The Biggest Myth About Motivation For Runners

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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The Biggest Myth About Motivation For Runners

We often think of motivation as something we need in order to accomplish something else, whether it’s a workout or even just getting up to do the dishes. However, we have a secret for you: That way of thinking is actually a myth. While having motivation before you do those things is great and makes them more enjoyable, they are often the small steps toward meeting a larger goal — such as running a marathon or having a clean kitchen — and can, in fact, help generate motivation.

So then, how does motivation actually work and are you sabotaging yourself? We talked to the experts to find out exactly what motivation is and how to look at it in a new way.


Before we discuss how motivation plays a role in running, it is important to clearly define it. Jarrod Spencer, a sports psychologist, speaker, author and owner of “Mind of the Athlete,” notes there are two types of motivation: intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) — one you do for the feelings inside and one for external rewards.

So which one does Spencer say is most important for success? Intrinsic. Howard Falco of Total Mind Sports, a peak performance author and expert, defines motivation in line with this. Though motivation is mental, it is largely based on feelings.

“Motivation is the gut drive to accomplish something,” shares Falco. “It is the desire to create or experience a certain outcome. It’s an energy, thought or experience that propels you with a certain sense of will and belief to get something done.”


When it comes to motivation, we often think we need it to do something. That is a myth, however. Though motivation can be lost and found, it can also be learned. You don’t need to have motivation to start running, for example — often, the results will be enough to provide the motivation to keep going.

“If you didn’t believe doing an exercise a certain way would bring results, there will likely be no motivation to do the exercise,” explains Falco. “However, if you decide to try it with an open mind and you get results, it will increase motivation to do it. It is connected to the new awareness of what works in accomplishing a particular intent. Once the mind connects the dots there is motivation to continue the behavior.”

Spencer notes that this idea of being able to ‘learn’ how to be motivated is part of why experts encourage surrounding yourself with positive people who can help motivate you, as well. He acknowledges that motivation absolutely does ebb and flow — or you can lose it and find it again — but you can often boost your motivation levels just by looking at what people you admire are doing and adapting it to your own routine.

“Take the pages of other people’s playbook and put it in yours,” encourages Spencer. “What are other people doing? What are their positive habits that are leading them to success? If we start applying those positive habits, then consequently we are likely to get more success, too, and become more motivated.”


If you are working toward a goal and putting in that effort — and fighting yourself along the way — despite not feeling motivated, there are two things that may be holding you back. The first is your perception of the outcome. Falco notes this can either be perceived exhaustion or pain; a feeling that either relies on a memory of being exhausted or the idea the payoff isn’t worth the pain to get there.

“Our ego is designed to fight or resist change (unless you are the few of a tiny fraction of a percentage of the population that thrives on change and looks for change),” he notes. “Once the mind can see and believe in the idea that the extra energy and action will lead them to positive results one will be motivated!”

Seeing and believing in that idea is often done by just doing the activity versus waiting for the motivation to do it.

Another obstacle to getting and staying motivated, according to Spencer, is actually one of our basic human needs: sleep. He notes that it is the biggest factor in performance, but the average person is only getting roughly six hours of sleep per night (while spending roughly four hours a day on their phone or similar technology, which blocks the melatonin needed for sleep). If you are feeling a motivational slump, the small change of keeping your phone out of the bedroom can help you feel less tired and, therefore, improve your performance.

“What we have is, most people describe themselves as feeling tired because they are sleep deprived,” he adds. “This is because they are lying in bed with their cellphone, which is blocking the melatonin they need to sleep. Also by looking at social media, the more depressed you feel. So, for 90% of the people I polled, every night they are giving themselves a dose of ‘anti-sleep’ and a dose of depression. That is undermining their motivation, especially as it translates to physical performance such as running.”

Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.

About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at LAVA and her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.


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