[CGTC July Column] On motivation, and why we do this in the first place

Perhaps a person who errs towards neurotypical does not spend much time questioning their motivations for each action, but as one who would not know what that’s like, I have found myself questioning more and more my steadfast commitment to daily running (and, my commitment not just to running but to running what I’d consider, for myself, ‘enough’). (But alas, what is ‘enough’ and how do I decide that value? That remains a question for another day.)

Now, that doesn’t mean I will stop. The act of running every day is a train moving forward on a track straight as an arrow, situated parallel to a rather windier track heading still relentlessly forward. And the train on the windier track? That train is the ebb and flow of my motivation, my desire to push, the reasons I run at all. 

It would not be fair or accurate to say that I move through those reasons, or combinations of those reasons, cyclically, exactly, but I do move through them. At times in my past, my focus has been purely superficial – the desire to lose weight, to alter my body in some (likely unattainable) way. Other times, I’m working through mental anguish; some existential pain that is best addressed through movement or exertion. Other times still, I am working through a complex challenge – running has often brought clarity to my most puzzling knots, of both work and personal nature. 

More and more over time, I’ve shifted towards a combination of those drivers listed above and another more constant motivator – the desire to run for the sake of running. For the love of the sport; for the pursuit of progress, however slow, towards whatever form of greatness I can personally achieve.

This period of social unrest, of a relentless global pandemic, of changes to our work and our lives and our priorities, brings with it rapid cycling through the reasons we run. This, in the grand scheme of things, will represent a relative blip on the radars of our lives, yet in a way it represents that cycle we navigate throughout our lives. We cycle through these reasons, these motivations, all the time, whether we acknowledge it or not. Some days, we simply run because we love running. Other days, running brings us that sweet sense of mental or emotional relief. Still others, running brings camaraderie with friends and loved ones. Sometimes, we run simply to improve or maintain our health. More often, for runners who identify as such, our focus is purely on improvement – serious training to meet serious goals. 

So what happens when we cannot run for camaraderie? And not for improvement (at least, towards a ‘usual’ goal of a race)? And not, as clearly as in the non-summer months, for enjoyment (unless you truly enjoy melting into a puddle of despair in the NC heat and humidity)? As it becomes harder and harder to latch onto your motivations of comfort – the ones that normally are enough to keep you coming back, day after day, to run again – what then?

And that’s where I am. Where we are, perhaps. I don’t have the answers for everyone, but I do have answers. The existential crisis created by my mind through this analysis could seem daunting or depressing, something to fear or find in itself inherently demotivating. But to me, the acknowledgement that these ebbs and flows are a normal element of life, of this sport, of aging, perhaps…is strangely comforting. Each day, when I question my current ‘why’, I don’t despair if it’s simply ‘to maintain this godforsaken streak’ or ‘because the Ben & Jerry’s continues to, as if by magic, repopulate in my freezer or because work just truly sucked today. I don’t despair if *many days in a row* are like this. I don’t despair if my legs feel weird or I don’t hit some arbitrary mileage goal or I just could not deal with the heat for a single additional mile. The train rolls on, and the ups and downs balance out over time.

I hope you all can reflect on your own ‘why’ and accept if that ‘why’ now is different than it was a few months ago, pre-pandemic. We all know the truth that running is so many things to so many people. It is equally many things to a single person. And if it were not many things, why would any of us bother? One ‘why’ is unsustainable, and times like this prove that with increasing clarity. But we all have more than one ‘why’. Those collective ‘why’s, not just one, are why we bother, day after day.

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