Beyond Motivation

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Jon Wheeler is currently an Assistant Director of Residence Life at the University of Arizona. He has been in Student Affairs for 15 years and taught English composition at the community college level for three years prior to that. Jon recently finished his first half-marathon in Phoenix, Arizona and has plans for full marathons in October (Des Moines, IA) and the following May (Spokane, WA).


We all find our motivation for getting fit in our own way. My motivation was vanity. I was about to turn 40, and I didn’t like how I looked. About that point, I was seeing infomercials that touted the achievements of other 40-somethings who had transformed their soft bodies into hard bodies, and I wanted a hard body. That motivation initiated my trek toward fitness, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me to stay the course for what has now become a three-and-a-half year journey of understanding my body and pushing the boundaries of what my body can do.

I’m not a fitness expert and I don’t claim to have a magic bullet that will guarantee success, but I wanted to share what worked for me. I hope you find it helpful.

Some might want to know the particulars of how I got fit. Very briefly, I started a regimen of weightlifting three days a week (muscle is calorically more expensive than fat) and aerobic workouts (running, swimming, etc.) three days a week. I built up from thirty-minute workouts to hour-long workouts. While my diet changed to some extent (higher protein and fiber, fewer carbs and smaller, more frequent meals), I still eat pizza, drink beer, and have dessert, but I still lost 40 pounds, became much more toned, and maintained that level of fitness.

The following would be what has worked best for me:

  • I became a fitness aficionado: In Student Affairs, we pride ourselves on knowing every theorist, studying every developmental trend, reading every new leadership book. We need to turn that focus to our own bodies. I began reading about nutrition, exercise physiology, and sport-specific technique. Studying exercise physiology helped engage my mind as well as my body.
  • I made it a date and put it in my calendar: When it comes to my health, I treat exercise as a sacred appointment, as if I was meeting with the president of the institution. Someone had better be bleeding from the eyeballs if I’m to miss my workout. It has to take that level of importance.
  • I planned for adversity: When you exercise, you’re pushing your body, and things will hurt and will break down. The more you know about exercise, the more you’ll be able to avoid injury, so study up, but it will still happen. When I injured my shoulder from weightlifting, I modified my routine and went to physical therapy. When I suffered shin splints after my half marathon, I shifted to swimming to allow my shins to heal. The point is that I didn’t stop working out. Stopping is deadly.
  • I found an exercise community: I found folks who were interested in the same degree of fitness that I hoped to attain and began to talk with them about what I was experiencing. We can’t go it alone. A community helps reinforce good habits, makes us feel good about our goals, and supports us when we’re tempted to quit.
  • I publically committed to a goal: One of my most recent commitments was to run a half-marathon. I told everyone I knew that I was going to do it. My pride would not allow me not to run the race. I was going to follow through no matter what. Making a public commitment crystalized my focus. It was a constant reminder why I was lacing up my shoes.

All of these elements helped me push past the initially weak motivation of vanity. Each one has contributed to turning exercise into a passion that I practice daily. There are times when life challenges that practice and when energy wanes, but building this support structure helps me remain focused and fit. I hope that my experience helps. Good health!



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