What Motivation Wants

Neill Morgan, at mortalironman.com

When the road looks seductive, running is easy. When it’s not easy, how can we motivate ourselves?

Motivation is a lover who needs and deserves your attention if you expect her to stay faithful to you.

Here’s what Motivation wants:

  1. Atmosphere. Keep the environment conducive to her mood by laying out your clothes and shoes the night before. Make sure the shoes, shorts, and singlet look and feel good, that they’re not old, stinky, or worn out. You want to get out of bed each morning and tell your Motivation, “Let me slip into something more comfortable.”


  1. Frequent Feedback. Tell your Motivation how much she means to you
    There’s nothing like a healthy resting heart rate and blood pressure to keep you motivated.

    with frequent feedback. Weigh often. Measure your waistline. Take your blood pressure and measure your resting heart rate each morning. Test your fitness with a weekend race or a time trial on the track and plot your results on a chart. With frequent feedback, you tell your Motivation, “You make me a better man.”

  1. Variety. Lead your Motivation to find joy in the cold weather run, the early morning run in the summer, the run in rain or drizzle, or even the treadmill during a storm. Commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to give her joy on the treadmill, whether she prefers a good crime novel or rock-and-roll in your headphones. Be gentle and adventurous with her, take her on vacation and engage in recreation with her. It will be so much more fun to surf or hike or bike ride or climb a mountain together because she has made you a better man. Don’t let her get bored with the same run over and over again. Listen to her and let her tell you with her responses what she likes.

    Enjoy your fitness.
  1. Gentleness. Love your Motivation and never force her beyond her limits or yours. Your increased strength will give you the ability to push your body past discomfort and into the realm of pain. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Your genetic makeup and your age create a boundary that you must respect. While a little bit of righteous soreness can be delicious, Pain and Injury will alienate Motivation and lock you away in a prison of loneliness, regret, and rehab.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Create a seductive environment.
  2. Give frequent positive feedback.
  3. Embrace variety.
  4. Respect boundaries, never use force.

I wrote this in response to a man’s question about staying motivated for running, but these principles may apply to other things as well. I can’t think of anything in particular, how about you?

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3 thoughts on “What Motivation Wants

  1. Well-written and clever. I suggest #5 swift kick in the butt (to get started again when all else fails).

  2. Hey Neill,
    Nice post! (And Hi from Austin from an old family friend!)

    Allow me to extend your point on “gentleness”. The psychology and mental rigors of training (but perhaps more importantly the real physical behavior of human training) indicate that doing so with alternating cycles of stress and rest work well. So being “gentle” seems to work best when it follows a spell of being “rough”, where one pushes/stresses/fractures training boundaries with novell or more difficult techniques… which works best when followed by “gentle”… etc.

    This “periodization” is anchored in science, and it rings true for me because I’ve had some brief experience training alongside some very serious athletes (meaning they get results, not that they won’t laugh).

    I suspect this is one of the great natural truths of progression; for me it reflects the “development spiral” we’ve observed while raising kids (where they make great gains, move sideways, grow, then seem to regress and change, only to resume making gains in other dimentions).

    Thanks again for a cool post!

    1. Thanks, Quentin, so great to hear from you! Big Yep on the periodization for building fitness. The problem I’m facing now is that the intensity my mind and heart tell me I still have the capability to carry out outpaces my aging body’s ability to keep up. I have to follow the numbers (FTP and pace) exactly from my fitness tests and resist the impulse to rip off a few more intervals just a little faster just because I feel good. That has been my path to injury. It’s funny how the key to making it all the way to the Ironman in July will be not so much working harder as practicing restraint whenever I’m tempted to add more speed than I’m ready for. I’m doing bike intervals twice a week and run intervals three times, but still feeling restless on my recovery days. Are you planning to race in 2015?

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