The steps rose endlessly above me, high into the altitude of a Colorado morning. Out here at Red Rocks Amphitheater, four hundred of them challenge you on the south side, some two hundred on the north. All around are the high red rocks which form the natural sound system, the magnificent scenery and foothills beauty that lift the heart, if not the feet.
Another two laps to go. My mind began to make excuses.
“Take it easy today. You’re still recovering from surgery.”
“You can do just one more lap. That’ll be plenty for today.”
“I’m tired. My shoulder hurts. I need to get some heat on it.”
In such ways do we talk ourselves out of effort. I heard the same litany before I came out here in the first place.
“You know you could exercise in the living room.”
“You could sleep in. You could use the rest.”
At that point I sped up. Pushed harder. Finished the other two laps. This is how I have learned to deal with the peanut gallery of giving up.
OMG does that feel righteous.
Where does motivation come from? In a superb article by Brad Stulberg for Outside Online (https://www.outsideonline.com/2274776/forget-motivation-and-focus-action?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Bodywork-07042018&utm_content=Bodywork-07042018+Version+B+CID_dd406a47a47d03ed9077b1ca2f1eb8cf&utm_source=campaignmonitor%20outsidemagazin)e, he argues for the process of that perennial Nike saying, Just Do It. There’s a lot of solid research behind this. Instead of trying to talk ourselves into getting out there and getting motivated, just get off your butt and get moving. As he writes,
As ultra-endurance athlete and self-improvement guru Rich Roll says, “Mood follows action.” In other words: Don’t think. Do.
I am a strong believer in this. This is what I have to do or not a damned thing gets done.
As an endurance person- nothing fast-twitch on this body- I have to haul my carcass out of bed between 3:30 and 4:30 and get moving. First of all that’s my favorite time of day, most particularly on summer mornings when the mercury is going to top near 100 degrees. It’s the only time when the breezes flow, you can enjoy the sound of the leaves in the trees, and only a few cars interrupt my reverie.
It is supremely easy to talk myself into doing nothing. I love to sleep. I love my great big soft bed and my cuddly teddy bear. Nothing better than to simply roll over, curl back up into a fetal position and dream away.
But I don’t. I get up, dress, and get moving.
Despite the spitting, coughing, complaining, excuse-making that inevitably comes with the first mile, after I warm up and get into a groove, I am unstoppable. It’s the action that makes me feel like a million bucks, not my mood. If I sit on my butt and think about all the things I have to do, including my exercise routines, then they would never get done.
As the cartoon character Pogo once said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” Indeed. Don’t we all. And therein lies the problem.
The more I just sit and think (meditation notwithstanding, that’s different) the more ways I can come up with alternative ways to spend my time. The very action of getting up and out the door into the glory of a summer morning as the sun rises over the Colorado plains is what streaks through my bloodstream and gets me going. That’s the gift. Once I begin, I’m 75% there.
Motivation is no magic sauce. The obstacle is the gap between our intentions (those January resolutions) and our genuine resolve. When we act, the body, mind and spirit simply line up like a bunch of baby ducks following Mama duck. “Well, she’s already in the water and paddling away, I guess we’d better get a move on.” It’s remarkable how thinking follows action rather than the other way around.
My endurance running friend Laura Luhn, who taught me how to ride my bike while training for Kilimanjaro five years ago, used to ride next to me and laugh along with me as we complained about the first few miles. We both suffer the same indignities. The body gripes and complains and bitches and moans. Our brains come up with a thousand reason for quitting. Think about that donut. The nice cup of coffee. Lying on the floor with the dog. Going back to bed.
But we push on. About half an hour later our breathing is even and deep. We’re flying along, up hills and down, around corners in the gorgeous Colorado countryside. We both feel like going a few more hours rather than a few more miles. The body simply aligns with action.
While there is no question that in many ways we are all highly motivated in one way or another to do things that give us pleasure, the real challenge is to dip into ourselves for that same intensity to do things that are tough, that are good for ourselves, that present genuine challenges. Spending untold hours thinking and considering simply allows our highly creative brains to come up with every single excuse or reason to not do what we need to do.
Just Do It NOW
Hard to get going? The only answer is to get up and GET GOING. Everything else aligns with you the moment you move. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy. It’s not, for most of us. It’s easier when you invite the rest of the body’s’ baby ducks to get in line and get in the water, because Mama Duck is halfway down the stream in search of food.
Get your ass in gear. THAT is what motivates us. Action. The rest simply follows.
Sigh. Yep. And to that point, it’s still early, I am off to run.
And yes, this morning I doubled my distance for the first time in months.
And it feels righteous.