Motivation: How to Get It and How to Keep It?

by Carilyn on September 28, 2012

Deeds in themselves are meaningless unless they are for some higher purpose. ย – King Arthur

Running in “Secret”

After my mental meltdown on Tuesday, I decided I needed to do a little work on my mental state. And for me, that means research, research, research (I’m very exciting, I know). I wanted to find out how the “experts” continue to stay motivated after years and years of working, failing, dusting themselves off, and starting again. How do people keep going?

According to the smart people, motivation is either intrinsically or extrinsically generated. Makes total sense – you are motivated by a personal challenge (Can I finish 100 miles? Can I set a PR?), or by the environment around you (I want to beat ย Calvin! I’ll win this and get the prize!), or both (Wow, if I set my PR, I’m going to win this thing!).

With my motivation waxing and waning this year, I’ve been very curious about what motivates – me, and those around me. I’ve always been into biographies, but for the last few years, I’ve taken a special interest in people who seem to be operating at full-tilt in their lives – chefs, triathletes, entrepreneurs, scientists, writers, adventurers – and bridging the gap between doing what they love and excellence. Most of the time, the key ingredient seems to be simple: practice, practice, practice. The theory seems to hold that if you do something for 10,000 hours, you will become “expert” at it.

Okay, I buy that. But what happens after the 10,000 hours? After you’re an expert? How do the experts keep going, keep the fires burning, move to the highest levels?

I know that I am rarely motivated extrinsically. In fact, external “motivation” seems to have the opposite effect on me. I HATE people telling me what I should be doing, what I should care about, what is best for me (I know, real mature, huh?). In fact, the more external pressure I feel, the less motivated I am to perform. I do much better if nobody knows what I am doing, when all my goals are private (strange position for a blogger, I realize).

The problem lies in the fact that it is impossible to do everything in private. If it was up to me, I would just train and train (in super ugly clothes and a bandana ala Olivia Newton-John), and then never race – but what’s the point in that? If there is no higher purpose to all the training, then why do it? Simply put: I need new motivation. And there has to be a way to stay intrinsically motivated while not bowing to external pressure, because there will always be external pressure. Because, let’s face it, even Olivia had pressure teaching that aerobics class – pressure is everywhere.

So, what motivates you? And how do you stay motivated? How do you cope with the pressure from external sources?

While I’m waiting for some great inspiration, I think I will head to the beach for a swim. I’ve found that nothing is quite as motivating as a shark to get me moving!

Happy Running!



Juan September 28, 2012 at 9:25 am

I promise not to try to give advice. What motivated me. Five years ago it was to domy first 5K then my first Marathon, could I finish? My first tri and then first Ironman. I did two and got bored with it so I looked at Ultras. I completed my first 50 mile run and now I wonder if I can do 100. So for me, what keeps me motivated is finding new challenges. I plan for new challenges to push me to keep going… Badwater, UTMB, Fuego y Agua 100K, Leadville 100, Barkley Marathons, Mount Everest Marathon…

SteveQ September 28, 2012 at 9:27 am

After 35 years of competitive running and two years of illness and injury, I found myself not really caring if I went for a run or not. I’ve always been motivated by the chance to “beat the snot out of” runners who, far more talented than I, just seem to be playing at the sport, winning on their sheer talent (though not one thinks that they do). Eventually, I find some crazy thing that’s just on the edge of possible and, when those thoughts become somewhat obsessive, decide it’s worth trying. Staying motivated, though, IS a problem, because there’s always some other crazy thing on the horizon that also looks interesting. [Not much help, I know.]

Marcia September 28, 2012 at 10:15 am

I am motivated to run mostly by looking at my sedentary parents and wanting to distance myself from the health problems that come with that lifestyle. While I am no longer chasing PR’s I do know that races that I’m poorly trained for hurt. A. Lot. So, maybe out of habit more than anything else, I strive to arrive at the starting line as well trained as possible.

