What’s Your Why? Part 1

On Saturday, February 1st,I pulled into the gym parking lot. “Wow, it’s really crowded,” observed my daughter from the back seat. In the Kids Club, we were greeted with pure pandemonium— an overflow of parents and kids waiting in the cramped lobby and the staff woefully underprepared for the additional influx of children. We were wait-listed.

“They really should have known better,” joked/complained one of the fellow regulars who had also been wait-listed.

“After all, February is the new January.”

“Give it a couple of weeks,” said another as she struggled to keep her toddler from running off, “and the Resolutioners will dwindle down.”

This conversation played in my mind thirty minutes later when my two girls had finally been admitted to the Kids Club and I was rushing through my warm up to catch up with my fellow boot-campers. As a regular gym-goer, a gym at max capacity can be somewhat bothersome, but as a Health Coach it made me a little…sad—sad that in just a few weeks, attendance will inevitably fall off.

Day in and day out, we make decisions motivated by both extrinsic (something done because you want a reward or want to avoid punishment) and intrinsic (done because of the pride and joy you feel during or after) factors.

A good example of this would be my driving. I travel quite a bit, and when it’s just me and that open road, my extrinsic fear of a ticket is overcome by my inner Ricky Bobby—my intrinsic need for speed takes over and the speed limit becomes merely a suggestion rather than a hard and fast rule.

Now take that same scenario and place my two children in the back seat—all of a sudden, my intrinsic motivation switches to keeping them safe, while also setting a good example for them and the speed limit becomes less suggestion and more rule.

If you’re wondering what my point is to this – I’d like to ask you why I speed when I’m alone (personal satisfaction) and why I don’t when I have my kids with me (my purpose).

Getting back to those resolutions… Every year, approximately 45% of Americans make a New Year resolution. Yet less than half of those that make resolutions maintain them past the six-month mark. Why? The answer lies in that one word.

The reason why most of our New Year resolutions fail is because the why, the reason(s) motivating them, are extrinsic— they are not OUR why. Let’s say you told me that your goal was to work out more. If I were to ask you, “Why?” how would you reply?

If you said something along the lines of, “Because my doctor told me I need to.” Then I would predict that you would fail to attain your goal— there’s no intrinsic motivation for you to keep at it. There’s no personal purpose or pleasure tied to it. However, if you were to reply, “Because I want to become healthier. Because I want to feel stronger. Because I want to set a good example for my children. Because I want for us to become an active family.” Then I would predict your chances of success are higher— your motivation is intrinsic – it’s purpose-driven.

I’ll take a deeper dive into this in my next post, but for now, the next time you’re setting a goal, tap in to your inner child and ask yourself (multiple times if you have to) WHY you want to attain that goal. What are your personal motivations and accountability factors for reaching this goal?

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Cardigan is an employer branding and internal communication consultancy that helps companies get the most from their people and culture.