The One True Secret of Endless Motivation (And 12 Ideas for Finding Yours)

matt on bridge

The final “point 2″ of my Boston-qualifying marathon.

People often ask how you stay motivated. For getting in shape, running a marathon, or tackling an endeavor entirely unrelated to fitness.

I’ve never really had an answer.

I was a motivation machine when I was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was so focused on the goal — obsessed even — and that alone proved to be an endless font of giddy-up. I couldn’t answer the motivation question, because I didn’t have a problem staying motivated.

The 100-miler was different. The idea of training for it overwhelmed me so much that the first time I signed up for one, I never even started training! Ultimately, it took a two-year plan, knowing that tackling a hundred would first require me to get back into marathon shape, then back into 50-miler shape, and finally into the uncharted territory of whatever 100-miler shape was.

Staying motivated for two years wasn’t easy. I call myself a runner, but I don’t have whatever the it is that compels other runners to religiously put their miles in, running just for running’s sake.

Instead, I’m prone to violent ups and downs. Seventy-five straight days of running, then a month of almost none. That feeling where all you want to do is run, followed by the struggle to get yourself out the door at all.

How to Stay Motivated

That was 100-miler training, for me. In hindsight, I’m amazed that I made it happen.

But in the process, I discovered the secret to staying motivated. Ready? Here goes:

There is no “stay” motivated. You get yourself to run consistently by scratching and clawing and throwing every damn trick you have in the bag at it.

To try a gentler metaphor: you ride whatever wave is coming in, for as long as you can. And once that wave passes — which, rest assured, it will — you tread water until the next one comes in, then you do it again.

Behind all the waves, of course, is a source that’s generating them. That source is your goal, or whatever your deep-down reason for running is. The source is essential; else there are no waves of motivation to ride.

As I said, my journey to the hundred was a rocky one. When we moved last year, I lost interest in running for a while — too much to do and see and experience in a new place. And just when everything started clicking again (last summer during the running streak when I set my sights on a fall or winter hundred), it all blew up: The worst period of inexplicable anxiety I’ve ever dealt with hit me, and I didn’t do much of anything for a few months. Running no exception.

When I look back, there was no one way that I stayed motivated. I took what I had, worked with it until it waned, then searched like hell for whatever would motivate me next.

I know, I know. My “secret” is unsatisfying. So, in case you find it helpful, here’s a list of different motivators I used to get my lazy ass out the door at one time or another during my training for this race. None, on its own, would have been nearly enough to get me to train for two years. But together, and backed by a goal that I felt I had to achieve, they got the job done.

12 Forces to Get You Out the Door

1. Accountability — what could you do that would make it embarrassing or painful not to run? As they say, if you want to take the island, burn the boats. For me, heading up our No Meat Athlete group at Rock ‘n’ Roll USA provided plenty of motivation to train … wouldn’t look so good for me to be the one to quietly bow out at mile 20, you know?

2. Inertia — just a few consecutive X’s on your calendar (meaning you ran) are surprisingly motivating … when there’s that visual reward, you don’t want to break the streak!

3. Books and moviesRich Roll’s and Scott Jurek’s books came out within a few days of each other last year, right when I needed a jumpstart. They led me to others, too, like Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Body, Mind, and Sport. And don’t forget the moving pictures: I watched UnbreakableRunning On the Sun (free on YouTube!), and Spirit of the Marathon (free on Hulu!) a few times each when I needed a jolt.

4. Written (and rewritten, and rewritten) goals — I’m a big fan of goal-setting and personal development, and this year I’ve had a set of written goals that I take the time to rewrite every single morning. The hundred was one of them, of course. If you set goals right, they can the powerful source of many more waves of motivation.

5. Fear — goes hand-in-hand with a strong goal, as that goal approaches. Fear can be your friend if you use it right.

6. Laughter — one downside of getting rid of cable TV is that I don’t laugh quite as much as I used to. So my iPod, loaded with a podcast of an idiotic radio show I like, was often my reason to run.

7. Healing — last winter, when I was recovering from the anxiety bout, many of my runs served to prove to myself that I was strong, both physically and mentally. And when I made listening to audiobooks one of my anchor habits for beating anxiety, my run provided the window of uninterrupted time I needed each day.

8. Meditation — certain people meditate better through movement than by sitting. I’ve discovered that I’m not one of them, but focusing on my breath and body was an interesting experiment for a few weeks that gave me something to think about (or really, something not to think about) while I logged some miles.

9. Habit overhaul — developing a few easy habits first helps build momentum for creating tough ones. By making daily running the fourth or fifth habit in a series of changes I made last summer, I found it easy to stick with (for a while). Have some other changes you want to make? Bundle them with running, but have the patience to attack them in succession, not all at once.

10. Hills — believe it or not, I’ve come to love hills since moving to the mountains, and many times the excitement of a 15-minute climb has been my reason to run. A track session or other tough workout could serve the same purpose, I think, but I like the visual reward that a hill offers once you’re at the top (and later, when you drive by that hill and know that you climbed it).

