to hold back the friend I would be running with, but working out absolutely felt like a chore and I had to use mind tricks to get myself to continue doing it. I wish I had known at the time that there’s a better and easier way:
Set Readily Achievable Goals Unrelated to Physical Appearance
Now that I run consistently, and for long distances, I get a lot of people asking me why I choose to run. And at first I didn’t have an answer. I started running to lose weight, sure, and then I kept going because I was training – first for a 10K and then for a half marathon. But then I missed the half marathon due to injury, and as soon as I could I started running again, even though I had no plans for a race. And this wasn’t just a half hour jog so I could say I’d done it; I was running more mileage than I ever would have imagined I’d run, and I was doing it five days a week. So why?
The answer is really quite simple. If a year ago you had told me that I’d be running a ten mile race tomorrow, I would have straight up laughed at you. I had never in my life run more than two miles at a time, and even that I had only done twice – once for gym class and once in a one-day attempt to stay in shape the summer after that gym class. But I AM running a ten mile race tomorrow.
Not only that, but I now refer to runs that are four, five, and six miles long as “easy” and three and four mile runs as “short”. A little over a month ago I even dropped my car off at the dealer for some repairs and then ran the nine miles home, because I didn’t have a convenient way for anyone to pick me up and I knew that I could. NINE miles. That’s insane. I very clearly remember being shocked and amazed at a friend who ran eight miles, and now I’ve done that and more casually on a weekday after work.
In short, and please excuse my language, running makes me feel badass. It is amazing to me to know that I can run for an hour straight, no problem. That I can, and have, run for 13.1 miles without stopping. That my body is capable of doing really amazing and incredible things that I never dreamed I’d be able to do – and sometimes I even call those things easy.
I mentioned in my first fitness post that I had just run six miles in a month of training, as opposed to the three months I had already planned. I can guarantee that didn’t happen because I was excited about losing weight; in fact, for the majority of the summer my weight was pretty constant. It happened because I set goals for myself: distance goals.
If you tell yourself you are exercising to lose weight, you are going to have to keep up your routine for a gruelingly long period of time before you are able to see any real changes. And the exercise is only a means to another end. If you tell yourself you are exercising so that you can run a mile without stopping, you are going to notice easily measurable progress toward that goal each and every time you run, and the exercise is a means to its own end. In the month of June, I told myself I would run one mile further each week. And I did. Then before I knew it I was running six miles on Thursday followed by a “quick” two mile run on Friday just to test my limits. And it felt awesome.
In short, what I’m trying to say is that you need to set a goal that’s related to what your body can do, not what it can look like. Physical change is slow, difficult to notice when you see yourself on a day-to-day basis, and only minimally rewarding. As proud as I am of how my stomach looks now that I’ve lost 15% of my original body weight (stare at myself in the mirror for no reason proud), I’m even prouder of how far my body can run.
I’m not saying that you can’t also set a weight loss goal. You can and absolutely should, if that’s what you’re trying to do. But make sure that you have some measurable, achievable, and capability-based goals as well. Because I promise that after a month of hard work, you’re going to feel much better about dropping a minute off your mile time or doubling the number of pushups you can do than you will about dropping five pounds. And you’ll see that progress much faster, too.