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How to Find Motivation

Photo by Simon Pais
Always concentrate on how far you’ve come, rather than how far you have left to go. ~Unknown

The first time I attempted running as a form of exercise, I huffed and puffed my way out of my apartment complex, made it approximately one block and stopped out of fear that my heart would beat out of my chest and my lungs would explode. I promptly turned around hoping that no one noticed how out of breath I actually was.

A few years later, despite the memories I harbored of previous failed attempts, I tried it again. This time I made the not-so-smart decision to run in 100+ degree heat. I made it approximately half a mile before my head started spinning and my vision blurred.

Even after that incident, I was still inexplicably drawn to the sport of running and the breed of people who become dedicated runners.

I loved how running relied on the body in its purest form — there were no weights or gym memberships needed. I appreciated the stamina that someone could build over time simply by committing to a practice and seeing it through to the end. I was fascinated by the focus and dedication it took to lace up your sneakers and venture out day after day.

I wanted the practice, the routine and the identity that came with being a runner. The problem was I never pictured myself being on par with those who lived and breathed the sport.

A few weeks ago, after declaring to the world my intent to begin an exercise routine in this blog post, I began planting tiny seeds of change. I made a plan I could stick to — mostly because it involved a few of my closest friends — and began changing the way I utilized and viewed my body.

And yes, I started running.

This time the progress has been slow — I haven’t made any plans to run a marathon like I might have boldly done in the past. It’s been a steady increase from walking to running and back to walking as my body sees fit.

But yesterday, as my head began pounding and my stomach wrestled with a cramp, I started eyeing the runners passing by me with some envy.

Their breath was even and measured, their legs toned and their face noticeably free from sweat. All this on their second or third loop around the park.

I started cursing their progress and my lack thereof. But mostly, I started to return to that place of feeling like this task would never be an easy one for me.

Frustrated, I began entertaining the idea of hanging up my running shoes and trying something easier, something less cardio intensive and a little nicer on my ego. Something I could quickly take to and feel like a pro.

Ironically, choosing something easier would mean forgoing the results that the challenge of running was offering to both my body and mind. Returning to comfort might actually mean erasing some of the key changes I had already made.

In this empowering yet slightly irritating moment of reflection, I began to take stock of my progress — where I am compared to where I’ve been instead of where I am compared to where everyone else currently is.

If I was willing to shift the way my mind was reading the situation, I could see that the progress I had made was significant and noticeable, if only to me.

I can now run for longer distances without feeling like I might collapse, my legs have stopped constantly aching and I can find a rhythm with my movements much quicker than before.

All of these are milestones for me.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of us have our eye on goals and accomplishments off in the distance, which means we completely lose sight of how far we’ve come in this very moment.

We compare our present selves with our future selves, when our future selves have the unfair advantage of more experience and more time for growth.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that I’ve learn in finding motivation:

Tip #1 – Break Goals Down Into Small Steps

If you create a massive goal for yourself and don’t stop to pat yourself on the back until you’ve reached the finish line, you’ll likely have that feeling of, “ok, now what?” Plus, the goal may seem so big that you can become overwhelmed and more easily give up.

By breaking down and celebrating the smaller milestones, you can start to notice your progress as you move forward which, in turn, will increase your motivation.

It will also help you to make adjustments when necessary — changing the things that aren’t working and doing more of the things that are.

Tip #2 – Erase Your Comparison List

We all have vastly different skill sets and life experiences, so comparing what you’re doing to what someone else is doing is comparing apples to oranges.

More importantly, we tend to be so hard on ourselves that the chances of us being on the winning end of those comparisons are slim to none.

If you must compare, only think about you in the past and you in the present — this is the only clear indication of your own progress.

Tip #3 – What You Resist Persists

Know that avoiding a challenge now will only encourage it to show up later.

I could have easily given up running and working out all together by now — I’ve certainly had a few legitimate (in my mind) reasons to — but no one ever gets away with avoiding things simply because the going gets tough.

Eventually the lessons intended for you to learn in completing one task will show up in another way, in another form.

Challenges only become less challenging when we face them head on, as painful as that may be.

Tip #4 – Embrace Slow Progress

Slow movement in the right direction can be more exciting than giant leaps.

If, by some miracle, I was able to run ten miles nonstop on my first attempt, chances are I would have become bored quickly and moved on to something else.

It’s in the slow and steady progress that we can find the most excitement. Why? Because we can see a much more expansive room for growth.

The key here, as mentioned in tip #1, is being able to recognize the progress for what it is — no matter how slow moving it may be.

Tip #5 – Lighten Up!

Don’t take everything so seriously. Period.

