A few weeks ago, I asked a quick yes/no question in my Instagram stories:
Can you articulate why you work out/train?
11% of the people who saw it answered yes.
Two people answered no.
And the other 88% of people didn’t say a word, which can mean a few things, in my experience.
- Their answer is still no, but they didn’t want to go on the record about it.
- They don’t work out or train, so not relevant.
- They don’t like serious questions on non-serious platforms like Instagram stories. #lolcatzonlyplz
Still, I found the number of people who responded yes encouraging, so I followed up and asked them to articulate it.
Only two people did, which was only 8% of the people who responded overall. That leads me to believe one of two things:
- Their answer wasn’t quite as clear as they thought it was after all.
- They consider it none of my business.
In most cases, it’s the former. Of course, social media is an unreliable source for this kind of research, but what I found in this little experiment generally holds true in other, broader encounters I’ve experienced too. I’ve asked these kinds of questions in workshops, in introductory surveys of new clients, on client coaching calls, in random conversations, in more personal conversations – the consensus is usually the same:
Most people have no clear idea why they work out.
Or, they can’t articulate it beyond what you might expect – things like to lose weight, to stay healthy, so I can play with my kids, to get or stay in shape, to feel better. And those things can be great reasons to work out. But I wonder if they’re serving us in the ways we hope for. Habits are good, auto-pilot obligatory behaviors, not so much.
Perfect example: There’s a huge difference between moving your body, listening to your body, being present in your body, using fitness as a way to combat stress and anxiety and boost immunity in uncertain times – and obsessing about missing your usual fitness classes and potentially putting on weight while your gym closes for the safety of the community. (Ariana Grande summed this point up real well.)
The science shows us that broad, faraway, vague “health” goals aren’t motivating, and don’t provide meaning for exercise. Body shaping goals don’t either. They’re also pretty typically chock full of cultural and societal pressures and shoulds. With no personal understanding and connection to a why, it’s no wonder so many people are out there struggling with fitness and body image.
What’s weird to me is that with fitness and exercise and healthy living and #wellness being such a huge part of our culture right now, what’s keeping us from talking about this piece of it? Like, why do we care so much if we can’t even figure out why we care or what we actually care about?
How very meta.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the why question, and its answer, is kind of a big deal.
Some people don’t love it and argue it invites explanations and defensiveness, but I think it can be useful. And I’m OK if you get defensive. I want to know your knee-jerk answer, even if it’s one of those predictable answers. It gives me an opportunity to ask you again. Usually, I call it playing the 5-year-old game, and you know what I mean by this – with every additional why, it makes you really think about your responses, get super clear and detailed so you can finally gain understanding.
The secret power of the why question, though, is that it often does elicit a non-response or an I don’t know.
And that’s a very, very valuable answer. It’s the answer that’ll change everything, if you work with it.
Listen, I’m not here to assume for everyone, but I meet so many people in the daily execution of my work, both in-person and online, who can’t come up with a single why for their fitness beyond cultural conditioning. Meaning mostly: weight loss, being thinner, maintaining a certain size or body proportion, or maaaaaybe disease prevention. Those whys are often rooted in shoulds, and more often than not, those whys are freaking toxic.
We’ve been conditioned to believe a lot of things about fitness and health, and also about their whys and hows. Most of what we’ve been conditioned to believe hasn’t been entirely accurate, or in our best interest. And not examining those bits, not asking why we believe what we believe, why we care about what we care about, has led us to some dark places.
So let’s start asking why.
Can you articulate why you work out?
Yes or no, OK, great. Why is that important to you? Or why can’t you articulate it?
Fill in the blanks. Hit reply, type your answer, save it, delete it, send it to me, I don’t care. Just answer the question, again and again, and don’t let yourself off the hook.
It’s OK if the answer is because you want to be able to stay the same size as you were in college. But ask yourself why.
It’s OK if the answer is because you’re uncomfortable in your skin right now. But ask yourself why.
It’s OK if the answer is because you think potential partners will find you more attractive. But ask yourself why.
It’s OK if the answer is because it makes you feel strong. But ask yourself why.
It’s OK if the answer is because it’s fun. But ask yourself why.
It’s OK if the answer is that you don’t know. But ask yourself why.
Alternatively, it’s OK if this question doesn’t apply because you don’t work out. But gently, ask yourself why.
This is important. Articulating all of this is important. It’s important for you and your body, mind, and heart. It’s important for us collectively. Why are we doing this? Why aren’t we? Why can’t we talk about why? There’s no shame or judgment in those answers for anyone. But there is clarity, there’s freedom, and there’s power and potential for change.
This is also hard, and you might not get there with the little mini-worksheet above. That’s why I work with clients one-on-one, to facilitate the process of articulating and getting through those I don’t knows and the blocks to asking why one more time. And of course, it’s why I created Fitness Unraveled, to facilitate that same process, with support and love and compassion from not only me, but other people who are struggling too.
I know for a fact that gaining a greater understanding and deeper meaning of fitness into your life can make a huge impact on every part of it, way beyond workouts. I know it firsthand, and I’ve seen it in hundreds of clients over the years. And gaining understanding (of anything) happens by being curious and getting clear.
If you find yourself struggling with fitness and body image, ask why. Get curious. Unravel it. Articulate it.
You can start the process by signing up here. Fitness Unraveled is coming in a few weeks. If you’re not quite ready for that, email me or schedule a call below to chat about working together individually. Or sign up for weekly emails to learn more about this idea.