This evening I went for a run. ‘So what’ you rightly think. On my own. Again, you are less than stunned by this revelation. But today I spent most of the day completely uninterested in the idea of running… Until about five minutes before stepping outside ‘to get on with it’. All of which made me ponder the often quoted phrase ‘motivation’, and what it might really be…

I hear it a lot. Virtually everyday infact. The down beat post, the flat WhatsApp message or just in conversation; “…I just don’t feel motivated”. It would be easy to reach for the low hanging fruit of LockDown combined with Winter as the reason for these comments. But if we are going to discuss it, then we are going to have to be honest, and we both know that LockDown and Winter are both just very weak excuses that mask what really might lead to this apparent lack of motivation. After all, people were claiming to be lacking motivation before the pandemic struck and in Summer too.

Looking beyond the excuse

There has never been a better time to indulge our interest in running than during LockDown. We are being positively encouraged to go out and exercise! People that know nothing about running are telling you how it will improve your “mental health” (give me strength!). And, at the time of writing and in England, you are permitted to run with one other person, albeit 2m apart, but it is one of the VERY few exemptions to the ‘no mixing’ rule. With many people not commuting and working from home there are more “easy” opportunities to run. But if you are not motivated you won’t do it. So LockDown is both a great opportunity but simultaneously an easy shield to hide behind. Next…

It is Winter as I write this. Dark mornings. Dark Evenings. It can be cold. I am not going waste any real energy overcoming this lightweight objection!! If you are worried about running in the dark (you should be, it can be a little perilous if you can’t see and be seen) buy a light. They are cheap and easy to obtain. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices. You don’t need to spend a fortune (although you probably will) to get a decent selection of running gear to see you through different levels of “cold”. That’s that dealt with.

What makes you tick?

Why do you run (or why are you getting into running)? If we are to really crack the demotivation problem, then we need to get to the bottom of what MOTIVATED you in the first place. Now, there will be a whole raft of lightweight socially acceptable answers to this. As you will have guessed, I am not interested in hearing them! But also the only person that needs to know the REAL deep reason that motivates you is YOU. But so long as you know what it is then you are building on a solid foundation. Some people that I coach choose to share it with me, but actually very rarely! (I usually get given the lightweight socially acceptable version, but I am cool with that!).

To help you explore this in your own mind, let me give you some starters for ten. You run for health reasons. Highly unlikely! (Unless you are already quite ill). Virtually everyone I speak to knows what they should do to improve their health (me included), but when push comes to shove people don’t. The evidence is in the general Public Health of the nation, the recycling bins containing empty bottles and so on… Improved health I would suggest is a welcome by product of having found your real motivation for running.

Let me suggest that improved self-esteem / self-worth might be a true motivator. Depression (or feeling low / tired / stressed) and the need to do anything to feel “better” is a surprisingly common reason people run. Vanity is another really strong motivator (and again very common). Ego (a friend tells me…!!) is the driver for a LOT of people… You see these are not the sort of things that you are going to openly admit in polite company. But you could sit yourself down and *really* challenge yourself as to what you want to change and improve.

I’m not going to share mine! But I will say it has changed over time. At one point I would have said “I like running socially. It’s a social activity, I enjoy that aspect”. But if you pick away at that, then you might hit things like “loneliness”, “wanting to be accepted in a group” and so on. In fact at that time, I recall firing a Coach because I was told to NOT run with a club, or indeed with others, as it would “distract” me from achieving the very specific sessions said coach had written. My response was “B*****ks” and promptly cancelled my monthly subscription. Strangely we had done the SMART objectives and other such superficial rubbish that you are taught at “Coaching Kinder Garden”, so quite how this went wrong must have been a shock to said Coach. And obviously my fault for being ‘uncoachable’…

So my point here is really simple. Be honest with yourself and find your WHY. Be super clear about what the real value of running is to you. I’m not claiming that this is a brand new technique – in fact it is really common. Weight Watchers use it as the corner stone of their motivation model, and outside of the world of Well Being it is used extensively too. But apparently rarely in Fitness or indeed Sport Coaching, where sadly the focus seldom goes any deeper than SMART objectives… (which are tactical not strategic to put it into corporate parlance).

Tricks of the trade

Getting out of the door is a lot easier once you know WHY you run. Gosh it’s almost like being motivated 😉 But still every now and then you justl won’t “feel like it”. What then?

First resort is an idea I heard from a US Coach, but I genuinely can’t recall her name to credit it! “Give me five”… Five anything! Five minutes, five kilometres, five miles… But the idea is you make yourself do “five” and if you are still not feeling it after that then you can “give yourself permission” to stop, go home and have some tea. It really works… Just getting started is often the sticking point as you know, so this gets you over it and gets your “happy hormones” flowing around your body.

But what if it’s a darker problem. And sometimes it will be. OK, this is bad. You need to change what you are doing or how you are doing it so that you re-align “running” with your really motive (you know… the secret one). Do you need to make it more social / competitive / publicly visible / “goal” orientated (like an event type goal). Now just to be clear, none of these things will actually motivate you, but what they will do is realign the activity to the real thing you get from running. Think of them as practical stepping stones to getting you back to happy running!

Particularly now, during this very “disrupted” life we are all leading, it is very easy for our running habit to have changed. And it if it has changed into something that is not addressing our TRUE motive then it won’t be long before you start to tell me (or who ever) “…I just don’t feel motivated” You are an adult. If you really wanted to, you could prioritise running in a way that addresses your “need”. So basically – get on and do it 😉

One final point…

I keep seeing Personal Trainers (and even supposed Coaches) claiming that they offer you “accountability” and that will help your “motivation” and keep you on track. I refer you back to my reply to the Coach that told me to not run in a group or with a club!

You do not need to be “accountable” to a Coach. In fact you absolutely SHOULD NOT BE and in practice you won’t be (because you are writing the cheques, so ultimately they are accountable to you). However, this fascination with accountability, I would suggest is just symptomatic of a complete failure in helping you understand your own motives. Coaching should be far more sophisticated than “accountability”… You are (rightly) accountable to yourself. So please, if you see someone tell you they offer you “accountability” then your reply needs to start with a B!

Time to start. Make your next run all about thinking! If you are a little low on motivation then make an opportunity to get your running trainers on and go out (yes even if it’s raining!) to run. And spend that entire run really doing some soul searching about what drives you, what makes you tick and what is important to you. It needs to be something personal and not something you would readily share. Once you have it then you can stop running and go home. It could be a long run! But the payoff is huge… Trust me on this one.

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