What moves you? When you have a long or hard training run planned and the temps are in the teens or heaven forbid, triple digits, what drives you to lace up and head out?
I have a group of friends from my running group who have a messenger chat room and the topic of today’s conversation was how to stay motivated. Not just when the weather is challenging but when you are recovering from/coming back from an injury. This will be a two part post. In this post, I’ll cover what fuels motivation and what science has to say about staying motivated. In the second part of this series, I’ll cover coming back from injury. So let’s get down to it.
The good, old-fashioned, dictionary defines motivation as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way” or “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something”. Thanks to science, we can also define predictors of staying successfully motivated: Autonomy, Value, and Competence.
The principal of autonomy dictates that the more ownership we have for an activity or pursuit, the more likely we are to stay motivated for the task. So to translate for us runners, the more opportunity we have to control our training and goals, the more likely we are to stay motivated for our daily run. To aid with this control, it can be helpful for runners to develop their own training plans and goal races. During the day, runners should schedule runs in their calendar and keep these commitments in the same way we keep business lunches, staff meetings, or summons from the local pastor. Also, science tells us the earlier in the day we schedule a run, the more likely we are to complete the run because other life commitments don’t get the opportunity to pull us away from our run. I add control to my running life by scheduling runs in my calendar, specifically runs with my running groups for extra accountability. I work many long hours but on running group nights, if no one will die because I leave the office, I will not schedule late afternoon meetings because the run is my commitment to myself and my sanity. I am an adult who runs!
The second principal component of motivation is value. We are generally more motivated to complete a task when it comes with a high personal value. For runners, this may mean paying for a goal race or speed sessions. For other people, the value is in telling others of our plans and knowing that to keep social status we must follow through with our workout (i.e. think of the endless social media posts about workout plans or completed workouts). Still for others, the value is in the competition. I know runners who go out the door solely because they know their competition is out working hard to beat them. Find the value and you find your motivation. For me, the value add is that I don’t want to show up to the start line unprepared. I want to compete and I can’t rest while my competition is out running hills while I make sweet love to a pizza and a Netflix Marathon (Don’t judge. People we’ve all been there).
The third and final component of motivation is competence. There is a direct link between our perception of our prowess and our desire to complete a task. For us runners, that means as we find success in PR’s, overall/age group awards, weight loss, or running longer distances we have a greater motivation to run/race. This is great, but all runners have slumps. So what do we do when we feel our times are slipping, that Father Time is winning, or we gain a few pounds after winter break? The best cure for our feeling “incompetent” is to re-frame. Maybe we didn’t perform well at the most recent race, but rather than going to the “I suck” head space, we need to evaluate the things that went right and the specific, discrete tasks that will help us address a weakness. To succeed, we must always train our weaknesses. If I didn’t kick soon enough or I got psyched out by a strong surge from a competitor, there are speed work sessions to be done, hill repeats to be conquered, and running groups to engage to help train my weaknesses. And in training my weaknesses, I have more ownership and autonomy . . . and you guessed it, more motivation.
So, the next time you hesitate to lace up or look back at your day with disappointment because you couldn’t find the motivation to run, check which of the big three components, autonomy, value, or competence was draining your drive. Chances are, with a bit of tweaking, you’ll be ready to rise to the challenge tomorrow.