How to Find Motivation to Run
LACK OF MOTIVATION IS NORMAL
Some runners don’t need motivation to go for a run, they just go. I have been running for 20 years and have completed marathons and ultras, and I still find it difficult some mornings to get out and run. I procrastinate and complain and play mind games with myself like maybe I could run tomorrow or maybe I could go to the gym instead. Motivation is also one of the biggest complaints I hear from my friends who are new runners: “It’s hard to get excited about going running.” Running sometimes feels like a torturous penance, and often we only see physical results weeks later, if at all. It leads us to the conclusion, “Why the hell am I doing this?”
I actually love running, though, and want to help people figure out how to join this sport with me. There are plenty of online resources that outline motivational tricks, however half of these can seem like a second torture all their own. Personally, asking friends to run with me so that I maintain accountability to them sounds like a brand-new hell. Why would anyone do something they hate, to make them do something they hate? We have to figure out how to create excitement and happiness here somewhere!
There are some types of motivation that likely work for all of us. Having new running gear, an interesting destination, or a new playlist or audiobook to listen to are wonderful motivators. Sometimes even a spa day or a fancy dinner are great after a big race. It is, however, important to be mindful how some of these could play out. It can get expensive to do these after every run and over time it can engender a negative relationship with running because you only see it as the undesirable half of a total transaction.
Progress towards your goals is a much more positive outcome to lean on for motivation. You start seeing the weight loss, mood regulation, or time improvements that you aimed for, making it easier to get out on that next run. This happens over longer periods of time, though, and usually not as much in the beginning.
PERSONALITY-BASED MOTIVATION TYPES
In researching motivation, I came across Gretchen Rubin’s book The Four Tendencies, in which she outlines four different motivational types that people display which define how motivation works for each of us. These types are the Upholder, Obliger, Questioner and Rebel. To find out your personality type, you can take her short quiz here. As I suspected, I am a Questioner, which means I get motivation to do something good for myself by understanding why I should do it. I dig my heels in if the reasons are arbitrary or not backed by good data, and knowing this helps me focus on doing the right things to motivate myself. Take the quiz to find out your motivational tendency and then read below to see what types of motivational tactics will help you start running with more joy and success!
Obligers are the largest group of people. They get motivated by meeting outer expectations of others and resist inner expectations of things they should do for themselves. In Rubin’s words, “They wake up and think ‘what must I do today, and for whom?’” They struggle to follow through for themselves, however they can meet inner goals by creating outer expectations of accountability. The trick is, if you are an Obliger you must pick the right kind of accountability for yourself because not all solutions work for everyone. Rubin outlines four ways in which Obligers can find accountability:
- Supervision – Get your friends, family (humans or dogs), and teams to hold you accountable. Meet up with a friend or coworker, be the driver to the starting point of the run, join a running club that meets regularly, or take your dog with you for their exercise too. In one example from the book, a runner even took his friend’s running shoes home with him so that the friend couldn’t run unless he came too. Websites like GetMotivatedBuddies.com can connect you with accountability buddies to help you reach your goals.
- Late Fees – Some people find that financial motivation is a great tool for them. Apps like stickK and Lazy Jar require a $30-$50 signup fee and will only return the money if you stick with your goals that you log within the app, otherwise most of the money is donated to charity. Another popular motivator is to join a team that relies on you for fundraising to support a charity or non-profit while you train for a race, like Team In Training.
- Deadlines – This could be as simple as signing up for a race with a friend. Another thing to do is sign up for a series of races with the final race being the end goal, and the rest being thought of like ‘training races’. Example: sign up for a 5k, 10k, half marathon and then a marathon all within a few months.
- Monitoring – A great example of this is to get a running coach who can track your progress and give you advice on how to update your plan as weeks go by. You can also give your training plan to another runner friend/family member to track your progress and discuss challenges you have. Sometimes even posting your goal broadly on social media will cause people to occasionally ask how training is going, which can generate feelings of accountability.
Questioner is the second largest tendency. They resist outer expectations but are motivated by meeting inner expectations of themselves. They use information, logic and efficiency to justify a course of action and resist arbitrary or ineffective solutions. The Questioner can, however, use their investigative drive to justify these things and turn them into internal goals. One thing the Questioner must look out for is: even after being convinced of a healthy habit, they may later question if there is a more efficient solution, which can halt progress towards their goal.
