Achieving Your Running Goals, Why Habit Beats Motivation

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In this episode we talk about how habit beats motivation when it comes to achieving your running goals. Plus Coach Angie shares tips on how to read more books in 2021.

Achieving Your Running Goals, Why Habit Beats Motivation

For most of us 2020 contained a lot of changes, challenges, setbacks, and opportunities for growth. And as we go into 2021 I think we’re all a little bit more wary about what a year can hold, and also cautiously optimistic that we can be stronger and more resilient this year.

Uncertainty is one part of life that can be hard to accept. And the road to achieving our running goals , or any goal for that matter, often looks a lot different than we initially think or plan.

If you struggled with staying motivated because of quarantine, stress, cancelled races, or any other factors this episode is for you. We want to encourage you that you can progress in your running goals this year. Here are some ways that you can move forward.

1. Conduct a Fitness Audit

The beginning of a new year can be the perfect time to conduct an audit on your life. You can limit this audit to your health and fitness or apply it to any area. I like to ask myself, “What worked for me? And what didn’t work for me?”

Here are six good questions to ponder as you think forward to the rest of 2021. These questions are based on an Instagram post by Therapist Nedra Tawaab:

  • What did 2020 teach me about myself?
  • From last year to now, how have I grown (big and small)?
  • In what ways will I take better care of myself in 2021?
  • What limiting beliefs am I holding on to?
  • How will my life be different if I released my limiting beliefs?
  • What’s one small thing I can do to change my life?

Letting go of limiting beliefs and adopting a growth mindset is key to making and sustaining change. We only have so much time and attention so it’s not worth it to hold on to limiting beliefs. When you’re thinking about whether something should have a place in your life ask yourself: Will this make me stronger? Will my future self thank me for this?

One of our awesome MTA coaches, Lynn, asked her coaching clients to really dive into the basics of what motivates them to run. She asked them, “If there never were any races, why would you want to continue to run?”

I think that’s an excellent question to contemplate as you do a fitness audit. Because if you’re using a metric like in-person races as your sole motivation then running can become a grind, especially after a year like 2020.

We 100% hope that in-person races are able to come back as soon as safely possible. But the current situation presents an excellent opportunity to dive deeper into what motivates you. And speaking of motivation, the second thing you can do to move forward is:

2. Don’t Wait Until You’re Motivated:

You may be thinking, “WHAT?” Don’t we need motivation to reach our goals? To a certain extent we do and I encourage you to surround yourself with motivating people, books, podcasts, music, etc. But when you’re pursuing big goals you can’t rely on motivation. I know there are some listeners who relate more with my Type A personality and some who relate more with Trevor’s “go with the flow” mentality.

But I think all of us can benefit from thinking about motivation because even for me there are days when I don’t feel like training. And if you ask anyone who’s ever accomplished their goals I bet they’d tell you that they often had to push through when they didn’t feel like it.

Now I’m not talking about training when you’re sick, injured or under-recovered because those are legitimate reasons to take an extra day off. I’m a big believer in taking one full rest day per week. Here’s a real world experience to illustrate this concept.

On New Year’s Day I woke up feeling a bit more tired than usual after a restless sleep (and no, I wasn’t up drinking and partying the night before). It was a cold gray day outside and I had no desire to get out for a run. But since it was a scheduled run day and I wasn’t sick or injured I knew I needed to get out there. Plus, I thought, “it’s New Year’s Day for heaven’s sake and I want to start the year strong.” I wanted to practice the habits that I plan to have all year.

So I got out the door and told myself that I could just do 5 easy miles and be done. But after a couple miles I started feeling good, full of energy and decided to explore a new running route I hadn’t done before. I ended up running 10 hilly miles at an 8:11 pace and feeling strong even though it started to sleet the last couple of miles. Along the way I saw two bald eagles up close which I took to be a good omen going into a New Year. And it boosted my mood and productivity for the rest of the day.

My point is: Don’t wait until you feel motivated because many days the motivation won’t be there. That’s one of the reasons why we have a flag hanging in our workout room that says “Discipline Equals Freedom.”

Former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink says it well,

“Don’t worry about motivation. Motivation is fickle. It comes and goes. It is unreliable and when you are counting on motivation to get your goals accomplished—you will likely fall short. So, don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline. You know what you have to do so Make YOURSELF DO IT. You do that with discipline. Everyone wants some magic pill—some life hack—that eliminates the need to do the work. But that does not exist. No! You have to do the work. You’ve got to hold the line. You’ve got to make it happen. So, dig in. Find the discipline. Be the discipline. Accomplish. That’s it.”

Here is the third way that you can continue to move forward in the midst of the messiness of life.

