The challenge for getting anything done is that true motivation must come from within. Sure, people can encourage or provide negative feedback, but no one else can provide the internal motivation for you that makes you decide to take action. Each person has to choose how to respond to opportunities and stimuli, and whether to “be motivated” to act in a particular way. It is all an interesting mix of priorities, perceived reward, and possible pain.
I have noticed some things that help motivate me to run. I have also noticed that motivation is in reality all short term, even an issue of moment. I may plan to be motivated. I may even plan to make it more likely that I can remain motivated. However, all that is hot air if I don’t make the decision necessary at the moment in question to do the thing that I ostensibly felt motivated to do a moment before.
Take running a half marathon, for instance. I could say I wanted to do it. I could even write up a training plan and sign up for the race. Additionally, I could run fairly regularly in the weeks before the official race, but if I don’t get up on the morning of the race in time, show up at the starting line, AND take every step of the race, all the preliminary motivation is meaningless. That is, of course, assuming that there were no extenuating circumstances that took control of the day from my hands. Let’s just assume we are talking about situations where the choice is truly available.
The same is true for just getting out for regular runs, or any type of exercise. I can say I want to be stronger. I can schedule my activities appropriately and make necessary arrangements for that schedule to happen. I can follow the day’s agenda so that my running time slot is squeezed into the day, but unless I actually begin to run and run a distance of significance (for me), then all the previous wanting and scheduling did not equal running.
So, how can someone stay motivated to get out regularly for a run? What can you do to make that more likely to happen to the degree you want it to? Here are some of the thoughts that go through my mind. I have learned that these thoughts fall into categories that are useful for problem solving any lack of motivation, as well as making motivation more likely in the moment.
- Why do I want to run in general?
- What factors are making a particular run less appealing?
1. Why do I want to run in general?
Make yourself a list. Mine includes:
- Health, trying to look as good as I can, strength
- Feelings of motion, accomplishment, and exhilaration (for the joy of it),
- Ability to engage in other activities,
- Relaxing and releasing my mind,
- Just to get out of the house
While goals don’t count as actually doing things, keeping them in mind can provide some mental energy to take the action of the moment. Being able to dance with enthusiasm in the future is good motivation for me to keep up regular aerobic exercise. Being able to be active with grandkids is another big motivator for me. Trying to maintain some muscle tone and shape is another long term plan. Part of the problem with these goals being the only motivators is that the results tend to be slow in coming and subtle over time. It is best to substantially supplement them with the short term goals like the feeling of surging health that you know will come after a run, right away and for a couple days. This is most likely if you don’t try so hard that you dread doing it again. (Read about how I’ve been building my endurance base here.) Another short term motivator is that I know running will clear my mind and help me think.
Sometimes I use the negative of my goals to motivate me in the moment. I don’t want to feel the disappointment of missing my runs or miss being ready for a happily anticipated event, when I know I could have done it. Or I don’t want to look older than I need to.
2. What factors are making a particular run less appealing?
- Physically tired?
- Loose dogs, cars?
- Unreasonable or stressful goals?
Sometimes, the feeling of “not wanting to run” is pure laziness. It happens to everyone, whether they “like” to run or not. Inertia can be comfortable in the moment. This is probably best overcome by just not thinking too hard about the run as a “whole run,” but instead just taking each step toward getting moving until you find you are out there running.
I have also discovered that there are often other subtle aspects of my planned run of the moment that are making it hard. Sometimes I need to change the route. Some days I really need a route with less traffic or fewer intersection crossings. I have been known to have subconscious memories of loose dogs on a certain road, too. A dog-resistant running partner can help with that, or a review of ways to deal with confrontational dogs. Maybe the time of day needs to be changed due to weather or traffic. Sometimes I need adjust the length of my run because of other things going on in my life. Sometimes I need to listen to a story or music to be able to relax into my run. Having unnecessary or unreasonable expectations of outcome or progress can demotivate me, so I might need to release myself from those. It is okay to just let the running be fun.
Here are some things I do to be prepared to run on any given day:
- Check weather the day before and for the week
- Choose a time of day to run
- Consider transportation to running route
- Have good gear
- Evaluate hydration
Finding that none of your running clothes fit or that they are all worn out will put a severe damper on getting started running. Buy comfortable, and even fun running clothes. Also, depending on your route, don’t forget to make yourself visible. Once you have the clothes, unless you are running with someone with a very sensitive nose, they can be fished out of the laundry if needed. No excuses there.
Of course, I will have to mention that it could be your shoes that make you feel like running is hard and not fun. Running barefoot is the bomb! Just remember that it takes time for your feet and legs to get used to doing it very much, since they have been used to being held stiff and weak in shoes. (Click here to read a simple guide to beginning to run barefoot.)
As for other gear, consider whether some nice sports sunglasses (read about my favorite sunglasses for running here.), that stay on and do NOT decrease your vision, will make your runs more pleasant. Figuring out how you like to carry liquids or snacks for longer runs is also useful. Not everyone agrees on how much hydration or additional energy are needed for longer timer periods of exertion, but everyone has a point at which reserves make a difference. This can also be weather dependent.
Being aware of the weather can go a long way toward seizing the moment. If you know that you only have a couple of hours before the day gets blazing hot, or a window of two hours before the next thunderstorm is expected, it can help get you moving. On the other hand, if you don’t pay attention, it will probably be very hard to run in extreme weather, so you probably won’t.
I think support can be found in:
- Forums and running groups,
- Keeping your own journal,
- Reading good running books (biography and coaching) or other runners blogs like paragnek.blogspot.com
- Logistical accommodation from those in your life
- It is helpful if you are married to someone who can coach you, like I am, I will not lie.
There is no need to be a lonely runner. There are running forums that can offer advice and encouragement. (see the link to the Barefoot Runners Society in my Stomp of Approval in the right sidebar.) Even the least experienced runners have stories that inspire or offer perspectives that can help.
Also, reading some good biographies can stoke the motivational fires. There are a ton of coaching books around, so don’t overwhelm yourself with them, but find a few that seem level headed and build your own approach based on them. Every body is different. Age, starting physical condition, and body type will be factors. Don’t try to fit into a one-size-fits-all mold. Click here for my list of books that I have greatly enjoyed this year.
Keeping some records or journal of your running can be both useful and motivational. This can be done either in chart form or as a journal. It is very motivational to see the progress show up this way, both in terms of just putting on the miles and seeing that you are getting strong. However, if you think that seems like too much work, just keep track in your head enough to know that you are running regularly.
The most important thing is to figure how how to have fun running. Running in ways and places that you enjoy will motivate you in the moment and keep you going with a regular routine. Run like no one is watching and your only care is to feel the breeze on your face.