Tips For Getting Motivated

Feeling blah? Here are a few tips for getting yourself more motivated to run when you really don't want to.

Photo: Getty Images

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Before reading on, open Instagram on your phone. If you don’t have Instagram, congrats, you have clearly made some good mental-health decisions.

Now hit the “search” button. If you follow runners, the search page will have lots of little squares full of people running with really good posture, as if they learned form from looking at the logo on an Air Jordan. It’ll usually be joyous. Rarely will there be much clothing. There seems to be an inverse relationship between followers and articles of clothing.

Most of those #running results show successful adventures. That makes sense, because social media is a highlight reel by definition. That doesn’t mean people are dishonest, just that dreading a run or pooping uncontrollably in the woods gets fewer likes. As outlined by psychology studies on social-media use, we can know that fact intuitively, yet many of us still internalize the too-clean narrative of social media, turning it against ourselves. Why is my run not that joyous? Why do I struggle to get out the door? Why am I wearing pants?

RELATED: 5 Ways To Motivate Yourself To Run

Where I have seen that most recently is in people struggling with their struggles with motivation to run. “I don’t want to start my run,” they’ll say in a training log. “What’s wrong with me? This activity is great, right? Everyone says it is.”

“Nothing is wrong with you,” is the obvious response. “Everyone has that same struggle often, no matter how much they love it.”

I’ll tell them about pro athletes who sometimes dread their runs, and they’ll be shocked. I know that I wake up often and ponder what I’m even doing. I guarantee that those Instagram accounts feel the same existential angst about getting out the door all the time.

It’s not just running. Think of anyone you admire. Elon Musk probably has trouble sitting down at the computer sometimes (might explain the tweets). As John Mulaney’s character was approaching the stage on the TV show Crashing, he expressed his dread at getting up there: “I only wanted to be a comedian my whole life, and the thing I hate the most is stand-up comedy.” Life hacks like waking up at 3 a.m. and jumping in an ice bath or putting butter in coffee or whatever other crazy things people talk about nowadays can often be distilled down into trying to overcome the doubts and questioning with routine and control.

But that’s not real. Running, like life, is uncertain and fickle. Motivation comes and goes, fitness ebbs and flows, pants go on and come off (takes photo for Instagram). In the face of that uncertainty, it’s just about giving yourself a chance. It will never, ever be like that search page on Instagram, effortless adventures strung together without crisis. Giving yourself the grace to struggle with getting out the door is the first step in getting out the door.

You can do a lot of things with consistency and time. The goal doesn’t need to be reaching the moon to find value in just getting off the ground. That needs to be on a cat poster.

This article doesn’t go over all the tricks to overcome daily motivation struggles like registering for a race, joining a running group or doing a running streak. Instead, the message is way simpler: you are not alone if you find yourself not wanting to run. For some people, it can feel that way more often than not.

Being a happy runner does not mean that you have to love running every second, but that you usually try to run, even when you don’t love it. A few things can help structure how you think about your low-motivation days.

10 minutes counts

Conspiracy-minded people will look at something like the Great Pyramid and be like, “There is no way the ancient Egyptians could have built this with their technology. Must have been aliens.”

Essentially, they think about the immensity of the task and it feels impossible without extraterrestrial assistance. Same goes for the moon-landing doubters that think it was filmed in a studio in Burbank. Knowing what it takes to reach long-term running potential, I’ll look at an Olympian and think the same thing. How did they get where they are? Must have been aliens.

The point is that incredible, nearly unfathomable things can be accomplished with lots of small actions. The Egyptians had hundreds of years and an abhorrent policy on acquiring free labor. NASA had brilliant scientists and billions of dollars. The Olympian put in one mile at a time, totaling tens of thousands over years.

Or to put it another way, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Put one foot in front of the other and you can get a long freaking way.

But we all get daunted by the immensity of big tasks if we think about them hard enough. To combat that natural feeling, I just ask athletes to give me 10 minutes. If a run is scheduled and you’re healthy, go around the block. You can do it in work clothes if you have to, going up and down the stairs and hallways. Just get out there.

Ten minutes at a time adds up. A single 10-minute run provides a musculoskeletal stress that can reinforce adaptations that leads to healthy and faster running later. A bunch of 10-minute runs can make stepping up training easier and provide a minor aerobic stress that could have outsized benefits (possibly through epigenetic responses). And a 10-minute run has a way of becoming a 20- or 30- or 40-minute run a lot of the time.

You can do a lot of things with consistency and time. The goal doesn’t need to be reaching the moon to find value in just getting off the ground. That needs to be on a cat poster.

RELATED: Do You Struggle With Exercise Dependency?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good…or good be the enemy of OK

An immaculate training plan is great and all, but just getting out there and being consistent will get you a lot of the way to your goals. Have the courage to plan training and racing that scares you, and chase it with resilient self belief. Just don’t let the alternative to hard mile intervals or a planned trail race be doing nothing. “Well, what’s the point?” is a thought process we all have to fight back against in everything in life.

I face that all the time while writing articles. Three times writing this one so far, I have closed my computer in disgust. In those moments, I try to remember the best piece of writing advice I ever received: “Don’t judge. Write.” It might not be Shakespeare or even my best work, but it doesn’t need to be. We all have self doubt, and I definitely do with my writing. If I bailed when my writing sucked, I’d have self doubt and a failed writing career. Now, I have self doubt and wrote a book. I am not saying I am a good writer, but I am a persistent writer. And persistence can accomplish a lot.

On the You Made It Weird podcast interview with comedian Taylor Tomlinson, Pete Holmes told a story about what Conan O’Brien said to him about making it in show business. “There’s this wall of noise, right?” says Holmes. “And all you can do is play your little triangle. You just make the same tone over and over and over . . . [Conan] was like just be consistent and do it a long time and even though there’s all this noise, someone will eventually go, ‘I’ve heard that triangle dinging for many years now, let’s go check that out.’”

That’s how running works too. You just gotta keep on dinging.

Bailing on a race due to conflicts? Have an adventure around the house. Not feeling like a workout? Run easy. An easy run feel impossible? Ten minutes around the block is enough. A lot of OK training can lead you pretty close to your potential over time. So take the pressure off and embrace the long-term power of OK.

Each day is an independent variable

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Things get in the way, you don’t feel like it, you don’t run. That’s totally normal, just like having motivation issues. The key is trying not to let one missed day bleed into the next and the next. It’s like the concept of a shame spiral, a term coined by clinical psychologist Gershen Kaufman, where shame over something small leads to more and more shame, often about unrelated things entirely. Miss one day? Get ’em the next day. Miss a week? The day after that is such a beautiful opportunity!

Try to set up something more like an awesomeness spiral. Run, even just 10 minutes? You are awesome. Not run, even a step? Still awesome. Each day cannot be a verdict on your worth as a runner or person. You are enough all the time, no matter what, whether you run or not.

“OK, wannabe-Mr. Rogers, chill out,” my internal monologue says. It’s not that easy to embrace self acceptance for almost anyone. But for a runner, with so many chances for self judgment, it’s especially important to try.

At the end of the day, running comes entirely from within, even if something external like a race motivates us occasionally. On the inside, most of us feel like we’re on an unmarked trail, asking questions and often getting unsatisfying answers. That can make it really hard to get out the door sometimes.

You might not find those answers on the run. But you’ll definitely find more of the answers on the run than you will on the couch.

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.

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