Mind Games: 10 Tips for your Motivation Toolbox

It's sideways raining...again. I'll go later... I'll go tomorrow... I don't want to go!

Been there? Me too! Yet people are often surprised to hear me even whisper about periods of low motivation let alone announce them to the world. They expect me to shout rah rah rah from the rafters day in and day out. And quite honestly, mostly I do;). But I think it is important to share that I also feel the weight of inertia slowing down my mojo or even threatening to paralyze my body from time to time. It has happened before. It will happen again. And it happens to everyone including me and you.

Experiencing low motivation is a normal part of the journey. Even the most highly motivated athletes will face the low lows. This is normal. YOU are normal. You are not weak, pathetic, tragic, lame or any of the other potentially self damning adjectives you may have tried to claim along the way. You are awesome and strong and fierce and human too. Got it? Let's move on and get some tools in the toolbox then, shall we?

Acknowledging that low motivation is likely hibernating in the dark corners is reason enough to get your toolbox in order. When your motivation is a 10/10 roll with it! Fly high, push your limits and challenge yourself to break through to new levels in the game. And when you feel your motivation wavering, bust out your toolbox and start playing with your weapons. Those of us who appear to have naturally uber high levels of motivation don't just rely on happy genes to keep moving forward. We have built a massive workshop of tools and have honed our craft through many years of experience, failures, successes and practise. We fire up tools without even knowing they are in our hands. We fight off the dark shadows before they turn into the crazies. Usually, we do, that is.

Recently I was pulled into the darkness without even realizing I had gotten close to the shadows. I was caught unawares and experienced some novel and very interesting emotions and thoughts while running in the darkness for a few weeks. As my brain wandered away to some wild new places, I found myself dragging my arse and in need of some of the bigger tools in my motivation toolbox. I have since come through the darkness and the monster is falling asleep in the corner again, allowing me to return to the excitement of the light. YAY! Along the way, I had the chance to try out some new machinery and now my toolbox is even more equipped...for next time...because there will be a next time:). And that is AOK. And so...let's see what's in that toolbox...

Mind Games Toolbox

  1. Practise positive self talk, thought blocking and positive daily affirmations on a regular basis to hone the craft of convincing yourself that you CAN, will and ARE capable of doing it. Read more about practicing positive intention on my recent post here.

  2. Just go around the block. Put your shoes on and tell yourself you are just going around the block/short loop etc. Convince yourself to do a small piece of the plan. Once you are out there, the odds are pretty good that you will keep going. During your sessions give yourself another target- just go to the next tree. Just get up this one hill. Long or challenging workouts can be endured in short pieces.

  3. Don't think. Just go. Over thinking things can leave us paralyzed. Don't have the discussion in your mind. Just get in your car and drive to the trail head. Just get on your bike and follow the plan. Just do one more hill repeat. Just do it. Turn your mind off for the moment. Sometimes it gets in the way of motion.

  4. Buddy Up. You know this one works. Call on your support network to get you through the workout you are resisting. Passing on your accountability to someone other than yourself is a miracle cure for low motivation. Often times I will meet up with multiple running buddies for different legs of my super long runs. Even having a buddy for part of a long workout can make it all happen.

  5. Shift your focus. Internalizing vs externalizing. We all seem to gravitate to one focus or the other, although most people shift back and forth as well. Internalizing means you are focused on the training or event itself. You are feeling the feedback your body is giving you and keeping your awareness on the task at hand. Monitoring your breathing rate, heart rate, exertion level, cadence, form and other sensations in your body are ways of focusing internally. Externalizing means you are thinking about anything BUT the task at hand. You are tuning out of the physical sensations by turning your attention elsewhere. Music (wow powerful!), immersion in the sights and sounds of nature and a deep conversation with a friend can all take you away from the moment and get you through a challenging training session. Personally, I use a combination of tools but when I need to find motivation I usually focus on immersion in nature (I am head over heels for the wild and it feels me up with a ridiculous amount of energy) and working through life in my brain. Neither of which involve focusing on my body and any 'pain' or 'fatigue' I may be feeling. I always try to block that out. It isn't helpful at all for me to increase my awareness of these uncomfortable physical symptoms. Over the past few weeks in my quest to go the distance in my long solo training runs in sideways rain for days and days I have resorted to some new levels of externalizing. I texted my buddy Kim, the Queen of audio books, and asked for a recommendation. My motivation was wavering and I needed to check out of my brain and the environment for one of the first times in my life. I had another 4 hour run in the sideways February rain by myself and I needed all the help I could get. AND...it worked! I downloaded "Running for my life" by Lopez Lamong, and it was worth every freakin penny. I plugged in, checked out and followed along on this meaningful journey. Not only did it distract me for the required amount of time, it encouraged me to continue as I wanted to learn what would happen next. And the story is beyond inspiring...it reminded me of my greatest motivator of all...

  6. Gratitude. When all else fails I make my list. I reflect on the gifts of health, wellness, legs and lungs. I remind myself that the pain in my legs is a gift. The burning in my lungs is a gift. The opportunity to spend hours of leisure time 'playing' in the woods is a gift. The experience of learning about myself through both the highs and the lows is a gift. All of these gifts I am grateful for. When the day comes that I can no longer move my body through the wilderness I will be grateful that I did...when I could. I persevere for those who wish they could do the same but can not. And I carry on for my future self who is glad I did, when I could.

