Fit for what Purpose?
As we wake up today in 2017, maybe having enjoyed a bit of Jools Holland's Hootenanny last night, it’s time to start making plans for the coming year. But to look ahead we need to take stock of where we have been first. Over the Christmas/Chanukah break, I’ve been doing one of three things:
From my reading material I’ve learned about the sacred and the profane (Holy Sh*t, A Brief History of Swearing) and a variety of topics in the Economist Christmas Special, including the history of Mario, IPA beers and clothespegs. But the most interesting has been a relatively slim tome, called ‘Drive’, by Daniel H. Pink. This isn’t the book about existential morality intercut with moments of violence, then made into a great movie starring Ryan Gosling. Instead it is subtitled, “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”.
Daniel’s handy 140 character summary of the whole book is as follows:
“Carrots and sticks are so last century.
For 21st Century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose.”
To unpack that a little, lets define some terms:
Autonomy: the desire to direct and control your own life
Mastery: the urge to get better at something that matters
Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in service of something bigger than ourselves
Scientists have long understood that we have some basic biological needs: hunger, thirst and sex. And we all know that we tend to respond to external/extrinsic rewards and punishments, too. But in the last 50 years or so, a third drive has been discovered: “intrinsic motivation” – doing something for the love of doing it, for the satisfaction of taking on a challenge, or simply because it is fun.
When we got started in personal training, we wanted to do something different than just get people to do ever more repetitions of ever more exercises just for the sake of it – something we ourselves find really dull.
Instead, we are passionate about getting fit for a reason. And for that reason to be something long term and very personal. That happens to work very well alongside the ideas contained in Drive.
So, if you are staring 2017 with a goal to improve your fitness, no matter what level you are starting at, keep the following in mind:
Set your own goals
Don’t accept some cookie-cutter exercise plan just because everyone else you know is doing it. Create one that is specific to your needs and fitness level. (This is something you can do with the help of a personal trainer, but in the end it should always be YOU making the final call.)
My own goals change each year as I increase my fitness, as I take on new challenges or occasionally pick up an injury. This year I’m working on my upper body and core strength, together with power and some endurance work.
Set the RIGHT kind of goals
Behavioural science shows that people who seek to lose weight for extrinsic/ external reasons (to slim down for a wedding or to look good on the beach) do often reach their goals. And then they gain the weight back again once their target has been met and they have no goal to work towards. Meanwhile, people who work towards more intrinsic/ internal goals (to get fit to feel good about themselves, or to be healthy for their kids/family) make slower progress at first, but achieve better and more sustainable results in the long term.
Personally, I decided to get fit for my family several years ago, especially for my two young boys. Not just to ensure that I am around long enough to enjoy them growing up, but also to keep up with them as they themselves get fitter, faster and stronger. And lastly to give them a good example of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle.
Ditch the treadmill
Unless you really like treadmills, that is. If trudging to the gym feels like a dreary obligation, find a form of fitness you enjoy – that produces those intoxicating moments of ‘flow’ (or ‘the zone’, where you are fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity – complete absorption in what you are doing).
Get together with others for a game of tennis, football, or netball, go for walks across Hampstead Heath, go dancing or take your kids cycling. Use the ‘Sawyer Effect’ to turn what might feel like work into play. Find the fun and pleasure in exercise, and if you can’t, then try something else until you do.
At FreeRange Fitness we really can’t stand being in the gym, although for certain kinds of training it’s a necessary evil – so much of our exercise takes place outdoors: running, cycling, even swimming (when the sun is shining).
Keep mastery in mind
One of the best sources of motivation and ‘renewable energy’ is the drive to get better at something. Pick an activity in which you can improve over time. By increasing the difficulty of what you take on (never too easy, but also never too hard), and setting more audacious challenges for yourself as time passes you will constantly find the motivation to do the necessary training.
Each year I have tried to run, cycle or swim further, or do the same distances but faster. Or take on entirely new sports. Previously I have tackled triathlons, and still will be for the foreseeable future, but this year I have thrown myself into mountain biking and loved every minute of it.
I might be spending this week in the Midlands, where mountains are few and far between, but I have kept returning to the same trails to see if I can do them faster, or learn some new techniques and skills. I think cyclocross might be on the agenda for next year. Or maybe Obstacle Course Races!
Reward yourself in the right way
Try not to bribe yourself with ‘if-then’ rewards. They tend to skew your motivation – you should have set your goals and motivation so that your rewards are intrinsic to what you are doing. But there’s nothing wrong with an occasional ‘now-then’ rewards – after you have achieved a mini-milestone then treat yourself to a massage, or those great cycling shorts, or maybe just a hot chocolate. You deserve it.
Although weight-loss was never a goal that I had in mind when I first started exercising, I certainly wasn’t complaining when I had to go out and buy a new suit, some new shirts and a few new pairs of jeans. For me personally I never eye up a particular piece of clothing and aim to lose weight so I can fit into it – but it does feel good to be able to donate some of those old clothes to charity!
So, we want to know what is your reason for improving your fitness? We have even started a programme called ‘Fit for a Purpose’, aimed at people who want to do more than just do exercise for the sake of it. It’s something we offer on a 1-1 or small group basis, maybe helping you work towards the challenge of running your first marathon,improving your ski fitness or just being a better cyclist or netball player. We also have our first Fit for a Purpose group classes starting at JW3 (Ski Fitness until Feb 6th, and Sport Fitness from Feb 20th).
We know that there is more to exercise than just putting on some Lycra and getting sweaty. We are here to help you take control, find a purpose and continually improve in 2017 and beyond.