MY ALARM WENT OFF AT 7:00 SATURDAY MORNING. Outside, it was 20 degrees, dark and snowing, and I was snug and warm under the covers. So why did I drag myself out of bed, into tights, jacket, balaclava and gloves, and head downtown for a 13 mile run with the PR Fitness group? On the surface, there are several reasons; running is good for me, it’s more fun to run with a group than by myself, an early run gives me the whole rest of the day. All of which are true but don’t really explain why I now run on mornings when, a few years ago, you couldn’t have paid me to get out of bed before 10, let alone go outside and exercise.
Initially, it was my training goals that motivated me; I needed the regular distance runs to build endurance, and the group provided encouragement and company. But with my first marathon behind me, and training for the next one still a couple of months away, motivation no longer explains my behavior. Rather, it’s become a habit, a routine that feels right even if, at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, I’d really rather stay in bed.
I happened across an interesting post in the Harvard Business Review by Peter Bregman that provides an insight into why many people want to do something, and might even start an activity they know is worthwhile, but never make it that habitual practice. Titled, “Your Problem Isn’t Motivation,” he makes a distinction between getting motivated to do something and actually doing it:
Motivation is in the mind; follow-through is in the practice. Motivation is conceptual; follow-through is practical. In fact, the solution to a motivation problem is the exact opposite of the solution to a follow through problem. The mind is essential to motivation. But with follow through, it’s the mind that gets in the way.
Peter goes on to say that in order to stick with something, you need to shut off the mind when it begins counter-arguing. Time to go for a run? Stop thinking and put on the shoes. I’ve found this works well for me if I’m waffling about whether to go running. Once the clothes and shoes are on, it doesn’t feel right to do anything other than get out on the road. If I’m tired and don’t feel like going to Aikido class, driving to the dojo usually does the trick. Once on the mat, I’m glad to be there. This isn’t foolproof; I’ve successfully talked myself out of workouts from time to time. But doing so creates the feeling of “not-right” that means I won’t abandon a positive habit.
There’s more at work than this, of course. I have a great coach and a wonderful group of fellow runners, my instructors and fellow students make Aikido classes enjoyable, and my family supports and encourages me. For all of them, and for the other circumstances that make my activities possible, I am very grateful. Thanks, all of you, for helping me follow through.