3. Don’t Wait Until the Conditions are Perfect. Build Keystone Habits into Your Life.

One of the few certain things about being human is that there will be uncertainty and there will be change. We often want to wait until conditions are ideal before we start a big goal. I’m sure you’ve had this happen. You were going to start your running routine on Monday but on Monday it’s raining. What do you do? You decide to start a healthy eating plan but the weekend is coming. Wouldn’t it be better start that on Monday too. I say no! Conditions will rarely be perfect so don’t let that hold you back. If you build positive habits into your life you won’t have to rely on motivation or perfect conditions.

In the book The Power of Habit author Charles Duhig talks about how identifying keystone habits and implementing them into your daily life is a key to success. There are so many interesting concepts and examples in this book that I’d encourage you to read it if you haven’t already.

Most of the things we do each day are not carefully considered decisions but simply habits. It’s the way our brain conserves mental effort and streamlines functioning and productivity. From the time we wake up for the day we all have habits and routines that we go through without thinking. Many of these habits work to our advantage but some are things that we’d like to stop and often new habits that we’d like to form.

The Habit Loop
When we look carefully at why habits occur it’s helpful to understand the habit loop. The Habit Loop consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. (p.19) First your brain picks up a cue, usually from your environment, that reminds you of a certain reward. For example, the smell of doughnuts triggers an appetite for them. Your brain remembers how much you like doughnuts.

Then you follow a well established routine to reach the reward. Doughnuts enter mouth and you enjoy a sensory pleasure. The habit is re-enforced because you prove once again that your brain was right, you really do like doughnuts! Duhig says,

“This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings. Cravings are what drive habits. And figuring out how to spark a craving makes creating a new habit easier.” (p. 36)

Obviously it’s way easier to create a donut habit than an exercise habit. But the habit loop can also explain how exercise habits emerge. In 2002 researchers at New Mexico State studied 266 people who worked out regularly. The reason they started exercising varied (from stress, a whim, having more free time, desire for weight loss, peer pressure).

But the reason they continued (the habit) was because they started to crave the specific reward. 92% said exercise made them “feel good” (they craved the endorphins and other neuro-chemicals released by the brain). 67% said exercise gave a sense of accomplishment- a sense of triumph in tracking their performance.

So if you want to start running regularly you need to create a cue. This could be your running shoes by the front door, workout clothes laid out the night before, a training plan where you can see it, or your medals displayed on the wall.

Then when your brain starts expecting the reward it will become more automatic. When that happens you could say that you’re addicted to exercise. Once you’ve changed the routine you start to believe that you’ve changed, that you’re a different person with a different identity. You can say, “I’m a runner.”

Social Groups
Many people experience a drastic situation that starts the change process and we’ve heard hundreds of these stories over the years from listeners to the podcast. They have a health scare, lose someone in their life or undergo a career or financial crisis. But a crisis point is not a necessity to creating a new habit.

People who become members of a social group find that makes changing easier. In the book Duhig says,

“When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real. For most people who overhaul their lives, there are no seminal moments or life-altering disasters. There are simply communities—sometimes of just one other person—who make change believable.” (p. 89)

Psychologist Todd Heatherton says, “Change occurs among other people. It seems real when we can see it in other people’s eyes.” (or words, I might add). Belief is easier within a group or community.

The habit loop and changes in identity lead us to the concept of keystone habits. Some habits have the power to start a chain reaction and they’re referred to as keystone habits. “Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.” (p. 100) Keystone habits influence work, eating, play, lifestyle, free time, spending habits, social structure and communication. Exercise is one of the keystone habits.

When you make running a routine you start to identify as a runner. You may eat differently, use your free time differently, spend your money on running gear, hang out with other runners (in person or online), participate in races and like to talk about running.

James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher says, “Exercise spills over. There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

Studies have shown that an exercise routine changes other patterns in life. People who exercise often eat better, are more productive at work, smoke less, feel less stressed, and use their credit cards less frequently.” (p. 109) In order to develop lasting change you have to create the right mindset.

Small Wins
Small wins are one reason why keystone habits create lasting change. Small wins have enormous power. Small wins don’t have to be a linear equation (a continual upward growth). Life is sometimes more like two steps forward, one step back. You experiment to see what works best for you. By applying that knowledge it leads to a sense of accomplishment. As you build in positive habits and get those small wins it will solidify the identity that you’re building. We need that identity as a runner to see us through on the days when the motivation just isn’t there.

So, instead of waiting to feel motivated about regular running or exercise look to the power of habit. You can develop a daily exercise habit and that will carry you through on the days that you don’t feel motivated. Like we talked about earlier if you’re waiting for the circumstances to line up perfectly that’s not likely to happen. We have to start anyway.