11. Relaxation — think running isn’t relaxing? Have a couple kids, then give it a try! It’s incredible!

12. Exploration — go somewhere you’ve never gone. I still use old-school gmaps pedometer to plan out routes, and I usually bring along a crib sheet, because I’m the single worst navigator on the planet. But I felt like a regular Magellan when we moved to Asheville and I had a new neighborhood to explore.

For some slightly sexier motivation ideas, see a post I wrote a couple years ago, Get Motivated! 11 Ideas that Really Work.

So that’s how you “stay” motivated. Or, at least, how I do. Whether it’s running a 100-miler or writing a book. Gee, speaking of books …

Brilliant Segue: the No Meat Athlete Book is Officially Available for Pre-Order

nma coverI’ve mentioned it in passing, but now that they’ve finally got the cover right, I’m ready to announce it for real:

My book is available for pre-order, just about anywhere books are sold!

And yes, writing a book was as hard as training for any race, with all the ups and downs and joy and self-doubt you’d expect. But it’s done, and I’m extremely proud of the finished product that I, with lots of help from co-author Matt Ruscigno, created.

The official release date is October 1st, when the book tour begins (more news on that soon). But please don’t wait … pre-orders are very important and helpful to me in getting this thing out there and convincing stores to stock it. So if you’re a regular No Meat Athlete reader, I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering, instead of waiting.

Click here for more information about the book and where you can pre-order it, and to see nice things that lots of people have had to say about it.

Many thanks, in advance. icon smile

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Comments

  1. Hello! Is the book available for pre-order in Europe? Thanks :)

  2. Thank you for being honest about motivation. There is no magic and there is no secret about consistency in anything for most people, running perhaps most of all. Great post.

  3. Hi! Will you release it on Kindle?
    I really enjoy your writings. You have inspired me to become a Vegan. I have been a Vegan since beginning of June. I have never felt better. Two years ago I was fat, smoking, and really depressed. My standard meal was Pasta with meat sauce. Then I decided to fight. So I booked a Marathon. I lost 25 kilos (50 pounds) in 81 days, and I finished the Marathon in 3:53:21. Since then I have been following you. It took me two years of experimenting, and feeling different kind of diet out, until I now landed on Vegan ground. The thought of eating an other soul really makes me sad. So thank you for opening my eyes and showing me what is possible. You truly are an Awesome human being. Keep up the great work and keep changing the world.
    Best regards
    Robert Johansson

    • Hey Robert! Yep, it’ll be available on Kindle! Should be available for pre-order there soon, in fact.

      Thanks for the really nice feedback, and congratulations to you on the changes you’ve made, inside and out!

  4. I’m training for the Polar Night Half in January and I’m at the Fear stage. Fear of freezing. I’m actually terrified.

  5. One caution about long distance running is the need to alternate hard road surfaces with soft trails…I’ve been running distance for 41 years and my knee joints have finally been destroyed…just replaced with metal joints which means no more running otherwise they wear out too soon..switch to cycling….arrgh..6 x crashes (stacks) and one dislocated shoulder…but the coffee reward at the cycle mob cafe makes it all worth while…

  6. Book pre-ordered. You didn’t even have to ask. I’m excited to read it! :)

  7. Vera Michel says:

    Just wonder if you include gluten on your plant based diet. I started to run and gluten does not make me feel well afterwards eventhough it is a highly recommended staple food worldwide. I do well on vegetables and fruits only and I was able to figure this out not so long ago.
    Not sure if I can keep this type of diet on a long term basis.
    Thanks!

  8. Elsje Massyn says:

    Dear Matt

    Will your book be available in South Africa – we’ve got to have it also.

    • Elsje,

      Yes, it should be available everywhere! I know there’s some international promotion going on through the publisher, so hopefully you’ll be able to find it in stock at larger stores. But if not, most should be able to order it, at the very least.

      Thanks!

  9. Nice post! My favorite way of getting motivated is with youtube lol

  10. Melanie G says:

    Hi Matt
    Thanks for this post which has made me realise I am not the only one to stop running now and again.. almost signed up for my first marathon in November ; Nice to Cannes in South of France, but fear is holding me back.. but reading your last blog about the 100 miler made me realise I don’t actually have to run every single step.. the idea of walking now and again for a few minutes has made the challenge seem so much more doable.. thank you for making me realise that.
    I’ve just pre-ordered your book via Amazon.. additional $7 delivery fee to France but worth it.
    Anyone in the world where Amazon delivers can order the book via the link you have posted.. it will possibly come out cheaper later on if it gets stocked in closer countries, but the postage isn’t so bad especially if you combine items, and Amazon’s delivery service is brilliant.

  11. Hi Matt,

    Thought I’d give you a words of praise, love your website, I’m always recommending people visit you online… just hope they have.
    Keep up the great stories. Today’s motivation post was something I really enjoyed. I thought I was the only ultra runner that struggled with motivation and bouts of dreaded fear. Its not the goal or the endstate that worries me, because I know I’m fit and can run, it’s fear to train some days which then makes me lose motivation… I slumped after Comrades this year and I found the month after really hard so I registered for new goals to get me focused again.
    If anyone is doing TNF 100 Thailand in Feb 14… I’ll see you there!