- Collect Data - Investigate the latest sports research and running studies in scientific journals; sometimes Scientific American, Popular Science or Discover will have articles on sports research. Track your progress on any number of key health or athletic metrics every week, and even post them to social media to get responses. Research gym workouts that get you the fastest results for a particular goal.
- Journal - Keep a journal of the your daily workouts, progress or information you find and refer back periodically. Log how you feel each day before you run, and track what you struggle against the most. Look back on these entries later to find overarching themes so that you can make adjustments accordingly.
- Customize for You - Sign up for a race and then do some research to sculpt the perfect training plan for yourself. Include details like types of cross-training. Create a food tracking plan if you have goals around eating or weight loss. One summer I even tracked the daily humidity and temperature and logged how easy or difficult my breathing was, creating my own personal heat-index chart.
- Stay Connected - Because of the Questioner tendency to re-question their health goals, it can be a great motivator to stay connected to industry health trends. Follow social media influencers, connect with running blogs and subscribe to industry magazines like Runner’s World, Trail Runner or Ultrarunning.
Upholders are the third largest group. They are motivated by meeting expectations coming from outer as well as inner sources. Upholders love schedules and routines and are interested in rules and processes. They more easily form habits by making commitments and sticking to them. Upholders have an easier time because they get to take advantage of all types of motivation, however this can turn into a difficult job of trying to achieve everything - for themselves and everyone else.
- Make To-Do-Lists – Make To-Do lists and include tasks things like buy running shoes, plot running route, improve hip-strength, find a running partner, determine cross-training activities etc.
- Create Interesting Goals - Put together a series of achievable goals that you can work towards. This could be signing up for a difficult race, achieving a faster time on a run, running a longer distance than you ever have before, or even collecting achievements like ‘run to all of the highest points in a city’, ‘run the mileage between two major destinations (here to the equator) over time’, or even ‘fill up a medal display board’. Creativity here can make the goals fun.
- Follow a Training Plan - Simply having a training plan to follow is a great motivator for many runners because it leaves little room for error. Each week you work towards your goal and can see when you are getting off track. You can find training plans online or get a coach to create one specifically for your needs.
- Create Routine – Find a time of day to run that typically works for you and set an alarm. Set out all your running gear the night before; we tend to do what we intend to do. If you run in the morning, pre-make coffee or oatmeal so that its ready when you wake up. Determine if run-commuting is something for you. If you have a family, figure out how to take the babies or kids with you on a run.
Rebels are the fewest in number and, as you guessed, they resist both outer and inner expectations. They tend to enjoy meeting challenges, following unconventional paths, and asserting their freedom. As Dr George Sheehan wrote “Running made me free. It rid me of concern for the opinion of others. Dispensed me from rules and regulations imposed from outside.” They also value authenticity, which can help them embrace habits by tying their actions to their choices and identity.
- Frame It Mentally – Focus on your ability to choose by knowing that you don’t have to run, you choose to run. For some rebels it can help to keep focusing on the negative consequences you want to avoid such as being sick, injured or unhealthy. Set a personal goal like avoiding hospitals.
- Get Quick Value – You might be more likely to do something if you know it won’t be taking much time out of your day. Do short term, convenient exercises like sprints, short distance runs or stairs. Cross train using high-intensity exercise like P90X, HIIT or heavy-weight workouts.
- Be Controversial – Maybe you like to offend people’s sensibilities! Be an early adopter of alternative running trends like barefoot running, adventure running or parkour. Run half marathons on consecutive weekends, or do something funny like run without pants or run in a costume or tux.
- Assert Your Freedom – Take spontaneous runs whenever you like, without planning for them. Just get up, put your running clothes on (or don't) and go. Some rebellious sorts find freedom in where they choose to run and opt for expansive, rugged, outdoor terrains that will challenge them mentally and physically.
- Find a Nay-Sayer – If you are the type of rebel that likes to do something just because someone says you can’t, then find a friend or gym that will tell you what you need to hear. Even looking on places like reddit can give you inspiration to go for things you “can’t do”.
While you may have one main motivational type, many people span two types, so take a look at all of the motivational tactics above to see which ones might work for you. There are many more motivational tactics than those listed here, so post your comments below on what your Tendency is and what motivational tactics work best for you. Let's get motivated and get running!