Although we all have different challenges and start from different places we all have the power to change. Sometimes change looks like small steps, sometimes big leaps, and there are often setbacks. But if you have the will to move forward you will start to see positive change in your life.

Author and former Navy SEAL Mark Divine says,

“I have witnessed these people attain feats and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. It had nothing to do with their speed or strength… It was their mental fortitude. Your mental strength is far more important than any physical abilities you may or may not possess…The mentally strong don’t whine. They say, bring it on, to anything put in their path. Be it early morning training for a marathon or putting in late hours doing extra research for that one client, mentally fit leaders embrace the suck. Train the quit out of you.”

We encourage you to do an audit of your health and fitness as we continue through 2021. Don’t wait for motivation, don’t wait for perfect conditions, build in the habit and just do it!

Quick Tip: How to Read More in 2021

A goal for many people is to read more. So here are some suggestions to accomplish that this year:

  1. Pair reading with things that you’re already doing. This way you’ll get in the habit of reading more. Do you normally listen to music on a run or during a workout? Try an audio book. Do you normally scroll through social media when you’re waiting for an appointment or if you have a little down time? Read an e book. Are you driving in the car, on your commute or doing errands? Listen to an audio book. Cleaning the house or working in the yard? Listen to an audio book.
  2. Replace some or all of your TV (and social media) time with reading. One way I’m able to read so much is that I rarely watch TV. Instead I do lots of reading in the evening and before bed. Another benefit of reading in the evening is that it often leaves me in a calmer frame of mind.
  3. Listen to audio books. Many people use an Audible subscription to get audio books. But for those who want to access more books per month I recommend seeing if your local library is connected to the Over Drive/Libby app. This is a way to download e books and audio books to your devices for free. Once you have the audio books experiment with the listening speed you enjoy. Many devices offer a range of playback speeds (I like 1.25-1.35).
  4. Figure out other low cost ways of obtaining books: I get books almost every week from Paperback Swap -an online book trading club. Local bookstores often have good sales on books as well.


My Reading from 2020

Total Read= 285
Non-Fiction= 163
Fiction= 122

Top Picks from Last Year’s Reading

Running/Fitness Books:
The Extra Mile by Pam Reed
That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon
The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood
How Bad Do You Want It? By Matt Fitzgerald
Science of Running by Chris Napier
Running With Sherman by Christopher McDougall
Glute Lab: The Art and Science of Strength & Physique Training by Bret Contreras
Rest, Refocus, Recharge by Greg Wells
Suck At Something by Karen Rinaldi
What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney
The Pursuit of Endurance by Jennifer Pharr Davis
Devil At My Heels by Louis Zamperini
Mind of a Survivor by Megan Hine
In Praise of Walking by Shane O’Mara
Both Feet On The Ground by Marshall Ulrich

Non Fiction:
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Amity and Prosperity by Eliza Griswold
When My Time Comes by Diane Rehm
American Prison by Shane Bauer
Breath by James Nester
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
How to be Antiracist & Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi
The Last Season by Eric Blehm
Bird by Bird and Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
That Good Night by Sunita Puri
Surprise Kill Vanish by Annie Jacobsen
Educated by Tara Westover
The Master Plan by Chris Wilson
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Loving What Is by Byron Katie

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Artemis by Andy Weir
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Little Fire’s Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Girl Beneath the Sea & Looking Glass by Andrew Mayne
Nine Perfect Strangers by Lianne Moriarty
Since We Fell by Dennis Lahane
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
The Physician by Noah Gordon
A Better Man by Louise Penny
Dune by Frank Herbert
War Lord by Bernard Cornwell
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Also Mentioned in This Episode

The 300 Mile Challenge -We are excited to announce that the 300 Mile Challenge is open for registration! We took the famous painting by Edvard Munch and added a running twist to it. We also have a new run tracker with all new badges every 10 miles! (The goal is to keep rolling out new levels until 1,000), and the new black MTA hat.

Athletic Greens -ONE tasty scoop of Athletic Greens contains 75 vitamins, minerals and whole food-sourced ingredients, including a multivitamin, multimineral, probiotic, greens superfood blend and more, that all work together to fill the nutritional gaps in your diet, increase energy and focus, aid with digestion and supports a healthy immune system, all without the need to take multiple products. Get a FREE 1 year supply of Vitamin D AND 5 free travel packs with your first subscription purchase with our link! -Receive a complimentary consultation call and $500 off their coaching service if you decide to go for it.

Native– natural aluminum free deodorant made with ingredients you have heard of like coconut oil and shea butter. Make the switch to Native TODAY, use promo code MTA at checkout, and get twenty percent off your first order.

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