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Why motivation is overrated

WOMAN RUNNING
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And what you really should be harnessing to begin or complete a task instead ...

So here’s an uncomfortable truth: I’m a personal trainer, and I am 100 percent terrible at working out alone. I’ll get my weights lined up or my sparring socks on, set my interval timer, do a little warm-up, and then I’m like, “Meh. That’s probably good enough.”

Usually I manage to push through this “meh” moment, but not always. If I keep going, I can usually get a decent workout. If I don’t … well, it’s all downhill from there.

That’s one of the reasons I like going to Camp Gladiator myself — the group atmosphere creates an energy that I feed off, and my trainers help me get moving. But I always know that the difference between an okay workout and a great workout is on me.

My favorite trainer has a warmup lap that’s pretty long. It’s actually 1/3 of a mile, and I don’t always run the whole thing. But after going to her camps several times, I’ve learned one thing: if I make myself keep running the whole 1/3 of a mile, I’ll have a great workout. If I let myself slow to a walk, my workout will be as lackluster as the warmup lap. That’s because motivation isn’t some nebulous force that either strikes me or doesn’t — like Thomas Oppong explains at Thrive Global, motivation is something we create through momentum:

Forward momentum is a consistent step, it is movement; it is the act of moving forward, making progress and crushing goals. In physics, momentum is the resistance of a moving object to come to a stop and is expressed as speed times mass (velocity x mass). The greater the momentum, the harder it is to stop the object’s movement.

In life, forward momentum is the purposeful movement toward a goal, a vision, or a desired destination. You can think of momentum as a force unwilling to come to a halt … Momentum creates motivation. Motivation carries you take action and action creates results.

What’s true for working out is also true for life. When I sat down to write this article, I had a horrible headache and spent a solid 45 minutes scrolling through Facebook before I pulled up a blank page.

I was waiting to feel better. I was waiting to feel like writing. I was waiting to be struck by motivation as if motivation were a lightning bolt sent from heaven to spur me into action.

But you know what? That never happens. Motivation isn’t lightning, and neither God nor man can strike us with it. Motivation isn’t an outside force that propels us to action — motivation comes from the choice to act and the feedback-loop reward system of seeing the results of our actions.

I wasn’t really motivated to finish this article until the second paragraph. Once I saw the words on the screen and realized how true they were and how much I wanted to share them with you, I wanted to finish. I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned about motivation, momentum, and taking action through the actions I’ve taken in my own life — whether those actions are to keep running when my legs are screaming at me to stop, or to keep pursuing a new job or a new goal when it seems like the deck is stacked against me.

In the end, finding the motivation to begin or end something really doesn’t matter. Sometimes, you might never feel that motivation. And on those days, you just have to put your head down and keep going. What matters the most isn’t how you feel about what you’re doing — what matters is that you keep doing it.

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