Meaningful Motivation

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We often think of motivation as a limited resource, and if we don’t have access to the right sources of replenishment like races or training partners it can feel like our reserves are being depleted. Here’s how to re-frame motivation with the intention of making this time of uncertainty feel a little more purposeful.

Motivation vs. Commitment 

You would be surprised by how many high achieving athletes confess to experiencing low motivation levels. But, when they go on to explain what they mean, they say things like “I was so unmotivated to train today. I just didn’t feel like doing my 15-mile long run.” And, when I ask if they still ended up getting their training done, they respond “Yes, of course.”

Motivation doesn’t involve feeling a certain way. It involves taking one more step towards your goal despite how you feel.

Many people conflate not being motivated with having a case of the “don’t feel like it’s.” Even if they did their workout or their training anyway, they experience guilt if their attitude isn’t radiating stoke. Motivation doesn’t involve feeling a certain way. It involves taking one more step towards your goal despite how you feel.

This scenario is where commitment shows up. Motivation and commitment are interconnected, and each one strengthens the other. While motivation reflects the why behind your behaviors and provides fuel to keep the fire roaring, commitment involves the actionable steps that put it into motion. Motivation without commitment is inconsistent and lacks staying power. On the other hand, commitment without motivation is a quick path to burnout, or at the very least a pretty miserable time. You need both. Take the time to think about how and where each shows up in your training.

I recently had someone ask me how athletes stay motivated to train all the time. Without much thought, my answer was that athletes don’t wait to feel a certain way to get out the door. Many people go through life in a Feelings → Behaviors pattern. Their actions reflect their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Living this way makes it difficult to do the things that may not match exactly what you’re currently feeling or emotions you’re experiencing, even if the behavior would be a productive one. In these scenarios the feelings and emotions that are dictating your decisions and actions usually aren’t even satisfying ones. Failing to engage in the behaviors that would likely shift you into a better emotional state just perpetuates the situation.

Often, the most successful people use a Behaviors → Feelings approach. They do the things that make them feel the best, afterward even if it’s not what they initially want to be doing. I’ve never come back from a run that I initially didn’t want to do, and regretted it. In fact, it’s made me feel better almost every single time. To decide what things are worth doing, think about how it makes you feel, afterward, instead of how you feel now. Structuring your days in that way makes a profound difference in what you’re able to accomplish, and ultimately leads to more feelings of empowerment and confidence.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic 

Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation serve important roles in how inspired we feel. Intrinsic motivation is the internal driver we have to run and train for our own sake and for personal fulfillment. Extrinsic motivation is the drive we experience when we strive towards external rewards like race results, belt buckles and even acknowledgment. Both are important and should be fostered.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up, no matter what.

With most of the spring and summer races being canceled, many athletes have been stripped of the ability to satisfy their extrinsic motivation needs. There aren’t many opportunities to check off achievement-based goals. However, we have been gifted massive amounts of time to invest in our why. With the space and freedom to dictate what role running plays in your life, you can reconnect with what got you into this crazy sport in the first place. External rewards are powerful, and they provide some direction to training. But, intrinsic motivation is the fuel that keeps your efforts sustainable. Take advantage of the situation we are in, and build up your reserves. Redefine your why. When you do get the chance to train to compete again, you’ll have more than enough fuel to get you to your goal.

Feelings of motivation are more within your control than you realize. Having a sense of passion and purpose with your running is crucial to longevity and maintaining a healthy relationship with your sport. But, it’s also okay to consider that sometimes the feelings we associate with motivation are a “nice to have” not a “need to have.” In other words, don’t waste an opportunity to get one step closer to your goals just because you don’t feel the way you think you should. Sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up, no matter what.

Addie is a professional ultra trail runner, coach, and sport psychology consultant helping athletes of all ages and abilities to prepare for the mental demands of competing through her practice, Strive Mental Performance

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