I am a perfectionist by nature. So when I have one bad day where I don’t reach a level that I believe I should be at, I cite that as a good reason to quit and move on to something else.

The truth is, it’s not always that serious.

You might not be quite up to par today, but tomorrow you might be an extraordinary day for you. Let yourself go through the ups and downs so you can really savor the moment when you reach that next level of greatness.

I’m making a choice in this moment to get up, dust myself off and go for another run — no matter how out of shape I might actually be.

Now who’s coming with me? :)

> How about you? Running was my challenge. What’s your challenge? What small steps can you take to move ahead? Share your thoughts with us in the comment below. See you there!

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About the author

Kayla Albert is freelance writer intent on living life deliberately. You can follow her at Confessions of a Perfectionist. If there's a writing project you'd like for her to tackle, visit her website at kaylaalbert.com

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19 thoughts on How to Find Motivation

  1. Kayla,

    This is very appropriate advice. One of the hardest things in the world is to go from the quick intense excitement of planning to chase a dream to the day to day drudgery of actually going after it.

    I always tell people to separate strategizing from taking action. Set up times to strategize regularly, but in between those, just focus on the day to day actions and knock them off your task list. That way you get both functions met but they don’t distract from each other each being done well.

  2. Kayla – If you could have seen me, you would have seen my head nodding as I read your post. Ironically, I am both a perfectionist and someone who is learning to be a runner. Yes, I am in the same boat – you are not on this ride alone.

    I’m doing interval training through the C25K program (Couch to 5K). I’m not planning on running any events yet but the program helps build up endurance to run naturally – without feeling like a failure or giving up. It breaks the process down into small steps that get us running.

    Love your post and, who knows, maybe we will cross paths at a marathon!

  3. Sometime a challenge requires an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

    I have been struggling for years to find a ‘middle road’ approach to alcohol, but I am slowly but surely drawing the conclusion that it isn’t there. Perhaps it will be clear from the other side, but I have to be sober to know for sure, I think. Then again, perhaps coming to this conclusion was precisely the ‘small victory’ that I needed.

    Thanks for the great post. = )

  4. Running is definitely difficult! I recently started running as well and though I already consider myself to be athletic, keeping up with running and wanting to get out there on a consistent basis is a struggle. Building stamina can be difficult, but I get days where I feel like I can run forever and they keep my spirits up when I have slow days. It’s all about showing up and keeping with it!

  5. Jonelle

    Reading this article has really encouraged me to begin a change in my everyday life. I will begin to run again as slow as I can up hills, until I am able to do a non stop 45min run up hill and down hill non stop. Thank you coach Dorron for posting this article, you are certainly an inspiration to me! God bless!

  6. What you resist persist….the power of mindful living for dissolving this resistance. Even trickier is to not resist when you are resisting!

  7. Great post on motivation!

    My challenges are as follows:

    1) To not give advice when it’s not asked for.
    2) Release the weight I’ve gained since moving back to my home state.
    3) Decide if I want to become a life coach for adults or children (teens). Do I really want to become a counselor/life coach?
    4) Choose a book and or screenplay project to work on.
    5) Market my teleplay.
    6) Grow my freelance, ghost, and creative writing business.

    Of course, figuring out “how to” do something goes against what spiritual experts/gurus say to do. Most of them say to visualize the end result and leave the “how to” up to God, Universal Intelligence, or whatever word you use.

    I think I know the answers to some of my challenges. It’s just a matter of getting super clear about what I truly want and going for it.

  8. Great Post staying motivated is one of the hardest thing to do sometimes i like the first tip about breaking down goals into smaller steps it makes sense because it wont seem so overbearing to do one big task. I sometimes feel pressured and loose track of my progress because i’m trying to be a perfectionist and getting everything right. Thanks again for sharing

  9. Hi Kayla, I love this line, “something…a little nicer on my ego”. LOL!!!

    I am so tempted to give up on so many things. But, I’m seeing myself make leaps over months when I commit to tiny, tiny daily habits.

    I just started a business (a month ago). Already, I’m comparing myself to the folks who have clients and who are working on their biz full time. Everything they do seems so polished and perfect.

    Thanks for the reminder to see things from my past self perspective also. What would my 32 year old self think if she knew about me today? She would think I ROCK!!! I would be her mentor:-)

  10. Kayla – I love tip #3. Many people including myself have been guilty of this. The quickest way to bring yourself down is to get stuck on what other people are doing better than you, whether it’s personally and/or professionally. I had a moment during my nephews graduation when I started beating myself up mentally because I wasn’t where I thought I would be 13 years ago when I graduated high school. It’s human nature to compare yourself to others, but nothing good comes from it. Focus on yourself and all of the positives that are going for you in your life.

