September is Self-improvement Month. Oh, oh. It’s going to be a busy month. Partner, Dad, brother, brother-in-law, employers, community member, global citizen…I’m guessing September is not Get-more-sleep Month.
And then there’s running. Staying motivated to improve in any one of these areas – let alone all of them – can be daunting and overwhelming.
How exactly does one stay motivated to continue improving? To continue showing up? Last week, I wrote about goals and goal setting and reflected on my experiences and observations with the value of goal setting.
I’ve struggled many times with staying motivated and on track with my goals, particularly fitness/training goals. These goals often seem less of a priority than other aspects of my life. And I’ve also been known to procrastinate and suffer from paralysis by analysis looking for better ways to organize my day, to the point when I then run out of time to fit in a workout. Self-sabbotaging 101.
But, when I think about what has worked to help me stay motivated, my 3Cs come to mind:
Clarity – having a clear sense of direction and goals to work towards, whether they’re small, large or somewhere in between. It’s hard to stay motivated without a destination to work towards (or, as the Cheshire Cat said in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
Confidence – in my abilities to reach those goals. If a nagging voice inside me is doubting my ability to reach those goals, I need to pay attention. For example, I might declare, “I’m going to place in the top 5 of the 50 km race in two months.” Sure, that’s a pretty clear goal, but is it realistic? If I’ve never run a 50 km race before (and I haven’t), my motivation could tank pretty quickly once I realize that placing in the top 5 – maybe even finishing – is too lofty. However, a more realistic goal – and one I might be able to embrace with confidence is “I’m going to finish that 50 km race in two months.”
Commitment – Goals are great, but I also need to check in with myself to make sure I really want it and that I’m committed. If I’m training for a triathlon, largely because friends are really into it, but I’m not feeling bitten by the tri-bug, then my motivation to continue with the training is likely going to decrease if not evaporate.
Other, practical, day-to-day motivators I’ve found to help over the years include the following:
- Measure success – either keeping a journal or using an app like Strava to help monitor my progress so I can see how I’m improving works well for me.
- Reward success – taking opportunities along the way to celebrate and enjoy my successes and progress. Last year, I was relying on running for weight loss, and when I would reach a key milestone that I set out at the beginning – let’s say 5 pounds less, I would celebrate reaching that milestone. For me, that could come in the form of a yummy treat, a new piece of running clothing I’ve been putting off buying, new shoes, etc.
- Run with others – a great motivator is to share the experience with others. They can help you stay motivated because you’ve formed some kind of commitment to them and them to you and because you can also celebrate with them as you both/all improve.
- Make it fun – if it isn’t fun, it’s going to be a lot harder to sustain that motivation. So, for me, that means changing up the routine pretty regularly, looking for new activities and environments, mindfully reminding myself why I chose to run in the first place, etc.
- Build it into your schedule – A big one for me. If I don’t value it enough and actually build it into my schedule – and tell those key people around me that it’s an important part of my daily routine – then I am much more likely to put it off and let other priorities take over until I find myself saying, “It’s too late to do now.”
- Be kind to yourself – I used to get a lot more frustrated with myself if I missed a day (see point above). I try now to be more forgiving, peel the lens back and say, “Okay, no problem; so how can I make up for it during the rest of the week.” Some days I’m better at this than others. It’s a work in progress!
- Avoid the all-or-nothing trap – Oh, I’m really prone to this one. I can get caught up in the “I now don’t have as much time as I had planned, so it’s not worth doing…” Anyone else suffer from that one? I love the “Just show up” approach. It also works really well to just get you out the door. Saying, “Okay, I don’t feel like doing a long run or workout today, so I’ll just get up and go for a short run” can be all that it takes. Once out the door, I’m often fine, and the motivation resets.
- Races or competitions – I find races can serve as a great goal or milestone to work towards to keep me motivated (again, provided it’s not so daunting or unrealistic that my motivation starts to plummet instead). By signing up in advance and preparing a training schedule specifically for that race can help keep me motivated and feeling accountable (especially with the prices of some of the races now!)
I would love to see what other motivation hacks people use to keep themselves going, whether it’s running or other pursuits.