This morning I ran six miles along a snowy road, through a biting, blustery Wyoming wind that made the temperature feel like ten degrees below zero. As my neighbors drove by, I waved, knowing that they were all questioning my sanity and wondering, “WHY?” It got me to thinking about motivation.
As a middle-of-the-pack runner, I always have to work at my motivation for training. As a writer, understanding the motivation that drives my characters and explaining (or sometimes just hinting at) that motivation is critical to keeping a reader’s interest.
There aren’t many arenas in which I consider myself an “expert”, but motivation is one of them. I coached high school track for ten years, my teams and athletes won a lot of titles; not due to my technical genius, or lack thereof, but because I was good at finding what motivated a wide variety of personalities. A lot of what I have accomplished in life wasn’t because I was particularly talented, but because I was highly motivated. The failures can be traced primarily to a weakening of my will, a paucity of motivation.
A few of my friends on Dailymile are struggling with a lack of motivation. It is something that happens to everyone sooner or later, in one area of life or another. Let me suggest this… understand your motivation; be willing to examine it, test it, refine it and learn from it. I believe getting the reason for doing something right is the most important part of your preparation for any endeavor.
George Mallory’s famous reply about why he was attempting to climb Mount Everest – “because it’s there” – was flippant shorthand for a conglomeration of motivation that even he did not fully understand. He died near the summit; no one knows if he reached the top or not. (Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer is an excellent read if you are interested in that story.) I mention Mallory because he was not considered the most technically or physically talented climber of his day. But he was highly motivated.
One thing that moves me off my butt and gets me going is not so much Why? or What will it gain? as it is the thought that something special might arise from my action. When I’m vacationing at the beach, I’m almost always up before dawn, down at the shoreline. Sometimes I’m running, other times I’m just standing and waiting… anticipating what gift the natural world will give me that morning – a double sunrise? a pelican gliding in front of a molten orange horizon? a pod of dolphins cavorting in the surf? Many question why I get up so early when vacation is my chance to sleep in. Rarely are there more than a handful of people on the beach. It isn’t the sunrise, or any one thing; it is the unknown gift that might be waiting.
I’ve run for a lot of reasons; to attain a PR for some distance or another, to test my limits, to stay slim, to improve my chances for a long, healthy life. They’re all good motivators. But what really makes me want to run long, put in the high miles, extend my limits, is that rare occasion when I reach what I think of as “runner’s nirvana”. Everything clicks and it is as if all the energy of the world is flowing through me. It is a spiritual experience.
Writing is, at times, the same way. There is a story in my head that I struggle to put on paper. Like a difficult run, every step, every word, is labored. It is work, often hard work. But then everything clicks and pages flow in a way that feels magical.
The action, and motivation for it, don’t have to be big and grand. To paraphrase Tolkien, you never know what might happen when you set foot beyond your door. So many wonderful things happen when you take a chance and do something.
What happens if you don’t? Nothing.