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What is the real secret behind motivation?

If you want to stay engaged in and excited about your training, you have to harness your inner drive

older runner

We often talk about motivation as being a key factor in running success, and elite athletes seem to have it in spades. Any time our training falls to the wayside, we often blame a lack of motivation as the reason. So how do you stay motivated to avoid these lapses in training? Where do elite athletes get their motivation? The answer is not external but comes from your own individual inner drive. Here’s how to cultivate it.

Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

Runners often use goals, like aiming for a new personal best or getting a BQ, or rewards, like having their favourite meal at the end of a long run, to motivate themselves to stick to their training plans. These are examples of extrinsic motivation, and can be effective in acute situations. When you’re at kilometre 35 of a marathon or entering the final mile of a 5K, reminding yourself of your goal can be very useful when things are starting to get tough and your brain is telling you to call it quits.

In your day-to-day training, however, extrinsic goals don’t tend to work as well, because while they provide a large dose of motivation, that fire quickly burns out. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, provides that slow-burning, long-lasting motivation that you need to lace up your shoes day after day, month after month and year after year.

The idea behind intrinsic motivation is that you have to want to put in the work. One of the biggest factors that separate elite athletes from non-elites is that they not only enjoy the training process, but are addicted to it. Success isn’t purely about achieving their goals, it’s about showing up every day, putting in the work and actually enjoying the process of slowly becoming a better athlete.

The good news is that elite athletes aren’t the only ones with this inner drive. You have one too, and all you have to do is tap into it to start harnessing its power.

How to tap into your inner drive

Everyone has days when they don’t feel like going out for their run, hitting the gym or doing whatever else their training involves, but if you’re constantly feeling like running is something you have to do, rather than something you want to do, that’s a sign that you’re lacking inner drive. Here are a few tips for tapping into your inner drive so you can ultimately achieve success:

Learn how to explore. Inner drive often happens when your interests and skills collide, so give yourself the opportunity to explore your interests and find what excites you. Within the context of running, that often means choosing distances or goals that you actually enjoy doing. For example, runners tend to elevate the marathon as being the ultimate event that all runners must aspire to, but you may find that training for the mile is a lot more interesting or exciting to you, and that’s great.

If you think you’re losing your inner drive, consider switching up what you’re training for to reignite your excitement and passion for the sport. Trying a completely new distance or switching from the roads to the trails could be just what you need.

Create a healthy environment. Runners tend to be very strict with their training and put a lot of pressure on themselves to achieve their goals. In small doses, this can be beneficial, but in the long run can lead to frustration and burnout. Give yourself room to fail. Listen to your body and allow yourself to make changes to your training when necessary. Choose goals because they feel right to you, not because your running buddies or your coach are telling you they should.

Don’t chase outcomes. Define what progress looks like to you, and chase that instead. Focus on getting a little bit better every day, and don’t allow the desire for perfection to get in the way that progress. Improvement is rarely linear, and success often doesn’t look exactly the way we think it will.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals, but they shouldn’t be the main driver that gets you off the couch and out the door every day. Choose goals that are appropriate to your current level (without comparing yourself to others, or even your past self), and use them as a guide only.

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