Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cultivating Motivation

This article is inspired by Ryan Hall's blog post Keeping The Main Thing The Main Thing.

Additionally, motivation is included in my three principles of athletic training are:

  1. Stay Motivated
  2. Stay Healthy
  3. Train Hard
These can apply to other aspects of life outside of athletics, but often in that realm staying motivated and staying healthy become the same thing with mental training being similar to those two. That is a whole other topic for another day.

As I was running earlier this week I was trying to come up with an analogy for motivation. I have plenty of motivation and I notice that others do not always have the motivation that I have. So I asked myself the question, 'how did I get so much motivation?' Which precipitated another question, 'who or what conspired to produce so much motivation for me?' In this instance I will talk solely about running because spending an hour and a half every day running I have plenty of time to think about my running goals and my progress, which are parts of my motivation.

I came to the conclusion that motivation is like a plant. A tree that starts out as a tiny seed or a flower that starts out as a seed both take time to grow and develop into a fully functional plant. Motivation is exactly the same way. You can not directly give someone motivation the same way that you can not make a plant grow. You can provide all of the necessary resources for a plant to grow and I believe that you can do the same for motivation. 

Addressing my own running career, I started with very little motivation. I ran because I wanted to be in some sort of shape and have a healthy lifestyle. I suppose that is a pretty mature concept for the average 13 year old, but that is why I ran. Then my motivation developed into training for mountain climbing and backpacking early in high school. Later in high school it became a combination of seeing how well I do, as well as the previous factors. I would be lying if I didn't at least mention that girls run, and there is some motivation to that for me.

When I took six months off of running my freshman year of college I returned to running both for fitness but also for the mental aspect. I feel better after more than 99% of my runs. I dare any drug to be more than 99% effective at making me feel better. I would not take it anyway because I have found running and that is my 99% drug. I also missed the competitive aspect of running, which is funny because my freshman year of college I ran four races and was last place in every one.

Later in college the year 2007 happened and that was really the year that formed most of my current goals. Ryan Hall and Peter Gilmore blogged for their upcoming marathons while I was in Costa Rica. That summer Flotrack got off to a great start and consumed hours of my time as I watched professional runners run amazing races. That fall the build up to the Men's Olympic Marathon Trials in New York was amazing with the Chasing Glory series from the New York Road Runners that I checked into every day and a slew of Flotrack videos as well as Runner's World Racing News which I began to check regularly. That November I went to watch the trials with a few friends and I was motivated to run there eventually.

That is the short story of my running motivation. But, there are so many other factors that got me to that point. Had I had the chance to play soccer in Oklahoma or Kansas I might not have taken up running. If I was taller I might have played basketball. If I was bigger I might have played football. If my dad did not take cholesterol medication and my mom did not have diabetes perhaps I would not be motivated to eat well and exercise. If my high school biology teacher had been able to walk perhaps I would not feel a desire to run for those that can not run. Had any one of several coaches told me to go home because I was too slow, that would have been it.

Using the plant analogy I needed my carbon dioxide, sunlight, soil, nitrogen, and water, and all in the proper proportions. Too much or too little of anything and I would have quit. What does cultivating motivation have to do with my life now that I have it? I want to know how I can create that kind of environment for others. Not an environment of dreamers who get nothing done, but highly motivated people with a strong work ethic. As of Wednesday I have run 141 days in a row. I don't know if that counts as a strong work ethic because many of those runs have been slow or short and I was unemployed for part of that. The point is, no one runs 141 days in a row and well over 1,000 miles on a total whim. There has to be some motivation.

I intend to coach a team of high school or college runners some day and I know that if I could put my mentality in each of their heads, we would be incredibly successful, but that is ridiculous because everyone is different I would go insane if most people were like me. So I wonder what sort of general situations can cultivate motivation in a person. I know what worked for me, but I have a feeling that that exact set of circumstances will only present itself to me alone. Everyone has a different history and different cultivating requirements. 

I do not have the answer to the question, 'how does one cultivate motivation in another?' But I feel that just using the verb cultivate instead of create or give or even motivate is a huge step in the right direction.

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