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Process, not outcome

January 1, 2014

It’s that time of year again. The time for dusting off the battered dreams and aspirations of the year past, setting new goals – defined by either doing something less or more – and testing the mettle of your ambitions by pushing through the head-fug of a hangover only to head towards disillusioned abandonment in February. 

Not that I have anything against New Year’s resolutions, per se. The beginning of the year is a natural point at which to reflect on where you are and where you’re going, and a cycle of reflection used effectively can help you get to where you want to be – whether that’s fitter, happier, or whatever else you might be shooting for. But the ‘big bang’ fitness revolutions notorious for this time of year are self-defeating.

Few fitness-related resolutions are made for the process; they’re all about the outcome. Sometimes that outcome is clearly defined – lose a stone by May – other times less so – move from Meat Loaf towards Brad Pitt in the Fight Club continuum of body shapes. Which is all well and good, but when your sole focus for an activity is an outcome, you leave yourself with two issues that threaten the sustainability of your resolution:

  1. The thought of your overall goal might not be enough to sustain you through the dedication required to achieve that goal. Let’s say your route to losing a stone is running; if you do the same run, the same route, the same speed the whole time, your motivation is going to hit a low pretty soon. Even sooner if you’re doing this routine on a treadmill in a packed gym.
  2. What happens after your goal? If you’re purely outcome focused, your chosen route of reaching your goal might not be sustainable. Let’s say your transitioning from Loaf to Pitt, alongside a shed load of aerobic exercise, you’re going to need to do weights and live off egg whites and whey protein. Once you’re ready to fight yourself in a car park (or your boss’s office, your choice), you’re going to have to keep up that routine and diet in order to just maintain your conditioning. Which means never – or very rarely – indulging in cheese and beer. (And if you’ve got the Fight Club Meat Loaf physique, you’re pretty certain to like cheese and beer.) Is that realistically sustainable in the long-term?

Which is where I take issue with various fad diets and the rise of High Intensity Interval Training, where you’re only focused on the goal – and your chosen route to the goal is eating detox slop that looks like vomit, or sprinting on the spot until you vomit. And nobody enjoys vomit.

But if you shift to focus on the process, you stand a much better chance of success in the long-term. Joining a running (cycling, rowing, whatever) club would be a more sustainable resolution, because you’ll meet new people and improve at whatever your chosen sport in a social context. And having a regular slot to hang out with fun people is much more enjoyable than just trudging through whatever routine you’re forcing yourself to complete down the gym. And because you’re having fun, you’ll be more likely to keep it up, and your goal will be something you achieve through simply focusing on the process.

And so, for my part, my resolution this year is to focus on enjoying running more. After the long period of rehabilitation from my injury (which still niggles, but is on the way out), and with a new job to work a running routine around, I’ve realised I value the outlet of running more than simply chasing times and distances. This year calls for new routes and new adventures, not just chasing the same old routine.

Here’s to 2014!

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 1, 2014 9:53 pm

    Happy New Year.
    Always said I’m a walker, not a runner but the more I walk the more my body wants to run. Something about it calls to us humans.

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