What happened when I switched my fitness goals from aesthetic-based to performance-based

Amy McNeel

From youth sports to weight training, I have always been interested in fitness. To me, working out is like therapy; the gym is where I go to push my personal boundaries and to better myself. Of course, a very important part of fitness is setting goals, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t very good at goal setting until just recently. 

For most of my life, I was completely focused on appearance. My goals were solely ones that I could see in the mirror: I wanted to have a flat stomach, toned arms and a better waist-to-hip ratio. It took me a long time to realize that these goals weren’t getting me anywhere. Instead, they held me back and limited my motivation. In the past few months, I decided to change my mindset: My goals are now performance-based instead of appearance-based. 

Since conducting this change, I have noticed tremendous improvements in my workouts, my motivation, my overall fitness and my mental mindset. The thing is, appearance takes a very long time to change. You see yourself every day, so you don’t usually notice the small changes that take place in your appearance. For me, when I didn’t notice big changes day to day in my physique, I felt disappointed and lost motivation to work out. As a result, this plateau eventually made me reconsider why I was going to the gym, and I realized that I was working out for some of the wrong reasons.

After this discovery, I decided to focus on my performance. I wanted to try new things at the gym and master more complex moves. I made my goals very specific. I wanted to be able to do pistol squats; master pull-ups, chin-ups and tricep pushups; and continue to heighten my maximum squat weight. Focusing on these core movements have helped me tremendously, and I am seeing more results than I ever have. In the past few months, I have learned how to do pistol squats. I went from being able to do one pull-up to eight, and zero tricep pushups to multiple sets and reps. Focusing on performance goals has made me stronger and also more motivated. Unlike with the appearance-based goals I used to have, I am now constantly seeing results. 

Ultimately, focusing on performance has helped me become a better athlete, and while I have been checking off boxes on the moves I set out to master, I have consequently unlocked some other achievements, too. I feel physically stronger, and I am now truly seeing physical results as well. My previous appearance-based goals are actually being met simultaneously as I focus on becoming stronger. 

Today, I feel stronger and more motivated than ever. There was a point when I didn’t think I would ever be able to do more than one pull-up, but now I’m doing more every day. Seeing myself improve and add new skills to my arsenal is more fulfilling than waiting and searching for changes in my physique. Sure, there is nothing wrong with having aesthetic goals, and if they work for you, then by all means keep working with them. But if you’re looking for a change, try switching your goals from aesthetic-based to performance-based, and you’ll see both sets of goals flourish.