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Supercharge Your Fitness Goals with Your Values

by Steve Troutman on July 11, 2016

I wanted to share a recent exchange I had with an online client who’s struggling to find balance and consistency. She wants nothing more than to stop this cycle, find stability and balance, and learn to be kinder to herself.

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What do you feel that you’re struggling with the most right now?

Aligning my actions with my values consistently, to be honest.  This shows in different ways: eating poorly, not exercising, not doing anything fun. I kind of feel like I’ve lost touch with the “real” me.  I’m also struggling with my weight (of course), and I’ve gotten sucked into counting calories again, which is already not playing nice with my head. I want to change my eating habits (I’ve been making poor food choices). I want to change my habit of being all-or-nothing. I would love to stop beating myself up when I make poor choices. And of course, I want to change my weight. I really want to get back to following nutrition and exercise habits consistently.

Counting calories is not your answer. It feels coercive and you’re using it to try and control your behaviors. And in almost all cases, that’s going to backfire. Or, at a minimum, help you feel like shit.

Your motivation seems low and you’re trying to force it. But that’s just not how it works. Really it comes down to creating the conditions in which motivation happens naturally. If you think about your current situation from the outside looking in – one where you’re over-taxed, not having fun, and being forced to track the nitty gritty details of food… I’m guessing you wouldn’t perceive that situation to be very motivating.

This is exactly where I’ve been for the last few months, over-taxed and having no fun at all. And I did it to myself! I put all these crazy expectations on myself, and go go go super hard and then end up crashing and burning. Then, I see how much weight I’ve gained, and freak out and go back to what I know will work to get the pounds off. Of course, I know it makes me miserable, and the weight never stays off, but I go there all the same.  You’re right, it’s not motivating at all. In fact, it feels like a punishment.

These are the outcomes you’re looking for. Our mission starts with the processes, though, as I know you know.

I think the more we can get you to reflect on your choices and take an interest in your behavior rather than worrying about judging it… the more in tune you’ll become with the idea of learning and growing.

It’s having the courage to lessen your grip on these outcomes, stop the mad dash and extreme pursuit toward them, and create the space for dialing into an evolving flexible process that actually meets you where you are and sets the stage for experimentation and learning.

It’s the difference between a fine chisel and a jackhammer.

You mentioned above that you want to start aligning your actions with your values. What are your core values? Put differently, what do you care most about in life?

Obviously, my family is first and foremost.  That being said, the things I care most about in life are being active, being outside, photography, “adventuring” with my husband, having fun (preferably with my husband, but I’m good alone too, as long as it’s safe). Also, feeling healthy and strong…very important to me.

And what do you think it looks like to live in accordance with these values when it comes to fitness?

Actually doing these things, for one. NOT sitting on the couch for hours after work, watching TV (or sitting at my desk for hours working on my business stuff).  Eating the right kinds of food in the right proportions. Enjoying treats. Not drinking alcohol. Getting enough “formal” exercise to be able to do the things that I enjoy, but not too much because that messes with my head. Having a good balance in my life (this I always, always struggle with).

Okay, why do these values matter to you?

Is it too simplistic just to say that these are the things that make me happiest?  That when I’m doing them, everything is right in the world.  The other day, sitting in my kayak, I tilted my head back to feel the sun directly on my face, heard the waves lapping on my boat, and literally felt the stress melt away; I really don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time we were out.  That feeling is why these things are important to me. They make life so, so much better.

I think that’s a phenomenal answer.

When you’re immersing yourself in your values… you feel yourself. And when you feel yourself… you feel happy. And we all want to be happy.

We also all want to get better at the things we care about.

Which relates to…

As for being healthy and strong, I need to be those things in order to do the activities that make me happy.  I want to live a long life, and I want to continue being able to hike and kayak and ride my bike for as long as possible. Plus, I enjoy how I feel when I treat my body right, when I’m eating properly and exercising. I have more energy, I’m in a better mood, etc, etc, etc.

Fitness is the means by which you literally magnify your experience of life and your values. To me, personally, it’s the method by which I make everything I care about better. Like you, I value being active outside. I ride my bike up hills harder, climb mountains higher and faster, hike further, and see more because of my fitness. I value the hell out of my family and I play harder, hang better, lead by example because of my fitness. I value feeling my best and this isn’t possible without my fitness.

On and on it goes…

It’s easy to practice exercise and eating nutritiously when doing so is directly tied to everything I care about.

It’s so much more than looking better naked. Sure, I care about that, too. But it’s not my north star. If I solely make it about weight, abs, or whatever… I lose my zeal for it in a hurry. I feel the cultural pressure to look a certain way just like everyone else. But that pressure is more coercive and controlling than anything else.

I feed off the pressure I apply to myself. This intrinsic drive to mold myself into the person I want to be. To live by a code that’s in alignment with my values. When fitness is a piece of this puzzle, there’s no coercion. There’s merely this deep satisfaction stemming from the actual process of living life the way I want to live it.

It’s not a “should” to me.

It’s a “want.”

Based on prior conversations we know that you understand the concept of a growth mindset. One where you literally embrace challenge and lean into failure in order to learn more about yourself and to grow. Understanding, though, isn’t enough. Cultivating a growth mindset that’s void of extreme thinking and self-hate in the face of challenge takes time and practice. It’s a skill, like any other, that requires reps.

It’s easy to let this knowledge fade into the background in the heat of the moment. The option to frame a challenge in a growth mindset sort of way is always there. We simply need to systematize it into your schedule. This is why we’re going to be focusing on a small handful of habits and reflecting on them daily. We’ll drown out judgment by embracing the opportunity to learn more about the process and ourselves.

It’s no longer about winning or failing. It’s about becoming within the scope of your values… and we do this one step at a time with an open mind and a self-compassionate heart.

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