But Are You Happy?

As January rolls around, many gyms (including mine) will be filling up with new faces who have new resolutions for a new year.  Right about now there are hundreds of blog posts hitting the interwebs all about how to set good goals – and rightly so.  Most resolutions fail in large part because the goal setting process didn’t have structure.  But setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-specific) goals isn’t the whole picture, and it isn’t what I want to talk about today.  Today, I want to talk about what motivates us to set these resolutions in the first place.

Recently on The Human Animal Podcast, the crew and I discussed how there are primal motivations at the root of most decisions we make.  Either we want to belong to a group, provide for our family, be successful, etc.  But when it comes to the gym and working out, the most base motivation I see time and time again with my clients is the desire to be happy.  The problem is, a lot of people are surprisingly unsure of what will make them happy to begin with.

And so enters the exercise entitled the “5 Why’s”.  This involves some mental gymnastics reminiscent of that little girl on Animaniacs who just repeatedly asked the question “Why? Why? Why?” to adults until finally breaking off the conversation by saying “OK, love you, buh-bye!”  First off, start with a goal/resolution you have set for yourself in the coming year.  Ask yourself why you want to attain that goal.  Write it down.

Then ask why again.  Write that down.

Then ask why again.  Starting to get harder now, right?  Write it down.

Then ask why again.  This might take a while to figure out.  Beads of sweat might be popping out on your forehead.  That’s OK.  It can be uncomfortable to really analyze ourselves, but that’s what makes it so important that we do.

Then ask why again.  In my experience, this last question bring the most clarity and simplifies everything else.  Sometimes, you might find that you don’t like the reason why you set a goal at the most basic level.  If that’s the case, do you really think you are going to achieve it and work hard to get there if some part of you is rejecting the idea?  Or what if you did achieve it?  What then?  Chances are, your sense of accomplishment will be fleeting.  There will be another goal to achieve because this one didn’t answer the base need that you had in the first place.

Here is an example of how this can go down:

Client #1:  I want to lose 10 lbs in the new year!  (Why?)

Client #1:  Because I want to look good in a bathing suit.  (Why?)

Client #1:  Because I want my significant other to think I look sexy.  (Why?)

Client #1:  Because I want more of his/her attention.  Things aren’t as spicy as they used to be.  (Why?)

Client #1:  Because I’ve let myself go and I’m worried he/she doesn’t find me as desirable anymore.

Now even though we didn’t get to 5 Why’s, we do have some insight here.  This client wants to lose 10#s because they are worried their significant other doesn’t find them desirable anymore.  Now that we know this, we can ask ourselves the question – does the goal match the desired outcome?  I.E.  Will losing 10lbs really correct this person’s relationship?

The answer is, probably not.  Now, I’m not saying that getting in better shape isn’t a good thing, or that feeling confident and sexy in your body isn’t a good goal to have.  However, this goal relies on someone else’s perceived opinion of you.  That gets tricky.  You are now powerless to attain your own happiness!  Not cool.

Maybe a good solution for this person would be to talk to their husband directly about how they are feeling.  A lot of times, simply planning to spend more time together can get those romantic sparks flying again.  Then getting into the gym can be for the right reason – i.e. I want to feel confident and sexy with my own body so that my time spent with my significant other is more…productive.

And this is the pitfall of goal setting – when the outcome doesn’t match up with the desire.  The only way to truly know is to deeply examine your motivations.  The last thing I want for you is to work really hard to achieve something, only to find out that it didn’t fulfill you like you imagined.  And if you haven’t set a a new year’s resolution yet, try asking yourself this question:  What would make you happy?  Why?  🙂

Finally, I want to implore you – don’t wait on happiness.  Like my good friend Nate often says, if you’re not happy on the road to happiness, something’s gone wrong.  We are all beautiful, constantly evolving creatures.  Focus on the process of change and not the outcome.  (I wrote a piece about focusing on the moment here that might help.)  Put the locus of control back in your hands.  You decide your self worth, not another person, and not some number on a scale.  You are worth working hard for!

OK, love you, buh-bye!

-Matt