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Exploring Our Why
There’s so much beneath the statement: “I want to exercise more”.
It’s rarely a simple answer. Often, people will respond with a common goal like lose weight, gain strength, or be healthy. This is typically just the tip of the iceberg.
Digging deeper, lose weight might shift to “I want to feel more confident in my body.” Gain strength could expand to “I want to feel sturdier, stronger, and more capable in daily life.” Be healthy may evolve to “I want to feel more energy and not fall apart as I age.” This process often continues through multiple layers.
In each case, there are desires buried with significance. These can be deeply personal and meaningful. Understanding what we truly want is powerful, yet frustratingly difficult.
The Noise of Others
One reason is the widespread and potent pull of Mimetic desire1. The reality that the things we want are often influenced by what we perceive others wanting is disturbing. It forces us to acknowledge that our goals may not actually have come from within us but from friends, influencers, and other external sources. This influence of others can lead us to pursue things we don’t actually care about or oscillate between competing desires.
This is especially true in the world of fitness and exercise.
Everywhere we go, people are telling us what we should want and do. Bigger muscles. Less fat. Run a marathon. Deadlift 400 pounds. Lose 30 lbs in 30 days with this secret program.
All this noise makes exploring our own desires more challenging. Unwinding external influences and discovering internal motivators rarely feels easy or quick. Therefore, it’s less about rushing to find the answers and more about cultivating curiosity for and commitment to the question.
Benefits of Uncovering Our Desires
Gaining a deeper understanding of what we want is crucial to embracing exercise in an enjoyable and effective way. It’s hard to enjoy exercise if there’s something we truly want from it and we’re not progressing toward it. Making sustained progress is difficult if we haven’t clarified what we’re aiming for.
At the core of Intuitive Fitness is a nudge toward intrinsic motivation where we are driven by the satisfaction of doing an activity instead of a specific outcome. Yet, there’s nuance here. Many people have desires and goals beyond just “enjoying exercise.” Awesome! Pursuing a tangible goal can be motivating and satisfying. Making progress feels good and can increase motivation creating a virtuous cycle2.
So rather than view it as a choice between intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, embrace both. Cultivate intrinsic motivation to create a constant source of fuel that doesn’t wane. Embrace goals or desires as they emerge to increase motivation and accelerate action. Just continue to look within for guidance on what you actually want.
Motivation and Intuitive Fitness
Exploring our motivation for exercise is foundational to building an approach to fitness from a place of personal meaning. Here are some beliefs I have about motivation and intuitive fitness:
Discovering goals and desires from within is far more powerful than just adopting the goals and desires of others. Start to question and explore what you truly want.
It’s okay to want what you want. There’s little benefit in judging a desire as not-worthy or shallow. Instead, get curious about where it comes from and what’s beneath it.
Goals, desires, and motivation evolve over time. Start wherever you are but be open to the likelihood that these will change.
Motivation decreases if we lose confidence that our efforts will achieve our goals. Design your approach to align with what you want most and incorporate sound training principles.
Untangling mimetic desires is an ongoing game to identify what we actually want versus things we believe we should want. Create conditions that minimize mimetic desires and support self-discovery.
The best path to uncover our true desires lies in the body. Our embodied experience of how goals and activities feel to pursue can highlight where there’s personal resonance.
The most sustainable and potent motivation is experiencing joy and curiosity within an activity. Cultivate joy for exercise and fascination with fitness to remove the need for constant external motivation.
My beliefs about desires, motivation, and goals may differ from yours. Explore for yourself to create your own playbook for when things are challenging.
In future posts, I’ll expand on these areas and provide concrete tips on designing an approach to align with different goals. The real fun starts when we play with how to progress toward outcomes that matter to us while maximizing the joy within the pursuit.
For now, I’ll leave you with one final thought. If we can’t escape it, perhaps we can use mimetic desire to our benefit. Maybe by modeling intuitive fitness, we can inspire each other to desire our own paths. At the least, we can create a little safe haven for people interested in embracing exercise from within.
Playing with these ideas
My hope is everything I share here will be an invitation for you to reflect on, experiment with, and experience these ideas in your own life. Some prompts to play with:
Reflect: What do you want from exercise? Is this coming from within or what you see others wanting? Are there any more personal desires buried beneath this?
Experiment: Try to find one activity to do today or this week that aligns well with what you want most from exercise.
Experience: As you do this activity, notice how it feels in your body. Bring awareness to your desires, motivations, and goals during the activity. See if there are any shifts in how the activity feels before, during, or after.
Thank you for reading. Please consider sharing this with a friend if you think they will be interested in exploring Intuitive Fitness. I’d love to hear any reflections, ideas, or questions you have in the comments.
There’s a shocking amount of theories around motivation and no clear agreement on how they all come together. These include self-determination theory, expectancy theory, self-efficacy theory, goal-setting theory, and many more. I’m fascinated by the different elements of each and how they can help us understand our desires and motivation for exercise and life more broadly.