  12. Motivation is key, and I find that food can be a huge detractor. I have been exploring food options for the last year trying to find a balance between intake and training. I was a vegetarian for well over a decade, but was deemed malnourished to start a family and had to go back to a “traditional” diet. Now that those years are over I am looking to go back but with gluten and dairy intolerance aside from severe allergies to all nuts and soy, and sensitivities to seeds I am finding it more than challenging. I am taking it one day at a time… but if anyone has any recommendations on how to accomplish this in a natural way (I can’t have most supplements and powders) I am all ears.

    • Greens, greens and more greens. Check the happy herbivore. I am a low fat no oil plant baser, and run every day. I eat no oils , no nuts, no flax, no seeds. I eat a ton of beans, greens, veggies. Oh, and I am gluten free too . :) I have lots of energy, I love my runs, and I feel close to awesome all the time. Consider giving it a try. :)

  13. “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing– that’s why we recommend it daily.” –unknown

  14. Hi Matt,

    I too, love your newsletter and thank you for being so candid about journey. I think you hit upon something everybody experiences at certain times, anxiety, depression and lack of motivation. I look at it as a signal that something is out of balance. Full, deep and relaxed breathing, the breathing we were all born with, has really helped me. Here are the steps: 1) Do a few forced exhalations and remember to release all tension to reflexively inhale with no tension or effort. Often toxic respiratory gasses build up in our system and this is a quick and easy way to get rid of them. 2) Do a few deep tidal breaths much like an ocean wave: inhale, exhale, dissolve.. and repeat. This kind of breathing is generated from brainstem. I find relaxing the forehead and eyes can help me come into that full wave of breath 3) Once my healthy breath of origin has returned, I know whether I’ve been over training (I’m a cyclist) and just need to rest, if I need to resolve a conflict, or if my body and mind are rebooted and ready to ride. Hope this helpful :-)

  15. I had to stop mid-read to tell you that I love this metaphor. Scratching, clawing, kicking, and screaming? Pretty much sums up the “how to stay motivated to eat healthy and be healthy” train for me. Thank you!

  16. Nice to see another fan of the Junks! I got started listening to them when I lived in the DC area more than 10 years ago, and I continue to listen to the podcast (especially when running!) because they still crack me up.

    Best of luck with the book!

  17. Where will your book be available in India? I like your writing style.

    • Thanks Sarah! Yes, it should be available everywhere, as far as I know. Most big bookstores will be able to order it, even if they don’t stock it. But hopefully most will stock it!

  18. Great post! I read a running book every couple months to put some pep in my step. I also love the visual of tracking workouts. It seems easy to get out there for a run on a day when I’d rather be on the couch when I see all teh work I’ve already put in.

  19. Thanks again for being so candid – it’s nice to know other people have anxiety, lose the want to run (especially after a move!).

  20. Marta Sampaio says:

    Hi Matt!
    I’m a 16 year old girl from Portugal and i love your blog so much, it helps me with my diet (im a vegan) and i always learn great things from here. I am a rower but i always loved to run too, so i usually run everytime i can.
    I’m going on holidays with my parents to the mountains here in Portugal and Im planning to run there because it is a new challenge to me. Thanks to you i discovered now the gmap pedometer, and i made a route i wanna run there on the 1st days. I have a great endurance ebcause of rowing but running isnt my “main” thing so im a bit afraid of it. Can you check this route and give me some opinion or advice if you have time please?
    Here is the link: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=6045175
    And thanks a lot, and sorry for the trouble :p
    A big hug for you from Portugal!!!:D

  21. Hi Matt! I hopped onto your site via Form Before Footwear. What a great piece! There is no magic bullet… That is so true. I want to reflect on your post for a while, it is particularly poignant for me as I started to get healthy and active out of fear – but fear and running away from things is the worst of all possible motivators in my opinion, as it does not mentally allow a person to experience and take joy from what they do in the moment. I love this and will chew it on a while I think, before putting my fingers to keyboard with my own takeaways on motivation!

  22. Nice post! My brain thinks backwards sometimes. Instead of finding things to propel me towards my goal, I try to find whats holding me back from achieving it. When it seems like I’m not motivated there is usually a fear at the root of my idleness and once i attack that its full steam ahead!

    - Justin

  23. Absolutely love this article. So honest and so true. Good luck with everything!!!!!!!!

  24. I just BQ’d at the KC Marathon this past Saturday (10/19/13), and one of the things that got me through the tough miles was thinking of this blog post!! I kept reminding myself to mentally grab onto whatever would help get me through the race … and it worked!! Beat my BQ goal by over 2 minutes. Thanks for an awesome blog :-)

  25. Motivation No 11 is key for me!
    But I used most of the others too.
    I am rather anxious of the addictive nature of the streak though…

    cheers
    Hecke

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  1. [...] pops up. Meh. Go figure… Onto this week’s faves! -Loving reading this guy’s post on The One True Secret of Endless Motivation. These words in particular really stuck out. That could not be more TRUE. Consistency is what [...]

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  6. […] just push yourself in whatever way you can and keep your ultimate goal in mind at all times. He has several tips for motivation, though, and one of them is to use a calendar and put a big red “X” over the days that […]

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