Talkin’ ‘Bout My Motivation

After two days of strength training and sore hips (as I think I pushed it on Sunday given my lack of recent long runs), it was time to get back out there this morning.

I did not want to get back out there this morning.

I was tired. I should have gone to bed the night before at 11:00, which should happen but never happens, so really I should have gone to bed at 11:30. But I got caught up doing what all of us single ladies do late at night when alone: looking at running gear online. I mostly looked at running belts (waist pouches? belt bags? thing holders?) on Amazon. Most of my leggings don’t have pockets, and I’ve found that during races, trying to cram my bulky car key and phone and drivers license and debit card into my arm band makes it kinda crowded in there. I’ve also decided I need to start bringing small snacks for runs longer than an hour and a half, and I need a place to put them.

So I ordered a Flip Belt as well some black cherry Clif Bloks, which I’d never bought before but ate a whole package of after last September’s Cow Harbor 10K when they were being handed out for free. I remember really liking them. So I bought a whole box. I just realized last night that they have caffeine. Jesus, I ate six of them after that 10K. No wonder I was so FUCKIN’ AMPED.

Anyway, because of these late night dalliances, I wound up getting to bed at 12:30 and my alarm, as I expected it to, went off at 5:00. So I was working with four and a half hours of sleep. Not unheard of for me, but rare, and anything under five generally means the day is going to be a slog. And I didn’t want to run.

And it was dark out. And the ground was wet. And it was sort of but not totally but still a little bit cold.

For a few minutes I toyed with the idea of just doing an upper body workout in my nice, warm, carpeted basement. But that would have meant three days in a row of not running. So I decided to run.

Here’s how the switch gets flipped for me. That moment – the moment I decide “yes” instead of “no” – is crucial as hell. Maybe I will write about it now!

I’ve seen a lot of runners (and regular folk) ask things like “How do you motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning?” and “How do you make yourself run on a day you don’t feel like running?” And I totally get it – I’ve struggled myself with not being as motivated to do things as much as I KNOW I should be. But I also think that sometimes those questions seem to be focusing on the wrong things.

I kind of think about motivation in two ways: on a daily basis (do I feel like doing laundry right now?) and on a lifetime basis (do I feel like being the kind of person who has clean sheets and wears clean clothes and doesn’t smell like a fish shit dumpster?). I think sometimes people focus too much on the first kind and not enough on the second. Because once you have the second, you’ll have the first.

In other words, once you decide with absolute certainty you want to live your life as a person who has clean sheets and wears clean clothes and doesn’t smell like a fish shit dumpster, you will do your laundry.

Like, why do you brush your teeth? You DO brush your teeth, right? Please tell me you brush your teeth. Do you need to feel motivated on a daily basis to brush your teeth? Or… do you just not want to live your life with a mouthful of disgusting rotten teeth?

So you brush your teeth. You just do it.

As corny as this sounds, I have this life-spanning, overarching need to be the best version of myself I can be. Sometimes I have failed miserably at this. Sometimes, when I’m on a roll, it feels so good to be both on the roll and to know that I am not off the roll that I can’t help but do EVERYTHING I can to keep that feeling going. I’m not sure that made sense but I wrote “roll” three times and now I’m starving.

Being healthy, feeling good, and (dare I say) looking good all fall under the umbrella of “best version of myself.” So I try my best to do whatever I can to accomplish those things. If it includes working out, then I will work out.

It’s both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Remember learning about those in Psych 101? When you thought you wanted to be a psychologist? And then three years later you were like, no, I want to be a singer/songwriter? But you still got your bachelor’s in psych and also just for the hell of it a bachelor’s in music and then you moved to NYC to be a waitress? No? Just me?

Positive reinforcement happens when you do a thing (working out) and then something good happens (looking and feeling better) so you want to keep doing the thing (working out).

Negative reinforcement happens when you do a thing (working out) to keep something bad from happening (looking and feeling worse) so you want to keep doing the thing (working out).

So in order to be “motivated,” I think you need to have two things: a strong desire for the life that would come from doing the thing and a strong aversion to the life that would come from not doing the thing.

So that’s why this morning, when I didn’t feel like running, I ran.

Is that enough psychobabble for one post? Good, I’m both exhausted and sick of myself. Tomorrow I’m gonna talk about donuts or something.


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