Knowing what makes you tick


After nearly a decade of being married to a woman who majored in psychology in college, naturally, I've taken a deeper interest in what makes peoples' minds tick.

Two areas of psychology that interest me most are motivation and habits - what motivates people to act and how do habits form? Understanding these mental idiosyncrasies is the basis of first getting people to begin a workout regime (motivation) and then getting them to stick with it over time (habit).

As a fit dad and as a personal trainer, its beneficial to not only understand how the body works, but also how the mind works. The mind is often the greater barrier to overcome rather than the physical hurdles. Obviously, the mental strength it takes to properly parent a child is far greater than the physical strength. Ha!

"The mind is often the greater barrier to overcome rather than the physical hurdles."

One of the most popular personality assessments is the Myers-Briggs. I am an ENFP, which is described as, among other things, someone who "makes connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceeds based on the patterns they see."

Relating this to fitness, I come up with a training plan very quickly, and I'm in a constant state of information gathering - consciously or subconsciously - in order to make better decisions faster in the future. It's just how I work best. But more on that in a bit.

Recently though, I went a step further and took the Gallup Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to gain deeper insight into the things that make me tick beyond the things I know that I love and am passionate about.

The StrengthsFinder assessment (which costs $15) offers a more deeply rooted view of a person's strengths, opening up the hood, so to speak, as to why we are the way we are. It's about knowing, understanding and capitalizing on your strengths at a foundational level.

"Many years of research conducted by The Gallup Organization suggest that the most effective people are those who understand their strengths and behaviors," the StrengthFinder website says. "These people are best able to develop strategies to meet and exceed the demands of their daily lives, their careers, and their families."

When I read that last sentence - "to meet and exceed the demands of their daily lives, their careers, and their families" - I was intrigued, as I saw an opportunity to better myself in all aspects of my life - with my family and friends, with my personal training clients, with my co-workers - and to relate this to other dads who may want the same for their own lives.

Quick note: If you are self-aware enough, much of this is logical and perhaps even redundant to you. However, I find it's often helpful to take a step back and see an explanation of why you are the way you are presented to you in someone else's words, just to give you further context.

With that said, my top five strengths are:

  • Strategic - The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity.
  • Futuristic -  The future fascinates you. As if it were projected on the wall, you see in detail what the future might hold, and this detailed picture keeps pulling you forward, into tomorrow.
  • Activator - You are impatient for action. You may concede that analysis has its uses or that debate and discussion can occasionally yield some valuable insights, but deep down you know that only action is real. Only action can make things happen.
  • Ideation - You are fascinated by ideas. What is an idea? An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection.
  • Adaptability - You live in the moment. You don’t see the future as a fixed destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now. And so you discover your future one choice at a time.

Here's what all that means: repetition and predictability bore me, or worse, negatively affect my emotional state. I thrive in exploration, in newness, in testing out new ideas.

Funny enough, taking these assessments is incredibly tedious to me. I really have to focus to answer the questions thoughtfully rather than just blaze through them. Based on my results, its easy to see why!

Relating this back to health and fitness, this ties perfectly into how I design my own workout programs - I am constantly changing things up, mixing and matching new exercises with familiar ones and testing new moves to see how they make my muscles feel. I regularly experiment with the number of sets and reps, tempo, range of motion.

For some, my style of working out may not work for them. They may prefer something more regimented and structured week in and week out. One of my clients even asked me to schedule him the same workout plan for a month straight. Every day, exactly the same. He wanted a set plan and wanted to execute on that plan each day.

And there's nothing wrong with this.

But this is why it is so important to understand what makes you tick. Success in health and fitness is as much about feeling like the exercises you are doing are in rhythm with what you believe brings your body the most value, as it is pounds lifted or miles ran.

"Success in health and fitness is as much about feeling like the exercises you are doing are in rhythm with what you believe brings your body the most value as it is pounds lifted or miles ran."

If you don't like the treadmill, run outside. If you find weight-lifting routines to be boring and tedious, try circuit training, HIIT workouts, or classes. If you are anxious about going to a gym and find it intimidating, go in with a set plan of action and a schedule each day to give yourself one less thing to worry about. If you are unmotivated to go to the gym, consider switching up your workout to jumpstart your mental state.

You don't need a personality assessment to tell you these things - although they are kind of fun to go through. Listen to your body and be honest with what you enjoy and value. And then do those things to keep you motivated and to establish your own fitness habits.