Over the last decade or so, I’ve had numerous innovative exercise-related theories spring to mind in the midst of intense training sessions. Those seem to be the moments in which my brain seems the most attuned to creative training and diet philosophy. Within recent years various aspects of human psychology have worked their way into my mind as well, and this blog series is what I consider to be the marriage of these ideas to the best of my current ability.

I’ve achieved my greatest physique improvements during this time, but I’ve also suffered my greatest setbacks. I came to realize that my biggest mental barrier between knowing what to do and actually doing it has been motivation, and the temporary fix seemed to be hopping from one training program over to another.

The source of the problem was not actually a problem at all, but rather success itself. Having a happy relationship and being comfortable with my level of fitness seemed to take a devastating toll on my drive. My physique, as well as my motivation to improve it hit an all-time low and not only was I unaware of what was happening, I was frustrated by my seeming inability to get the fire back. I hated what I saw in the mirror but felt I was too far gone to do anything about it. My energy and passion for activity were non-existent, and no amount of program hopping helped. Sure I would go to the gym a couple times per week but the training was half-hearted and my nutrition was not kept in check.

Compounding the issue, it is quite shocking to look back and realize that many well-intentioned fitness programs are specifically designed for short-term success followed by long-term lulls.

So I went on an intense journey to try to understand the very nature of self-motivation, with the ultimate goal of trying to harness its power. What I discovered was that much of what is driven into our way of thinking are the exact things that make it difficult to do the things that will make us happy.

Ironically, your goals can be the very thing getting in your way.

I can hear you saying “huh?”

If you’re considering baling on me now I can’t blame you. Every single fitness program out there seems to start off by going on about the importance of goal-setting, so it stands to reason that we are conditioned to put high value on goals. And I’m not saying all goals are always bad, in fact some will be necessary to progress – rather what I’m saying is they need to be handled with care.

It has been shown that result-oriented (or outcome) goals can – if not properly handled – not only inhibit motivation, but lead to unethical behavior, and since I have attacked this from a standpoint of maintaining ethical behaviour and integrity this concept caught my attention.

Again, you may be scratching your head, but just consider the transformation challenge for a moment… how many people do you suppose, desperate to win the challenge, or even simply meet their goals, resorted to using performance enhancing drugs? While I have never gone to those lengths I would be lying if I tried to suggest that the temptations weren’t there.

There are several other examples of this in the real world, where companies or individuals are so driven to meet a specific goal that they have to sacrifice quality or workmanship to accomplish it.

So how do we combat this?

First of all, I think that it should be pointed out that it is virtually impossible to go into a fitness program of any kind without some sort of overarching goal such as improving body composition, gaining strength, building muscle etc, but what we should attempt to focus on day-in and day-out is action-oriented goals rather than result-oriented goals.

it should also be noted that result-oriented goals can serve the function of getting you over a mental hurdle, but beyond that we are better off using action-oriented goals than results-oriented goals. These serve the function of driving us to DO the things that will serve us best keeping integrity intact.

A results-oriented goal would be: lose five pounds this week Where as an action-oriented goals might be: go to the gym every day.

Action-oriented (or process) goals can even be momentary, such as: complete THIS rep.

I also like to think of these as “progress goals”, which takes into account your current capabilities in a very specific area and are intended to help you push those limits.

I find action oriented goals work well for dietary adherence as well.

Like most things in life there are exceptions to every rule, and most sports psychologists insist upon having clear, measurable goals. You can do so but the key is to make sure you put integrity above achievement. Do not “win at all costs” or the cost will be our soul. This is why I now prefer to think in terms of “purpose” or life meaning.

YOUR PURPOSE

The first thing you want to start out with is a PURPOSE. This replaces the traditional “goal”. Nietzsche made the observation “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” – in other words, plant firmly in your mind the reason you are doing this.

A purpose might be as noble as lowering your blood pressure or as superficial as getting a six pack. What’s important is that it is important to you. The stronger your understanding of WHY this is important to you, and the stronger it connects to your personal values, the better it will be, because when you are working towards something that aligns with your deepest values failure does not exist.

That’s probably an easy point to gloss over, but I want to emphasize that even when you don’t hit your goals or make the progress you want… hell, even if you regress, the act of striving to accomplish something can provide amazing feedback as to what works and what doesn’t.

Other examples of a purpose could involve: building strength, building muscle size, losing fat, improving health, improving in a specific sport etc.

Your purpose doesn’t have to be limited to one thing, but try to keep it relatively few and non-contradictory. For example you could conceivably get bigger and stronger.

One method for deciding upon your purpose is projecting your mind into the future and think about what you want to have accomplished, and how you got there – including challenges you had to overcome.

While I can’t give you your purpose for obvious reasons, it should be noted that discovering it can be profoundly difficult. One trick I learned was to look at yourself objectively – or to “see yourself as a stranger” in order to begin to learn who you are and what you ought to strive to accel at.

While hunting for my own purpose, both in physical terms and in my broader life, I was drawn to the work of Viktor Frankl, who suggests that we can find out life’s meaning in three ways:

1. through performing deeds

2. experience or encounters

3. through dealing with unavoidable hardships

This can be an amazing guide. I remember being inspired when I met Ben Pakulski and being excited by his training philosophy. Likewise I can attest to the satisfaction that comes following physical work of virtually any kind, and I wholly believe that the demonstration of true character – and learning life’s great lessons happens in the presence of adversity — if only I had the luxury of learning this from a book and not personal experience.

I learned the lesson of growth through hardship fairly young. My house burned down at age eighteen. Our family and pets escape safely while virtually none of our possessions were salvaged. Of course it was devastating, but as we began to rebuild our lives I began to understand the frivolity of material possessions at a much earlier age than most people have the benefit of. Similarly, when my twelve year marriage ended I began to see my character weaknesses for the first time and made a conscious effort to rebuild myself. Of course these were not deliberate acts for the sake of finding meaning, but helped provide the character and insite needed to embark on the search.

What did I come up with through my own search for meaning? Ironically the search itself and the unexpected findings was highly fulfilling – to the extent where I must believe that meaning is my meaning, not only my own but bringing meaning to my interactions with others and hopefully helping bring meaning to the lives of those who desire it.

Comments
  1. […] going to overlap some ideas I wrote here but today’s pondering is more geared at fat loss than muscle […]

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