You know you should work out. But you should also call the insurance company to update your bank info, vacuum the floors, service your car, get your cracked cell phone screen repaired, take out the trash and recycling, take your son to the dentist. And work out.
And there is the problem. Your fitness plan is on the chore list, and most of us think of chores as tedious, mundane, monotonous tasks. Chores don’t exactly inspire thoughts of fun and fulfillment.
But here’s the thing about exercise: Consistency is only possible when we transform our health and fitness chores into choices and eventually into desires.
Long-term success with health and fitness is possible only when we change how we think about health behaviors. Chores are obligations. You must drag yourself to do most chores. Desires, by contrast, draw you toward them and require little to no summoning of your will.
Here is an overview of the core emotion of chores, choices and desires:
Chore: You have to/should do it. (Low appeal)
Choice: You need to do it. (Medium appeal)
Desire: You want to do it. (High appeal)
For the majority of people, fitness is a chore that often gets skipped until it must be done. The doctor gives you a stern warning about a negative health consequence you may be experiencing. Or your clothes start to get too tight, especially that one pair of jeans you love and don’t want to give up. As children and teens, we start to develop the pattern of putting off chores until we have to do them. We know we must do them, but we don’t until a parent or other outside force compels us to. We may eventually do them, but it is not a choice we embrace. We slump our shoulders, move slowly and let our body language convey just how disinterested we are in doing our chores.
Some chores, like taking out the trash or doing laundry, only have to be done once or twice a week. Health is a daily—even moment-to-moment—choice, so it cannot exist in the chore space.
You decide to take action. You choose to make health a priority. You follow unhealthy behaviors a little less often and make healthy ones a little more frequently. A couple of weeks go by, and you’re doing pretty well. But then something happens. It might be a deadline at work, a few days of you or a child home sick or a stressful personal situation that arises. And suddenly you’re off track again.
You did choose to act. However, without strong appeal, it is easy for your energy to be diverted to more urgent matters. As a result, the importance of health fades into the background again and you wait for “things to settle down” before you get back to the gym.
Or, you have decided to make a change for the better. For example, you have chosen to stop eating a bowl of ice cream most nights while watching television. But…you still want the ice cream. Your actions point toward one direction while your desires point toward another. And repeatedly doing the opposite of what you desire is a recipe for misery.
It’s easier to go after something when you want it. Really want it. To continue with our previous example, if you no longer desire the ice cream, it is easier to avoid eating it. It becomes irrelevant. This is the food version of the relationship tenet once observed by Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Your desire is for health, so the opposite of health becomes increasingly less salient to you.
More to the point, when you create desire for positive health behaviors (rather than just avoidance of unhealthy ones), you have the magic formula for harmony and lifelong success with health.
Consider this rule I’ve begun using with all of my health coaching clients: “Do not eat any food or do any workout that you know you dislike.”
The sense of relief this approach will give you is incredibly liberating. After all, there is no one food you must eat or one style of exercise that you must perform. If you can get the same benefits from something you enjoy doing, then that is what you must choose. (One caveat to this rule is that you have to try something more than once to have the real experience and know for certain whether it is for you or not.)
I have seen this happen first-hand in Funtensity, the workout that merges brain science with high-intensity interval training, named one of ACE’s Trends to Watch for in 2018 (https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/6892/8-fitness-trends-for-2018). It becomes easier to stay consistent because the sense of enjoyment creates a desire to continue. Enjoyment creates positive emotion, which enhances the exercise experience and makes you want to exercise instead of have to exercise.
Here’s a great way to alter your thought patterns the next time you feel the heaviness of obligation taking hold when you are about to engage in any health behavior: Change your “I have to” statement to an “I get to” sentence. Complete this sentence: “I get to _________ (health behavior), which allows me to __________ (something you want to do or be). Simply by changing your thoughts, you will undoubtedly start to feel better about getting moving and doing something positive for yourself.
If you would like to learn more about how you can help your clients discover their own paths to a healthy, happy lifestyle. Check out the ACE Behavior Change Specialist Program.