Lifelong fitness isn’t effort, it’s not willpower, and it’s definitely not innate ability. It’s the answer to the question: what do I value as demonstrated by how I spend my time?
Make a list of what you value and be completely honest with yourself. Include things like relationships, sex, family, professional status, and maybe something like volunteering. Make it your list. Rank the items on the list if you’d like.
Now, do an inventory of the most recent three days of your life and where you spent your time. Break it down hour-by-hour and put your activities into buckets (television, family, work, fitness, etc.)
Did your values list match where you spent the preponderance of your time?
If you ranked family first on your list, for example, how much time and energy are you spending on them versus fantasy football, television, or going to happy hours?
Now before we go any further, let’s establish one thing: you are not to judge yourself for what’s on your list or if there’s a disconnect between your values and where you’re spending your time. This is an information-gathering exercise, not an inquisition.
So, if, say, you’re way into video games I don’t want you to feel sheepish about that. I want that on your values list. I want you to be open with yourself about video games being something that you love to play. I want you to be purposeful about playing video games. (Seriously.)
But if there’s something on the list of things to which you devote an inordinate amount of time that you don’t actually value—watching television is on this list for a lot of people—then be aware of that and work to curtail the amount of time you spend on it, replacing it with the things you do value.
I’ve found that a lot of people who are sitting on the sidelines of fitness actually value many aspects of it. They want to feel better. They want to look better. They want to be sick less often. They want to be able to move without pain. They value fitness, but there’s a disconnect between the value they place on it and the lives that they’re living. This disconnect is a recipe for sadness, anxiety, and discontent.
The reason people remain discontented with their lives isn’t laziness. Often they’ve never stopped to think about where they’re spending their precious time. Seasoned and respected professionals, they’ve never done an analysis of their lives the way they might for a customer’s issue, a patient’s illness, or a boss’s request. And sometimes the most pernicious of all reasons is shame. They’re ashamed they’ve never spent time on fitness and now they’re fat/injured/weak/deconditioned/unattractive/insert your own negative self-talk here. Finally, many people don’t believe that they have the self-efficacy to achieve lifelong fitness, so why invest the time to try?
For those folks who don’t value fitness and health, often the reason for the notable absence of things that a sustain quality of life is a lack of self-esteem. Yeah, yeah, I know. It sounds squishy and touchy feely. But stay with me for a second.
If self-efficacy is the belief that one can do something (I can learn how to squat and press a weight above my head), then self-esteem is the belief that one deserves to do something (like achieve a fit body). You already know what this negative self-talk sounds like. “I’m so fat and disgusting. I deserve this. I did this to myself.”
If you fall into the category of people who value fitness but aren’t currently making the time for it, I encourage you to inventory your values and your time without judgment. Eliminate the extraneous and emphasize that which will make you happier and healthier.
If you fall into the category of people who don’t value fitness, I hope you’ll ponder whether you’re lacking the requisite self-esteem to take care of the one body you’ll ever have. If you are, then there’s a strong chance that you won’t get to the gym without first working with a good psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor to help you troubleshoot the way you think about yourself.