  7. Lie to yourself. The best athletes are the best liars too. The power of the mind is undeniable, unlimited and unimaginable all at the very same time. What the mind believes the body achieves. From little white lies to big whoppers, this is the one time where lieing is encouraged in your life;)

  • Lie about the distance. If you are struggling mentally to handle the idea of completing a long distance or duration lie to yourself about the distance. Break your long run into loops/laps or segments and live entirely in the current lap. The last one didn't happen and there are no more to come. You are only running/riding this current lap. I have used this tool many times for ultra distance training and the power of the mind is remarkable if you can hone this skill. During a 6 hour run last month I ran three, 2 hour loops. With each lap, I erased the previous and pretended I was just beginning my run. You really can erase mental and physical fatigue (or increase it) with the thoughts you create in your mind. During my first ultramarathon, The 125km Canadian Death Race, I learned the power of this tool on both sides of the motivation spectrum. Rather than acknowledging I was running 125km that day, I only accepted the current leg that I was on. These ranged from about 20-30kms and that was very manageable in my mind. Each leg was my only leg. I let the last one go and didn't add them up in my head. 20k. I can run 20k. 100kms into the race, I was in a deep dark place due to a multitude of compounding issues (darkness, rain, dead watch, heart burn and then some)...and I came into my final aid station at my first low point of the day. My girlfriend Jen was waiting there in the pouring rain and in the middle of the night and she tried to cheer me up by yelling: "Holy shit Seads! You just ran 100kms!". She was so pumped! But her words instantly threw me deeper into my dark hole of diminished motivation. "Don't tell me that! I don't want to know that!" I replied. I was still living in my 20k bubble and once it had burst...man oh man was that a powerful moment. I instantly felt the weight of all 100kms in my body and I had to fight hard to try and lift myself back up. The power of this tool is obviously exaggerated over the 100km distance, but it is powerful none the less. Not convinced? Have you read about Diane Van Deren the North Face Endurance athlete who had part of her brain removed as a treatment for her epilepsy? She has no concept of time. Every step she runs is the first step. She has no idea what mental fatigue is. And she is one of the worlds best ultra ultra distance athletes.

  • More lies: Pretend that you don't actually feel the 'pain'/ fatigue in your legs. Of course, we need to respond to the 'bad pain' of a niggle or injury forming and take care to prevent show stopping injuries by respecting our bodies. But the fatigue and discomfort that comes with pushing your physical limits is a necessary evil. 'Good pain'. Without it we will not grow, adapt and build stronger. So we must embrace it fully. Instead of thinking of it as 'pain', change your mindset and consider it as 'strength', or 'adaptation' or 'power' or even...a party in your legs. Yup. If you read my Miwok 100km race report you will know that I busted out this tool on the 3000 stairs that we had to run down to the finish the race. Evil race director! My legs were absolutely thrashed at that point. But I had no choice! I had to go down. And so I could either cry and whine about the pain (and make it exponentially worse) or I could shape shift it into something beautiful and motivating. And so...I convinced myself that the excruciating burning in my quads was actually my legs throwing me a wild party. It was a celebration of the gift of running and finishing the race and my quads were on fire with joy! They were my cheering squad and screamed with joy all the way to the end. I made the mistake of sharing this mind game with one of the runners I passed on the descent (because I was moving much faster than the other racers on those stairs thanks to my mind!) and got a bit of a sideways look... "Just pretend!" I said. " It's a party in your legs!". I am not quite sure he got it. But I did. And it got me to that finish line a heck of a lot faster, and happier:).

8. Go on an adventure. Forget about your training as 'training'. Instead, go on a micro-adventure and treat your mind to a little mystery and wonder. Explore a new neighbourhood or trail in your community. Or, even better, head out of town and find a new place to play. Connect with a friend in another town, or head on a road trip to get your mileage in somewhere new. Best cure for low motivation is adventure!

9. Race your way through it. Getting your long training sessions in by participating in a race/event is a sure way to pass the miles without needing to find the energy for motivation. Let the race be your motivator and just enjoy the experience. Racing your way through endurance training is a very practical and effective way to get those uber long training sessions under your belt rather than attempting to get them done on your own. This, combined with the race skills experience that you will gain, make racing through your training extremely valuable.

10. Finally...the biggest and most powerful tool in the motivation toolbox is and will always be... The answer to the question: WHY? Find your why. Take the time to ask and answer this important question. Find an answer that resonnates with your very core. Connect to your values and identify your big WHY to help you carry on when the going get's tough. Without a WHY you will find yourself floundering, waivering and being sucked into the darkness. With a WHY you will rally, persevere and thrive in the light. What's your WHY? Figure that out before the day is over today...figure it out right now.

Want more tools? Sign up here to receive my updated Motivation Toolbox! Currently over 30 tools waiting for you!

You got this. I'm here to help:). Check out my other Motivation blogs over there >> in the collections if you are looking for more tools to load up your toolbox. And watch for my TEDX Talk video: Human Potential and the Power of the Mind to be posted shortly!

What tools do you find most powerful? I'd love to hear what works for you!
Happy Trails friends,