When it comes to fitness and goal setting, the cultural norm in training is to figure out your “what” first (defining your goal) and then establish your “how” next (making a plan to reach your goal). Such a focus is understandable. The public craves specific ideas, and the steps to take that are easily digestible and actionable. “What” and “how” inform us what it takes to reach our destination — and rightfully so. Having a map is a pretty essential part of ending up in the right place. But how do you know whether you’re on the right path to begin with? Furthermore, how do you maintain the motivation to stay resilient on your journey?
Ultimately, we must be accountable to not only “what” and “how” but also “why” if we are to be successful in the long run. While “what” and “how” are about research and planning, asking and answering “why” takes a little more in-depth work. That introspective work pays dividends by assuring us that we are headed in the right direction and helps us stay the course. Here’s how to find your “why.”
Define your purpose.
In the world of psychology, intrinsic motivation is defined as performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself. Conversely, extrinsic motivation is done for the sake of an external outcome. Certainly, both factor into many goals, but studies show that those with greater intrinsic motivation (i.e., a genuine satisfaction or purpose behind their training) are more likely to stay on track when they hit a rough patch or a setback. And as anyone who trains hard knows, setbacks are part of the deal.
Find your flow.
According to the book Inside Sport Psychology, co-authors Costas Karageorghis and Peter Terry suggest that the highest form of intrinsic motivation is the concept of “flow.” Athletes know this as finding “the zone,” or the essence of being at one with the activity they are performing. Flow happens when you are in the present moment, and accessing the present can be elusive when you are simply focused on a future goal through “what” and “how.” Flow is the actualized state of living your “why.”
Dig deep and be willing to get introspective.
Look for reoccurring themes in your life — clues in dreams, synchronicities and reoccurring events. If the same themes and mistakes keep popping up, there’s likely a pretty big “why” that needs addressing. Also, ask others close to you what they see. If you’re willing to truly listen, some of your best moments of clarity can come about from the observations and advice of others who can see clearly what you can’t.
Establish your “focus” area.
Part of the challenge with simply focusing on an external goal is the negative associations and consequences of living in the future. Living for a future can result in risky or even unethical behavior, according to a Harvard Business School report. An area of focus, though, is the culmination of answering “why.” Leadership coach Peter Bregman writes in the Harvard Business Review, “A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.”
Find your grit.
According to psychologist and renowned TED talker Angela Duckworth, reaching your goal will ultimately come down to one quality more than any other — grit. Grit isn’t manufacturing false pride or portraying tough bravado. Real growth and progress hinges on the capacity to look inward and sit with the question of “why.” Ultimately, in order to reach a physical goal, you’ll need to hone the quality of mental toughness in the form of grit. Developing that intestinal fortitude is about the willingness to face fear and persevere.
What does your goal look like, and how will you get there? What is your “why”? If you haven’t established your “why,” you’re just as likely to veer off course or repeat the same mistakes. Making a plan without a “why” is like building a house without a foundation. Ultimately, your “why” provides the secret sauce to the blueprint — the will.