I am a runner. At least that’s what I tell myself (and others, when I think it may impress them). I’m pretty inconsistent and probably shouldn’t claim the hobby, but I do really enjoy it. A few years ago I ran in a 5k over by the local hospital. My friend Bryan was trying to get me back into running after a pretty long “break” (aka – the birth of our first child). I was not in the shape I used to be, but it was only a 5k so I didn’t think much of it.
When we got there we noticed everyone had numbers written on the back of their legs with a Sharpie. I figured it was about organization or something but when we got to registration I realized it was actually your age. I thought it was kind of weird but was quickly distracted by a guy in front of us with a “67” written on his leg! He was walking very slowly around the starting area, ironically wearing a shirt that said “Fast Feet”. I know your not supposed to laugh at people, but come on…that’s funny!
I started out the race (as I have in most of the races I’ve competed in) at a pace that is much, much, faster than I’ve ever dreamed of running before. It could be my introversion that just wants to get away from the crowd or maybe I just have that unrealistic of a perspective on my own limitations. Whatever the reason, I found myself near the front of the pack for the first mile or so, and feeling quite proud of myself. It was at that point my body began to quickly and aggressively remind my brain that I’m not a super-hero or a cheetah, by going into complete rebellion. I imagine the communication looked something like this:
- Body – “Hey brain… BRAIN! What’s goin’ on up there? We can’t move this fast.”
- Brain – “But look how far we’ve come already. It’s only 3.1 miles. How much farther could it be? We can do this! Think positive!”
- Body – “You’re a moron, Brain! I’m pretty sure we lost a lung back there at the mile marker. Good thing we’re at a hospital! If you don’t stop, we’ll make you stop!”
- Brain – “What are you gonna do? I control you.”
- Body – “Oh yeah… BAM! Side cramp. What do you say now, Genius?”
- Brain – “Jerk! I can still fight through this…”
- Body – “Numb Feet! Knee Pain!”
- Brain – “AHHHHH!!!!”
Anyway, that’s about the point when I realized that we had been moving downhill for the entire first half of the race and now had to go back up. Needless to say, it was pretty crushing.
So, there I was, steadily creeping up the hill at an embarrassingly slow pace. People passing me on all sides. My pride was being demolished. Then I start to notice the numbers…those cursed numbers! 38, 45, 52… And that’s when I realized what the numbers were for. They were there to demoralize and humiliate you for thinking you were better than people older than you! Well, that’s what they did for me anyways.
And then.. what’s that? Is that…a 67?!?! Wait… No! Absolutely not! I am not getting passed by FAST FEET!
But I was. Fast Feet had passed me on the steep part of the hill. I was actually living out the tortoise and the hare. It was humiliation like never before.
“No! I’m not gonna lose to Fast Feet!” I pulled up whatever I had left and finished the race at a reasonable time, passed Fast Feet and some of the others and saved what little self-confidence I had left.
I was feeling good, well except that I felt like I was about to die. That’s when I noticed Fast Feet over by the side of the road casually talking to his friends. He wasn’t even winded!!! He actually looked like he had a good time. He didn’t care that I had passed him. He wasn’t competing with me or anyone else for that matter. He had set a goal and achieved it and was enjoying the moment. I, on the other hand, was about to throw up on my friends and go into cardiac arrest.
I learned something about motivation that day. There is positive and negative motivation. Negative motivation is driven by fear and insecurity. It thrives on our innate desire to not come in last. It drives you to do stupid things. Unsustainable things. Things that you will pay for down the road.
Then there is positive motivation. Positive motivation is goal-oriented and not others-oriented. It pushes you to improve yourself and finish well and isn’t distracted by how it measures up to others, because it doesn’t gauge value by comparison. It’s not driven by fear, rather a passion for achieving whatever goal has been set.
Positive motivation leads to contentment and has many celebrations along the way. Negative motivation is never satisfied and even when it succeeds at something…it’s too distracted by what’s next to take the time and enjoy the moment.
I’ve found this to be true in every area of my life. If I’m being driven by positive, goal-oriented motivation I am far more optimistic and productive. But when I find myself driven primarily by my desire to beat so-and-so or not get left behind by (fill in the blank). I may start out strong but find myself losing ground very fast.
Nothing worth investing your life in can be accomplished through negative motivation. You’ve got to find something bigger.
A few questions to ask yourself:
- What drives you?
- Are you leaning on negative motivation in any area of you life?
- How could you turn that into positive motivation?
- What attainable goals could you set for yourself?