Carilyn September 28, 2012 at 1:33 pm

That’s awesome, Juan! Would love to see you do Barkley – that has always sounded so cool! And I know you can run 100!

Carilyn September 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Steve, I love talking to athletes about their drive. I’m reading Chrissie Wellington’s book right now, and it sounds like you have a lot of the same drive – and she’s incredible! I totally get what you mean about the “obsessive” desire to do something on the edge of possible! ๐Ÿ™‚

Carilyn September 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I totally agree that getting to the starting line in the best possible shape is a huge motivator, Marcia!

Kent September 28, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I’m easily motivated by those who persevere despite the nay sayers and despite the disappointments. Those that ever push themselves to greater achievements just because they can. When those things seem to loose their motivation then I will remind myself that just being able to run at any speed is an incredible blessing. I remind myself that there are countless millions of people through this world that will never run at all, let alone on a mountain trail or in any kind of peaceful nature setting. Many of them are so poor they can’t even afford a wheelchair to at least have some kind of mobility and make life a little more tolerable. The old Sunday School song forever runs true: Count your blessings name, them one by one: Count your blessings and see what God has done! That truly motivates be above all else.

Nelson September 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm

I think motivations change a lot. Right now I’m “training” motivated by an upcoming 50-miler in November and a 100-miler in February. I run long distances to get ready for those. But, I think my main motivation is the group of people who are in the marathon training group I lead on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings, and the residents of the Salvation Army homeless shelter I run with on Wednesday mornings. We have some great runs together, and I feel a sense of responsibility to stay ready to run for them, and a concern that maybe what holds us together is our running and that if I slipped they would do just fine continuing on without me.

Carilyn September 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm

That’s awesome, Kent! I will definitely keep those words in mind. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

Carilyn September 28, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Nelson, I have always wanted to be part of one of the shelter’s running groups, but have never lived anywhere that had one. I wish I was a more organized person so I could start one, but as a knucklehead who’s out of town all the time, I would probably cause more harm than good if I was in charge. I think it is awesome you are doing it! And good luck with your ultra training! ๐Ÿ™‚

Anne September 29, 2012 at 4:59 am

This post comes at the perfect time for me. I’ve fallen out of “the loop” and just can’t muster much enthusiasm for exercise of any kind and running in particular. I know it’s a phase that will pass, for me and for you.

Char September 29, 2012 at 6:35 pm

I’m with you on having people tell me what I should do – it makes me want to do the opposite. If someone starts a sentence with ‘what you should do’ I pretty much stop listening. Unless, of course, I’ve gone to that person for advice. All my motivation is intrinsic – that little voice in my head.

Carilyn September 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Now if we could just figure out how to control that little voice in our heads, Char! Cupcakes, maybe?

Carilyn September 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Thank you, Anne! I think we all go through it, and it’s so nice to share it with others. I’m so glad to see you running again!

Jeff Dinkin October 3, 2012 at 12:23 am

Without over-thinking an answer, I’d say off the top of my head – for me personally, having several different events planned in the future is very motivating. I really look forward to the training when I have a goal of doing well at some races.

For example, I will be racing 7 out of the 9 weekends starting with an Xterra event on the 14th. Each event is different than the other, but each one I am motivated to do well in; which inspires me to train at my best – and hard!

Carilyn October 3, 2012 at 8:15 am

You are a racing machine, Jeff! That’s awesome!

Jeff Dinkin October 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Ha! It’s probably a little bit of overkill, but I really love these events, and they just happen to all be close together. I’ll do my best and have fun.

I’m pretty happy about finishing 4th overall, and 3rd overall male in the recent US Bank Stair Climb. I even beat Tim VanOrden! I also set a new PR (by 39 seconds) with my time of 11:02 for the 75 story (1,679 steps) – stair climb. :))

Carilyn October 6, 2012 at 6:29 am

So awesome, Jeff! Congrats!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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