Like most people, i’ve used races as the “star” to point my efforts towards. My training was largely dictated by my race plans. Being the planning type, my year was usually well crafted by balancing my ideas of travel and ambition. Well that doesn’t mean anything these days, since races and traveling are both out of the question.
So, how have I been getting by without the use of this type of motivation? Well, by taking the time to find other types of motivation and then stoking them up.
Sure, finding and using extrinsic motivation can be easy. Extrinsic motivation like earning medals, competition, fear of failure, and attaining rewards can surely get us going.
But during a time when extrinsic motivation can be somewhat of a scarcity, it might be time to double down on intrinsic motivation. And this is where things can become difficult because it involves lots of inner work, self reflection, identity planning and constant evolution.
This 4 step process might not always be fun, but it can serve as a fountain of fuel when the going gets tough, real tough.
Step 1: Tap into what you’re curious about
This might be an internal question like, do I have what it takes to do this thing in this amount of time? In this case, do I have what it takes to finish a marathon in a 5 months?
But wait, isn’t a marathon somewhat extrinsic? Yeah, it can be viewed that way so what I found that helps is framing it and supercharging it to the point where we can align it with a new identity.
The reason we do this is because everybody loves a good story. It’s why we love our deep intimate sessions with Netflix, HBO, Hulu, etc. What we may also want is for a bit of our lives to play out like the movies or an awesome TV series (Yes, for most guys like myself, I still think about Entourage).
Choosing a narrative for our life is where we get to flex our imagination. The questions we ask ourselves become deeper and we get to visualize a future self with earned character traits.
So reframing “do I have what it takes to run a marathon?” might look like “what would life be like if I was a runner or even a marathon runner?”
And a good question presents more questions like, “what other traits could I add to this future running self?” Could this version of me also be more responsible, more financially independent, weigh a couple pounds less, and be more inspiring for when I have kids?
The list can go on and on!
It’s cool to let your imagination run wild here and dream big because this is your star and true summit.
Step 2: Create small wins that’s fun yet challenging for you
Now that you have an idea of this future you, it’s time to figure out what miniature milestones could serve as the roadmap to unlocking this character. Remember that no goal or milestone can be too small, but it can be too big.
And one sure fire way to tell when you milestone is too big is by your actual execution of it.
Let’s say you’re suppose to run 10 miles in a week but you can only get maybe 5 miles out of your 7 days. Well maybe it’s time you reformat your weekly milestones to be 7 miles in a week.
Do you think you can finish 1 mile a day? I’d start there because I truly believe that we can all complete at least 1 mile a day.
By being able to celebrate a win after every single day/mile, you’re already building more momentum towards the identity that you are a runner and a finisher compared to the one time you squeaked out 5 miles in 7 days.
You get where i’m coming from? These bit sized wins add up to bigger weekly wins and help shape who you’re becoming.
Another great thing to add is that there’s a really good chance there will be a day where you will want to run more than 1 mile. It could even happen on multiple days, which segways perfectly into my next step.
Step 3: Begin again every day and enjoy the ride
Just get started!
I’ve lost count on days where i’ve woken up and the last thing I wanted to do was run.
My alarm goes off, I hit the snooze twice and when I finally get up my legs are still sore from the previous workout. And this might be particular to me considering where I live but if i’m out the door later than 10 am, I can count on the sun and humidity making my workout feel like the hardest one i’ve ever done, 70% of the time, every time.
But regardless of how i’m feeling, I usually give myself the chance to see if I can change my mood after 10 minutes.
If i’m really not feeling it then that’s just the outcome of the day and i’ll allow myself the space to call it in early. But only after I get myself out the door in the first place and the chance to change my mind.
"The hardest step for a runner to take is the first one out the door." - Ron Clarke
And you know what happens? Once i’m out there, i’m usually staying out there to play the game against myself and complete my workout. It’s really what it all boils down to.
During your run, ride, swim or workout, you’ll be playing against your mind trying your best to answer the same questions that got you into this game in the first place. Except this time, the question is substituted with the milestone. Do you have what it takes to run 5 miles today? Will I be proud of myself after I complete this workout? Can I make it to that stoplight before I take a water break?
That’s why I find it so important to see how you feel after 10 minutes, or even after you’re out the door, or even after you have your shoes on. Give yourself the opportunity to answer that question, because it’ll give you the opportunity to become that person.
And this is where i’ve been able to live and somewhat thrive during this uncertain time.
Like I said before, there are loads of days when I don’t feel like doing a run, even while i’m running. But I admit that ive never regretted a run after coming back from one.
And that gives me new motivation in the face of minimal extrinsic motivation, because I know I ran for me and for nothing else.
Consequently, I’ve been able to reframe each day as an event with its own finish line. I find myself answering questions like, will I be able to get my run in before work in the morning or will I be able to get close to 8 hours of sleep or how do I give myself a chance to be even more on top of my work?
By treating each day as an event, i’m able to try to stay in the moment more.
You know, I’m anxious enough given the current pandemic situation we live in today and the other worst case scenarios that my mind has come up with even without the presence of Covid.
So I find it helpful to just take a step back and realize that i’m way better playing this game to the best of my ability each day with somewhat good habits and intentions that hopefully result in a better me later in the future.
Step 4: Recognize your wins and continue to play within your new identity
If you’re doing step 3, then you’re already in the process of becoming the character you envision for yourself. Although step 4 is the last of the steps in this article, it doesn’t mean that there’s an end.
We’re humans and naturally our goals will adapt based on our desire for more. And that’s cool as long as you temper it with small wins and a love for the process, which mostly step 3.
But also recognize that the moment you stop playing, is the moment the you lose what momentum you’ve built. And we all know that it sucks to start over again in Pallet town battling level 3 pidgey’s for experience.
The game we’re playing can be “boring-ly” called growth and improvement but I like to call it self discovery. It’s cultivating a better you, and that game doesn’t stop.
Imagine crossing a marathon finish line and stopping everything you did after that moment, would that character you imagined still maintain the traits that it earned while on its path if you didn’t continue putting that energy into good use? The bigger question would be, what’s next for you considering everything you’ve built?
Back in 1977, Nike’s first slogan was “There Is No Finish Line.” To be honest, I didn’t know that until writing this article although i’ve heard that quote before. I’ve called on it countless times to give me perspective and allow me to endlessly try embody a long term philosophy.
And although Nike didn’t keep it as their slogan, they surely embodied it. They’ve evolved, diversified and expanded. They’ve gone beyond their humble track roots and inspired generations to “Just Do It.”
And what have people done when they’ve accomplished what they originally set out to do? Well they just do more. They just do more because they improve, they grow and they become more of who they’re set on becoming.