Finding Your Why

Finding your Why is an important component to finding the motivation to achieve your fitness goals, and start your journey to a healthier, happier you.

To start off, let me rock your and the fitness industry’s worlds by giving you two blasphemous statements.

  • What you often consider fitness goals- losing weight, gain muscle, lose fat, lower cholesterol, reduce risk for disease, or run a marathon- are not actual goals. They are desired outcomes which you will achieve as a result of you working on your goals.
  • The reason these are not goals is because you cannot train yourself for these goals. Yeah, I’m saying it right here, right now. You cannot train yourself to lose weight, lower cholesterol, or even run a marathon. Because these are not trainable. They are RESULTS from training.

I know. Um, you’re wrong, PJ, you can TOTALLY train yourself to run a marathon. I said in Zookeeper’s Guide to Healthy Habits that you just break down your behavior into smaller steps. If you break the marathon down into smaller steps, and start training to run a little more each and every day, you will have trained yourself for a marathon.

That’s fantastic, by the way, if you do that. And you are right. Starting small and increasing the amount you run each day is a fabulous way to create a habit of running. But that’s what you are training, the habit of running, not the act of running a marathon. The end result to your healthy habit of running every day could be finishing a marathon, but there are a couple differences between your habit and running a marathon.

If you create a habit of running, the likelihood you run a marathon EVERY DAY is pretty slim. Don’t get me wrong, I know a couple people who run a marathon every day. I call them insane, but that’s a whole other article. But chances are, you won’t run a marathon every day. You will continue to run every day because that’s what you are reinforcing. Your running will continue and you will progress with that, but your marathon run is a result of your behavior, not the behavior itself.

If you want to lose weight, you train yourself many different mini-habits to get to the desired outcome. Losing weight may mean you go to the gym, prepare your meals at home instead of getting takeout, and drinking more water throughout the day. These are your goals. To establish the habits to lead you to lose weight.

Let me explain how this idea works in the animal training world. Why do trainers train their animals? Well, ultimately, when you get down to it, it’s to improve the animals’ welfare. Some of these behaviors are obvious in how they affect welfare. Teaching an animal to accept medication, voluntary blood draws, step onto a scale, and go into a crate are all husbandry behaviors which help animal professionals provide better care to the animals. But what about teaching an animal to vocalize? Or retrieve a ball? How do these behaviors relate to welfare?

There are typically three, maybe four reasons trainers teach a behavior to an animal- husbandry, enrichment, exercise, relationship strengthening. We already established husbandry helps take care of the animals better, including blood draws, scale training, shifting from one area to another.

Enrichment training engages the animal’s mind. It’s something new and exciting. Many of these behaviors don’t seem to have an obvious purpose, but it can assist in husbandry in many ways. If an animal is regressing or a training session is taking a nose-dive, trainers can fall back onto fun behaviors the animal knows for enrichment. Save the session, or at least end on a high note, and get the animal back with something just for fun.

Exercise behaviors are often the high energy, sometimes acrobatic behaviors. Often crowd-pleasing favorites, these behaviors are actually naturally occurring and healthy for the animals. They would normally perform these in social settings, hunting, or just for play. It’s good for animals to perform them to maintain physical health.

Finally, relationship building behaviors, like enrichment training, has a distinct purpose to create a positive and trusting relationship between the animal and trainer. The last behavior a new trainer should work with an animal their first session is something super challenging, like a voluntary blood draw, or a vertical spin jump. Work easy behaviors, things which make the trust between trainer and animal increase. These can be vocalizations, body part presentations like the flipper, or ear, or tail. These easy behaviors can lead to more complex behaviors, but they can also be used to fall back when the animal is hesitant to comply.

What do all these behaviors have in common? They improve the animal’s welfare.

Engaging the mind and empowering animals through training behaviors improves animal welfare. So does building a healthy, trusting relationship. And one could argue exercise is good for any animal, whether it’s a dolphin, lion, hawk, or human.

But this aspect of training is something animal professionals don’t really consider. Because everything they do is to improve the animal’s well-being. If you asked an animal professional how they train for better animal welfare, you might get confused looks. It’s overwhelming to think of how you TRAIN animal welfare. You can’t. Improved welfare is the result of training husbandry, enrichment, exercise, and even relationship building behaviors. It just happens.

When most of us start a fitness program, we more often than not, try to train for the desired outcome, which often overwhelms us. Instead, you train habits and behaviors which will lead to the desired outcome.

I don’t want you to completely forget about your desired outcomes. They are still important. They are your extrinsic motivation to stay the course for making progress on your actual goals- changing your habits and behavior through operant conditioning. But what I want you to focus on is acknowledging this extrinsic motivation- to lose weight, to reduce your cholesterol, etc.- as something you will achieve without FOCUSING on it.

Work on going deeper and finding your “Why”. If “I want to lose weight” hasn’t worked in the past, perhaps you can go a little deeper. WHY do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to look good naked? Why do you want to attract a romantic partner? Why do you want to be able to run a marathon? Why do you want more energy?

It’s okay to have these reasons for yourself. “I want to lose weight so I feel good about myself in the mirror” is a perfectly valid Why. I don’t believe there is a “wrong” why. There are intrinsic whys, and there are extrinsic whys.

For years, I kept saying I wanted to be sexier, lose weight. These reasons to start a fitness program didn’t work for me. Then I had my aha moment, and discovered my true Why. It made the biggest difference in being able to really stick with a program. Ultimately, I wanted to be a better zookeeper. The question “how can I take excellent care of the animals unless I take basic care of myself?” changed my life. Yes, I wanted to lose weight, gain energy, get stronger, leaner, toned. But WHY? Because I got to be a better zookeeper from it.

After I left the zoo field (let’s be honest, though, no one TOTALLY leaves the zoo field until they DIE), my Why shifted. By then, I was on the path of creating ZooFit, and practicing my principles of conservation fitness. This became super important to me on so many levels. Proving ZooFit worked was a personal quest. Doing my part to stay in shape, and make a positive impact on the environment is my life’s work. It’s not just about me looking good or even feeling good. I feel called to this, and finding my deeper Why has made fitness a priority, and a vital part of my life and existence.

Finding meaning in your fitness program helps motivate you when motivation and inspiration are wearing thin, even from building and sustaining habits. Your Why moves the “I should” idea of working out into “I’m doing it”.


2 Responses

  1. Run 26.2 miles? Inconceivable! (Though I’ve done it a few times.) But I’ve wondered about breaking it up into smaller runs: run 2 miles, rest 20 minutes, repeat. It may take all day, and it may not succeed the first time; but it’s another way to work up to that goal without having to commit to some big physical and emotional event. Just 2 more miles, 2 more miles, and then 0.2 to end. I wonder.

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