Jennifer Lovejoy, Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD
Have you ever had the experience of talking with a child and he or she repeatedly asks “why”? If you’re like most adults, you’ll answer to the best of your knowledge and continue on with your day. In the busyness of modern life, there isn’t much time to contemplate the whys. Yet, taking five minutes to think about your personal why can have a profound effect on your health – and life1,2.
So, let’s take five minutes to consider the why of wellness.
Everyone has a why in life. Your why is the underlying force that powers you to reach your health and other goals. As an Arivale Coach, I attempt to understand the why of my members with questions like, “Why do you want to be healthy?” or, “Why is weight loss important to you?”
The answers are incredibly powerful to hear.
Some people want to be healthier because they want to feel strong. Others have a desire to be a good partner or parent or contribute to their community. In general, people from all walks of life seem to agree that being healthy is important to them. But in the reality of day-to-day life, we seldom have or make the time to revisit this question of why we want to be healthy.
Here are three reasons your why matters when it comes to your health:
1. It helps direct your goal.
Deciding to be healthier is one thing; knowing where to start is something else completely. Do you hit the gym or overhaul your diet? Understanding why you’ve set a health goal will be the underlying guidepost to every action you take.
Let’s consider a busy mom who’s why is to spend quality time with her children. She wants to be able to carry her youngest child without fatigue or strain, therefore, her goal is centered around increasing muscle. Focusing on strength training would be the best action for her to get results; she would see more progress with a tailored strength-training program than by just spending 30 minutes on an elliptical every day.
2. It keeps you focused.
Anyone who has pursued a goal knows there are ups and downs. Eventually, you hit a tough spot. Maybe the mom from earlier had a bad day at work, or the dog chewed up her brand-new workout shoes. Such things can make it hard to remember why you decided to dedicate some of your limited time to improving your health in the first place.
Keeping your why – also known as your aspiration – front and center will help remind you what’s most important. I like to think of whys and aspirations as lighthouses that guide us back when times are tough. For the busy mom, her children are the lighthouse that brings her back to a focused place.
3. It sets you up for success.
People who are in tune with their why are more likely to succeed in changing health habits1,3,4. Goals, action steps, and decision making are all influenced by our whys. As you start to work on new habits, or learn to think about health in new ways, your why serves as the foundation for internal motivation and drives your actions.
Dr. Michelle Segar, director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center is an expert in sustainable behavior change. She found many people believe motivation is the driver of whether or not a person successfully makes healthy changes. In reality, her research indicates it’s a person’s why that’s the primary driver in sustaining healthy changes5.
For our hypothetical mom, finding physical activities she can do with her children to stay in shape is more in tune with her why than going to a gym alone. She is more likely to succeed in increasing her exercise because her why and goal are closely connected.
It can be all too easy to lose sight of what’s most important at times. If it has been awhile since you thought about your personal why for wanting to be healthy, or if you’ve come to a new juncture in life, take five minutes and write down what matters most to you. How does being healthy allow you to pursue or honor that which you cherish in life? What is your why?
Keep what you’ve written down in a highly visible place – at work, at home, or both. Set a reminder in your calendar in six months to revisit this question. Make sure your goal and actions are in alignment with what you have written down.
Taking five minutes to answer this seemingly basic question will ensure you’re on a path toward being a healthier you.
- Niemiec, C., Ryan, R., Deci, E., Williams, G. (2009). Aspiring to physical health: The role of aspirations for physical health in facilitating long-term tobacco abstinence. Patient Education and Counseling, 74, 250–257.
- Strine, T., et al. (2008). The Associations Between Life Satisfaction and Health-related Quality of Life, Chronic Illness, and Health Behaviors among U.S. Community-dwelling Adults. Journal of Community Health, 33(1) 40-50.
- Eastbrooks, P., et al. (2005). The frequency and behavioral outcomes of goal choices in the self-management of diabetes. The Diabetes Educator, 31(3), 391-400.
- Swoboda, C., Miller, C., Willis, C. (2016). Setting Single or Multiple Goals for Diet and Physical Activity Behaviors Improves Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: A Pragmatic Pilot Randomized Trial. The Diabetes Educator, 42(4), 429-443.
- Segar, M., Eccles, J., & Richardson, C. (2011). Rebranding exercise: closing the gap between values and behavior. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8, 94.