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Good goals, bad goals


SHIFT YOUR FOCUS An intrinsic fitness goal, such as having more energy to play with the kids, carries value and meaning to our sense of who we are.

Fitness and Wellbeing
Paul O'Brien

I have recently welcomed new clients into my gym and studio at what is, traditionally, a busy time of year in the fitness industry. When I speak to them about their goals, weight loss and avoiding a health scare are frequently mentioned.
Yet, according to the Healthy Ireland study 2015, almost 70 percent of adults are not getting sufficient exercise to gain health benefits. Sticking with regular exercise appears to be a problem. Perhaps the issue lies the goals that people are setting?

Starting from the wrong place
A nine-year study of over 275,000 obese people in the UK showed that only one in eight men and one in seven women are likely to achieve at least a 5 percent weight loss in a year. Most people don’t stick at it long enough for it to make a lasting difference. If you look at exercising for weight loss as a goal, it’s easy to see why this happens.
Exercising for weight loss is what’s called an extrinsic goal – it’s related to image and perception. These goals are consistently linked to a lower rate of exercise adherence.
Another problem with focusing on goals such as weight loss and avoiding health problems is that they focus on something that is wrong – the excess weight or the absence of health – and so people regularly experience feelings of lack, shame and inadequacy when starting to exercise towards these goals.
This is not an inspiring place to start from. It leads to a perception of exercise as a chore, something you ‘must do’ and takes most of the joy from the activity. Fun and enjoyment are both linked with high exercise adherence rates.
Goals based on lack are also motivated by fear. You are afraid of what will happen if you don’t exercise. This strengthens the negative association with exercise and is also strongly linked to low adherence rates. Fear as a motivator doesn’t work.

Changing the game
Shifting the focus to intrinsic goals, those that carry value and meaning to our sense of who we are, may be the key to changing your relationship with exercise. Goals such as enjoyment, social connection and quality of life are attainable now, not like those attainable in the distant future, such as weight loss. The effects of intrinsic goals can be felt in the here and now.
Another alternative is to link exercise with something that is meaningful to you. Those things you see as meaningful are known as your core values. To establish yours, take a free online values test, such as the Personal Values Assessment available at www.valuescentre.com. Once you have established your values, you can create an exercise goal that is rooted in them.
For example, one of your core values may be ‘fun’. So, when setting your goal, find a form of exercise that you enjoy and can have fun doing. It could be dancing, cycling or something you’ve always wanted to try. The fact that you enjoy the exercise will greatly increase your chances of continuing. You have also positively reframed your experience with exercise, further increasing the likelihood that you’ll stick with it. Shift your perception, shift your outcome.

> Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or rofstudio@gmail.com.

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