  11. Love this post! It reminds me of the saying:

    “how do eat an elephant, one bite at a time”.

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Hi Kayla,
    Thanks for the great tips. I would like to add on tips to help everyone stay motivated. These tips have helped famous people like Stephen King, Operah winfrey and Steve Jobs succeed!

    1. Rejection should never stop you
    2. Failure is not a problem at all
    3. People who reject you know nothing
    4. Believing in yourself is the key to success in life

  13. Ben

    Good article,
    I’ve found that one good way is using Emotional Freedom Technique to let go of the feelings, thoughts and even past experiences that are causing you to be unmotivated.

    Like if you had alot of issues running in the past, like my friend once was training me and we did a massive session way more than I could handle and ended it with a massive run and I could barely walk the next day.. of course I didn’t like running after that.

    So letting go of stuff like that and the feelings around it is a great way to access your natural motivation.

    -Ben

  14. A great article Kayla! I have always believed in the idea of looking back to see how far I have come in my personal journey. The journey is endless, so looking forward can be very daunting, as you have said, but it is good from time to time to remind oneself just how much progress has already been made.

  15. This is a though one for most people, where I include myself. I think persistence is the key to sooo many things in life. I have never seen persistence fail for myself.

    @Tina, have you found the next level. Have you reached a physical goal that you thought was not possible? How did it feel?

    I did achieve it a couple of years ago, where I could swim 3000m without exhausting a lot, and that was when I thought 2200m was my top. It felt weird, somehow like it was me, but it was me. I am at 1400-1600m right now, had no such motivation and time until now. I am slowly and steadily increasing my trainings, and because I know I’ve done it before, it doesn’t feel like a barrier. I encourage everyone to do the same with at least 1 of the main topics in life, it’s a fascinating transformation and emotional ride :)

  16. Michele Kala

    You have to see a movie called “Twelve and Holding.” It is a fantastic movie with a subplot about a large boy who is looking to change his life totally on his own, without his parents help, despite his parents hinderance. You reminded me of it with your story above about running.

  17. Mae

    I had the same experience. I started running 7 years ago. It was a terrible experience like you have mentioned. I got my legs, body and tummy aching and certainly one thing I found was my sweat was so smelly, some fat smell but that encouraged me to run more. That should be the sign that my body secreted toxin out with the sweat (it only happened to me when I ran for the first few times).
    So I tried to get my brothers to run with me, although they were not exercise as much as I did but they ran faster and farther than I could. In my heart I told myself, “Watch out brothers! I will beat up your speed one fine day, although not now. I just have to keep training my body.” Thus, I started running every one or two weeks, and from 3 x 400m to 5 x 400m. Now my speed can be as fast as they do and I do not feel easily tired. Once I achieved this goal, I moved on to participate in marathon. Started from 5km fun run, following 10km a year later, and last year 21km. My next challenge is 42km.

    However I forgot to use this spirit in my university. I have been struggling to do well but my results were not good. Now before next semester gonna commences I am glad to come to your post, this has motivated me to use this positive thinking. And I like your tip on “erase comparison list”. I have problem keeping myself from comparing with others. I used not to think like this however worry had made more negative. Now I will turn this negative energy to positive one :D

    Good day!

  18. Hey Kayla,
    I remember the first time i decided to start running, I was inspired by Usain Bolt, the time he ran 100m in 9.68 seconds.
    That was an amazing feat. So i thought myself “hey if this guy can do it in 9.68 then i can probably do it in 10 at least”
    It was a good source of motivation but was I wrong ! It was chaos! You actually did better than me, I couldn’t reach half a mile!
    Anyway I like the point you brought up about “what you resist persists”.
    Oddly enough it reminds me of what my older brother used to tell me. “Work put off today becomes tomorrow’s emergency”

    Thanks for such an amazing article by the way. :)

  19. Rio Hardesty

    This is a wonderful article, quite an inspiring read.

    My personal challenge is to learn to draw. The main thing that gets me down and saps my motivation is when I see brilliant illustrations, seemingly all over the place, and thinking to myself that I could never reach that level.

    When I first tried to learn, days, weeks, even months might pass in between drawing anything. I had little motivation or confidence.

    However, after persisting, I gradually noticed improvement from my older drawings. Being able to look back and say that I’ve improved is wonderful.

    But, I too am a perfectionist and can’t help but compare myself to the best and get depressed. It’s those fleeting, simple words of praise I receive from those who see my drawings that really pick me up off the ground and drive me forward.
    I wish you all luck in pursuing your goals as well!

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