Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Optimal Psychological Characteristics of Long-Term Success

We love hearing stories of success, whether that is in sports, business, or just health and fitness. Often, we seek to emulate those who we deem as 'successful', such as Bill Gates or Tiger Woods. In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, he explains that hard work, practice, and opportunity are key factors. But, what about the average Joe or Jane? And more specifically, what determines success for them in health and fitness?

Our most accessible window to 'success' for the average Joe or Jane in health and fitness is The Biggest Loser. We hear about contestants losing 100 pounds in three months. However, everyone questions whether these individuals can keep this weight off long-term, especially when they return to their regular life.

Another example of fitness 'success' is the life-long runner. He may be 60 years old and have an arthritic hip, but he consistently runs 30 miles per week, and has done so for the last 40 years. He isn't breaking any records, but his running is like clock-work. No matter what is going on in his life, he gets his millage in, and everyone marvels about his impressive motivation (or just chalks him up as 'nuts').

What can we learn from these two 'success' stories? They showcase two different types of motivation. The Biggest Loser contestant is highly 'outcome-oriented.' The runner, in this case, is highly 'process-oriented'. Most people and a lot of clients I see are 'outcome-oriented'.

"I want to lose 15 pounds."

"I want to be able to run a half marathon."

These are both examples of 'outcome-oriented' approaches to fitness and health. Nothing but accomplishing these goals would be considered a 'success'.

We all know that most average Joes and Janes never reach these goals. Inevitably, something gets in the way. They may realize that their initial goal was too lofty and their motivation wanes. They get frustrated and quit. Twelve months later (perhaps in January) they start this cycle all over again.

What's missing is an optimal balance of 'outcome-oriented' and 'processed-oriented' drive. The most successful athletes, business people, or fitness enthusiasts all possess this balance. Not only do they love the day-to-day process (like the life-long runner), but they have some specific goals (like The Biggest Loser contestant). I see it in my clients and myself. As much as we want to improve and reach certain performance and health goals, we enjoy the process. Enjoying the process is what sustains you day in, day out; week in, week out. You look forward to your training as much as reaching your goals.

How about you? Do you have a good balance of outcome and process-oriented drive? Where do you currently fall on the outcome-process spectrum?

No comments: