3 Ways to Shift Your Fitness Focus Beyond Your Appearance
This post originally appeared on the Martha Munroe blog here. I asked Martha if I could share it with you, because adopting the mindset around fitness that she suggests has allowed me to embrace a long-term daily exercise routine for the first time in my life. Letting go of appearance-oriented goals has freed me to choose activities that I enjoy and that make me feel good, which makes incorporating them into my day almost effortless. I hope you'll give them a try! -Debra-
Wanting to lose weight and look a certain way are big motivating factors when it comes to exercise, but there are strong arguments for moving away from those goals.
Not only has research indicated that the vast majority of weight loss attempts don’t work, are more likely to result in net weight gain over time, and can be potentially damaging to both health and self-esteem, but focusing on outcome goals, like appearance, rather than process goals, like showing up and doing the work, undercuts motivation long-term.
As a trainer for over 10 years, I’ve noticed that clients who focus on appearance continually struggle with motivation, as opposed to clients who focus on the habit and building a routine they enjoy who feel immediate benefit from becoming more active.
Regardless of our intentions, it’s very common to have negative mind-chatter about our bodies that can interfere with our goals for a relationship with exercise that focuses on enjoyment, energy management, and long-term health. These mindset interventions are ways to start to change the stories that we tell ourselves and consciously chose the more helpful option.
Three tools for shifting your focus from your appearance:
Imagine a close friend, a loved one, or even a child shares with you the types of negative thoughts about their body that you feel about yours. What would you say to them? How would you encourage them to focus on self-care and love for themselves? Self-compassion is hard when there is so much pressure on us from so many sides. Envisioning a dear one with the same concerns and how you would support them with understanding, support, and unconditional valuing can clue us in to how to address those same insecurities within ourselves.
In the context of your life, what do you want your relationship with exercise to look like? Imagine that the hard work of starting the habit has already been done, where does exercise fit it? When I ask this to clients, frequent responses are “exercise is just part of my life,” “exercise gives me energy and helps me feel good,” “I enjoy being active with my family” or “doing physical activity helps me feel capable and strong.” Envisioning the role we want exercise to play in our lives can help us stay in a place of learning and growing through the experience, regardless of appearance outcome.
One day when you’re sitting in your rocking chair on the porch, don’t you just want to look back and reflect on what a great job you did being as thin and attractive as possible? No? Me either. In the words of Derek Zoolander, “maybe there is more to life than being really really good-looking.” Reflecting on this scale can help us be mindful of how much energy we’re spending on goals that aren’t really ours. Reflecting on our touchstone values, what truly matters to us in this life, can provide a healthy buffer from systems that profit from you not liking yourself.
If you’ve struggled with your body image, it makes sense. That is the most-likely outcome of a system that profits from insecurity. Exercise has so much more to offer that trying to fix something that has never been broken. By cultivating self-compassion, connecting to our values, and focusing on the role of exercise in the context of our full lives, we can move to a place where exercise is energy-giving, enjoyable, and sustainable throughout our lives.
Martha Munroe is a personal trainer, and wellbeing coach who believes a good relationship with your body is key to a good life and loves to help people get there. She has a MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, and dreams of changing the world - or at least the fitness industry. She loves cats, coffee, and conversation.