I think the most important aspect in starting our fitness journey is finding your “why”. Why are you looking to lose weight, or run a 5K, or get in the best shape of your life? What’s in it for you?
Finding your Why is the reason you get up in the morning. It’s what fires you up, why you stay active and keep working towards your dreams and ambitions. Your Why is your true purpose in life.
Changing and Evolving Your Why
Our Why evolves over the span of our lives. When I was a little girl, all I wanted was to be a dolphin trainer. When adults would ask me why, I would give a funny look and say “because I love dolphins”. But my Why ran a lot deeper, I was probably just too young to realize it. All my life I’ve considered the water my true home. On land, I am ungraceful. I plod rather than walk or run. I’m clumsy and awkward. But in the water, I come alive. When I was five years old, I saw my first dolphin show, and realized that was something I could do for a living. Water and animals. I had found my calling.
My Why was because I was called to the sea. I couldn’t think of anything else throughout my entire childhood. The sea inspired me. I loved the ocean like a mother loves their child. From the smallest shrimp to the great blue whales, I cared about every creature in the deep blue.
It will come as no surprise that I eventually made my way to becoming an animal care specialist– rescuing manatees, training dolphins, enriching polar bears, and educating the public. That was the most important part to me—imparting a sense of wonder and awe into the next generation, or even the current generation. Teaching them and inspiring them to learn, care, and act.
But as time passed, my Why became a little unclear and murky. I loved my job, but it didn’t get me out of bed in the morning. The animals were great, but there was something missing. So, I set out again to find my passion.
I found it again in the Pacific Northwest. It took some time, but I found my calling—conservation fitness. When I discovered a fun and engaging way to get in shape, and have a positive impact on the planet, I knew I had to pursue it. To connect others to the earth in a healthy and positive way. Have fun in fitness and make a difference in conservation efforts.
Joe DeSena, the founder and creator of Spartan Races, defines his why as “wanting to change lives, and get people moving”. And boy, has he succeeded. With hundreds of Spartan Races throughout North America every year, Joe has fulfilled his purpose, but his Why keeps pushing him every day to do and be more.
Which is how I know ZooFit is my Big Why, too. It’s my purpose, and keeps pushing me to be my best self each and every moment. To be a radiant exemplar and a superhero—to my family, my community, and yes, even the world.
What Would You Do Regardless if You Failed or Succeeded?
I like how Joe DeSena words it in his daily morning video. Joe video records his morning routine, doing burpees, core work, and talks to his thousands (millions?) of followers.
“What would I do if I knew I was going to fail, and I’d do it anyway?”
That’s a mind-blower right there. What would you do that you’d love to do regardless if you succeeded or not?
Work with animals?
Strive to make the world a better place?
Connect to the earth in a healthy and positive way?
How to Find Your Why
Now, if you still aren’t sure what your Big Why, your purpose, what gets you up in the morning is, don’t worry. Here’s an exercise to help you discover what drives you, what your Big Why might be.
If you journal, this might be a great journaling exercise, otherwise, just write on a sheet of paper:
- Things I am passionate about. To get your mind going, or if you get “stuck” ask yourself these questions: What do I love doing? What are some things I can’t stop thinking about? What things do I enjoy and do every day? What do I think about when I wake up?
- Things I am good at. What skills do I have? What ideas am I so passionate about that I will take the appropriate steps to achieve mastery?
- What the world needs. What is something people will be willing to pay to have, or achieve? What do I have that other people are seeking out?
Create a Vinn Diagram where one circle shows all the ideas you are passionate about. The second circle displays what you are good at, intersecting the first circle just a little. And the third circle intersects the other two just a little for what the world needs.
That center piece is a huge clue to your Big Why.
Animal Trainer’s Big Why for Training
I really honed in on my Big Why when I created ZooFit and related everything back to animal training. It was eye-opening for me on both the fitness level, and on an animal training level. Why do animal care professionals train their animals behavior? The Big Why for them is Animal Welfare. Improving animal welfare is the #1 goal of all zoos, facilities, and shelters. How do they improve animal welfare? A variety of paths—exhibit design, enrichment, and yes, animal training.
Husbandry, Wellness, and Relationships
Animal training improves welfare in many ways. Husbandry, the actual care of the animals is the most forefront example. Physical wellness—that is, exercise and enrichment (keeping animals mentally and physically engaged and active)—is another huge aspect of training. And there is also relationship building. These behaviors which strengthen the trust and bond between trainer and animal are vital for the well-being, health, and welfare of the animals.
Often these three aspects interconnect. Watoto, an elephant I worked with was trained to present her ear for blood samples (Husbandry). But when I first started working with her, I would rub her ear to soothe her and reinforce her behavior, something she really enjoyed (Relationship Building).
Training a dolphin to slide out of the water is actually great exercise as it takes some core strength to haul themselves out of the water (Physical wellness). This behavior is a natural movement observed by researchers in the wild—orcas sliding onto beaches in pursuit of land animals, dolphins driving fish toward the beach and then propelling themselves up the beach for a quick snack. But this behavior is also necessary to obtain a weight on the dolphin. They need to haul out of the water onto a scale to get an accurate weight (Husbandry).
Achieve Your Goal by Focusing on the Process (and Your “Why”)
When I started training animals, I found it frustrating and irritating to fill out a training plan. The training plan was designed to lay out a step by step process of teaching the animal a new behavior. But it also delved into the “Why” this behavior was important.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Why is just as important as the process. Without direction or purpose for the behavior, the connection is lost. It’s easy to get frustrated and give up, exclaiming “what’s the point?” The training plan, and understanding your Why gives you that answer.
“I want to teach Frankie (polar bear) to lean into the side of the mesh so we can train him to accept a shot (vaccine, medication, anesthesia) voluntarily.” This makes the behavior a husbandry behavior. There is a Why.
Better Animal Welfare, Better Wellness for Us
And it ALL relates back to animal welfare. The Big Why. It’s what gets zookeepers up in the morning, and what drives animal care professionals each and every day.
Whether we are improving animal care or changing our lives, or inspiring change in others, finding your Why will point us in the direction we need to achieve success. We improve our welfare and wellness by focusing on our Big Why, too. It helps give us a direction we need to go. It motivates us, and pushes us to keep going, when the going gets tough.
Help Along the Way
Now that you have your Big Why, it’s time to start working on some goals which will bring you closer. There are a lot of tools to help you with setting goals, and I’m going to spend the next few posts helping you out here as well.
You can also check out some great resources for Finding Your Why, getting motivated/staying motivated, and going after your dreams:
- Optimize Program– Brian Johnson combines ancient stoic wisdom with modern science to help us become the best versions of ourselves. If ever there was just one place to find everything you need to go after your goals, this is it.
- Local library: here are some great books to check out:
– Atomic Habits by James Clear
– The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki (you can read my Zoo-notable on this book)
– An Audience of One by Srinivas Rao
–Ikigai by Héctor García Francesc Miralles
– Why Are You Here Cafe by John Strelecky