I’ve been wondering what makes me get out of bed and hit the pavement when it’s still dark out and most people are sleeping.  In rain, and cold I’m out there.  Some might be quick to say it’s my passion for running.  While I agree there is some level of passion for running that drives me, I know there’s more to it than that.  That’s surely the obvious answer, but anyone who runs knows that passion wanes rather quickly when pain and discomfort of the long run sets in.  The same can be said about dieting to lose weight, passion for that surely wanes when the scale fails to move.  I’ve thought a lot about why I do what I do, especially this morning when on the first block of my run I had pain in my bad leg.  What was it that pushed me to continue running and complete the full 2 hours and 10 minutes planned for this morning?  It would have been so easy to go back home and climb back in bed.  Surely my pushing through today didn’t have anything to do with passion.  It was most definitely about grit, mental toughness and drive.

So, what actually motivates me then?  Well, anyone whose read Alfie Kohn’s, Punished by Rewards, knows intrinsic motivation is more of a driving force.    Extrinsic motivation really only works for so long and lord knows it’s not the race medal that motivates me, though they are pretty.  If I had to say what motivates me, I’d have to say it’s the drive to succeed and that is most definitely intrinsic.  But, even motivation and drive alone are not enough to carry me through the miles after I hit what’s often referred to as the “wall”.  The wall, or that moment when I feel like I’m wearing concrete shoes and can’t possibly go another step, I’m not feeling very motivated.  So what is it really that keeps me moving?

I believe it’s my drive to succeed at anything I set out to accomplish.  I refuse to quit or give up on anything I want to do.  It’s the thrill of the conquering that motivates me, which is kind of similar in shopping terms to the thrill of the hunt.  I am driven by the belief that I can and will accomplish anything I seek to do.  When I get something in my head that I want to do, I keep plugging along until I get it done.  It’s never easy, but I live for the adrenaline rush of trying.

This morning I wondered, how can we teach this type of mental mindset to our young students.  How can we teach them to push through even if it’s hard, or they fail at their first attempts?  There’s tons of research out there on this topic, but I wanted to connect these questions to what I’ve learned through my training for this marathon.  I believe for me the true reason I keep going out there and running is found in my drive to succeed.  I am self-motivated yes, but I’ve also set up systems to keep pushing me along.  I believe these systems, when employed, keep me going and could definitely be taught to kids.

First, let’s look at motivation.  Motivation is definitely part of the equation, but it has to come from within.  Lose the stickers and rewards and you’ll have better success keeping students motivated long term.  You might save some money and time here too.  In my training plan, I am motivated by the tracker found in my Strava and Map My Run apps.  These trackers analyze my run for me and provide me with lots of glorious feedback to get excited about.  For example, when you run the same route repeatedly it does a great comparison.  I love to see the message – “trending faster ‘- pop up when I’m done.  I also like to see the miles increasing.  For students, we can set up these types of systems easily.  For instance, teach them to self-monitor their progress toward meeting goals.  They too can watch their growth over time and gain motivation from their progress.  The reward is found in growth over time, not the sticker!  Couple this with providing lots of feedback along the way.  Feedback is highly motivational and will keep them on track toward meeting their goals.  There’s truly nothing less motivating than doing the same thing wrong over and over again.  The outcome never changes and the efforts begin to feel like a total waste of time.  These feelings often lead to the “why bother” syndrome.

Now let’s look at grit and the ability to push through when giving up seems the easier option.  One thing I did with this training plan was to make my journey public.  I set a goal, shared it publicly and set up systems for holding myself accountable.  To increase accountability,  I joined a community of runners who have goals similar to mine.  We hold each other accountable, and when we have those dark moments we push each other out the door.  There is most definitely a desire to not disappoint this community.  Their successes motivate me, as I’m sure mine do them.  This idea can easily be set up for students, yet is often not valued as a critical component of learning.  Students must be connected to a community of learners.  They should be taught to support each other on their journey toward meeting common goals.  They should be celebrating personal victories along the way and pushing each other when the going gets tough.  Most times this doesn’t happen as many classrooms are not set up that way.  Teachers who take the time to create a positive learning community will notice the difference it truly makes.  I can tell you without my TLAM tribe I might have rolled over a few mornings.  Knowing my peers were part of my journey pushed me to get out there.  Students are highly motivated by interactions with their peers.  They may not mind disappointing us from time to time, but they surely do not want to disappoint their peers.

All of these ideas are not limited to running, or education.  They are life skills that would benefit anyone on a quest to accomplish any goal, including becoming more healthy.

  1. Find something you want to accomplish that you enjoy, or are passionate about accomplishing.
  2. Set long term goals for yourself and track your progress toward meeting them over time (Use data sources to track)
  3. Share your goals publicly to create levels of accountability
  4. Practice and practice some more
  5. Join and be an active participant in a community of people who have similar goals (social media or live) to create another level of accountability
  6. Share your goals with the community and celebrate all victories along the way
  7. Lift each other up in dark times
  8. If you don’t make it the first time, try and try again.

I hope you meet your goals.  Me, I’m in the midst of my third try to get there.  In just four short weeks I will get the chance to try again and I can’t wait!

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