Monday Musings: On Motivation



Since I signed up for this race, and commenced whining and complaining about all the effort I’ll have to put into it, I’ve heard all sorts of stuff from my friends and family about how ‘motivated’ I am. Statements tend to be along the lines of the following:

Oh but you’re so active already so you won’t find it hard to do more.

How can you say you’re not motivated? I’ve never seen anyone hike as much as you!

You are NOT lazy.

Here’s the thing: I am fundamentally lazy, and I don’t feel particularly motivated.  When I hear people talk about loving a challenge, and the joy of working through something difficult, here’s what I think: “Oh, PLEASE” (with an eye roll thrown in for good measure).  I mean, seriously, give me the easy road any day.  The easy road is paved with moderate effort…and cake…and wine. The easy road is lined with puppies and cherry blossoms perpetually in bloom.  On the easy road, you can’t help but smile and feel good about life.

The hard road, on the other hand, is paved with deprivation and sore muscles and saying no to that 4th (okay, 6th) glass of wine; it runs at a 40 degree incline and with each step you feel its pointy rocks through the soles of your shoes. The hard road is not lined with anything at all; it is a narrow path with steep drop-offs on both sides, such that one misstep will send you plummeting to certain death. On the hard road, you want to curl up in a fetal ball and cry, but you can’t because there’s no room for that.

This is my mental map and, granted, it is full of extremes.  In my mind, the easy road is a land of 6 workouts per week, including a couple of long hikes on the weekends.  For some, this might not be the easy road but I am used to this level of activity, so it’s become easy to maintain and, thus, really requires little motivation.  Easy roads, they’re all relative.

When it comes to training for this ultra, or any other life event that pushes me outside my comfort zone, I don’t rely on motivation.  It’s too fleeting and fickle. It’s too situational.  It’s too intangible for me to wrap my head around.  No, motivation is not my secret.  Are you ready to hear my secret?


That’s right, it’s guilt.  I know you’re probably thinking it sounds terribly unhealthy, and you might actually be right.  But let me tell you it works infinitely better than that whole motivation thing. Let’s compare motivation and guilt in a real-life scenario:

Scenario: I have to hike 32km tomorrow but…let’s open that second bottle of wine anyway!

Motivation Response: I am going to hike 32km tomorrow! I will see pretty things! It will be magical! No amount of wine can interfere with my will to hike!

Guilt Response: That second bottle of wine is going to make the 7:00am wake up call feel horrid and there’s a 50% probability that I’ll downgrade my hike to 10km. If I do that, I’ll start to lose my endurance and I’ll never work my way back to being able to hike 32km.  And if I can’t do that, I’ll never be able to run this ultra and everyone will know I’m a total failure.

I think it’s clear which strategy will lead to greater success. With motivation, I’m ignoring the very real risks to training and relying solely on my good intentions. And I am a firm believer that good intentions mean squat.

With guilt, however, I paint a picture of failure so compelling and humiliating that I cannot possibly ignore it, no matter how exaggerated and unrealistic it may be. This is the beauty of guilt. It is the ultimate accountability driver because it’s so very palpable…and irrational.  We like to think of ourselves as rational beings but, let’s be honest, psychological research has shown time and time again that humans are often irrational in their decision-making.  Revel in guilt’s inherent irrationality and get ready to be shocked by how much you can accomplish.

It’s time for a new model of motivation.  I say screw the hard road and digging deep and finding your inner strength.  Instead, bask in the glory of guilt and let it shame you into achieving your goals.

p.s. Yes, I am available to do motivational speaking at your next event.


One thought on “Monday Musings: On Motivation”

  1. I really think your example of guilt is still motivation; it’s spinning it from motivation for something spectacular you’ll feel, to the motivation of avoid something shitty you’ll feel. It’s all about perspective. Go you, no matter what the path you take, you’re doing a F***IN ULTRA MARATHON?!?! Just revel in that for a moment.


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