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So for that last year I have been taking a variety of psychology courses and learning all about brain function and how the mind works. I have posted before about my Sports Psychology course. A fair bit of time has been spent on learning about motivation, what is it and where it comes from. I believe I have a fairly good cognitive knowledge of what it is (and even memorized some nifty mathematical equations that attempt to quantify it), but more to the point I have had a pretty weak working knowledge of motivation.

It is easy to be motivated about things that you know you can do; in those cases the self efficacy–the belief that it can be done–is already there. So I know I can run 5km or swim 2km or ride 50 km therefore I am easily motivated to do such things. What I don’t do is any of these things FAST and I have struggled with even attempting to do those things FAST. See, they are hard and I don’t believe I can do them.  I  self-handicap by always referring to myself as “super slow”. Guess what happens when you say something enough times? Yup, it is true!

Some things have been falling into place for me with regards to motivation and my beliefs about my physicality over the last few weeks. It started with a session I had with a personal trainer at the YMCA. If I haven’t gushed about the Y yet this month let me do so now. This place if friggin’ awesome. One very reasonable monthly fee and all the fitness opportunities you could wish for are at your finger tips; including a free session with a personal trainer. Martin, who specializes in duathlons and teaches my spin class, is the trainer in question. I really appreciate him because he never raises his voice and has a relaxed way of instilling an unquestionable level of confidence in you…and that is what I am discovering motivation and belief is all about. At first motivation may come from an external source–someone else believing in you and telling you that you can do it. Now this type of motivation will only last until you are actually trying to do the thing in question, but another’s belief in you can make all the difference.

So during our training session I was on the treadmill–feeling embarrassed–telling Martin what a slow runner I am. After he asked compared to whom? He asked me what my goal was and I sheepishly told him that I wanted to run 5km in under 30 minutes. So as I ran he showed me how to use the treadmill to do interval training and kicked it up to a 6:15 min per km pace which I could run comfortably. The treadmill was just a warm up for our session so I only ran about 3km, but I after I got off the ‘mill Martin pointed out that I was actually running at near goal pace and not really having to work that hard. “It is all mental with you” he told me. “You can run 5km in under 30 minutes, no problem.”  Huh?

Fast forward to the next week. I was travelling for work and went for a swim at the Regina Y. I can comfortably swim a long way, but I decided to uncomfortably attempt some speed work. I got tired a lot faster, but guess what else? I was a lot faster! Boy did those old ladies in the slow learn learn a thing or two LOL!  Next I travelled to Moses Lake Washington which is much farther south and therefore much warmer. I mapped to a 5km route along the city’s triathlon route around the lake and went out for an evening run. Quite honestly, I was not focused on running fast, but on running 5km without walking. I am still increasing my mileage as part of my rehab and hadn’t done much running over 4kms. It was a beautiful warm evening and the scenery was gorgeous and so I ran. I was very surprised when I finished in 31.26. How did that happen? Then I did a trail run later in the week at Potholes State Park and I ran 5.3km in 35:35. Martin was in my head.

So this Monday while my son had a training session with Martin I decided that I would run 5km on the treadmill in less than 30 minutes. I wanted to use the treadmill because then I can be sure of my pace. I wanted to do it at the Y when Martin was working because my extrinsic (external) motivation was going to be that I could tell Martin I had reached this goal when I was finished. Seem like a strange motivation to you? Doesn’t matter…all that matters is that it was motivating to me!

So with my “run fast” playlist on my iPod, my newly broken in kinavara’s on my feet and the treadmill programmed for a 6 min per km pace (with a few  5.27 min per km intervals in there for good measure), I started to run. The pace was not difficult to maintain for the first 3 km. I was really focused (my trick is to not look at the distance or the time too often) and enjoying my music and watching the people in the pool below. The 2 intervals I did were harder to maintain and I felt quite tired as I hit the 3.5 km mark. At several points it felt like I physically had to push the thought of stopping out of my mind and replace it with how great I would feel when I reached this goal. I pictured calling Martin over to show him the time that read 29 something. I thought of how long I had wanted to break this time plateau and finally I though, “I can bloody-well do this so shut up and run!” I then had a couple minutes of panic as I was reminded of a blog I follow called “shut up and run” where the author frequently talks about farting in public places-something that would mortify me–and I worried about this happening while trying to break my 30 minute barrier.  The terror (and no gas) passed and this thought had successfully distracted me for a couple more minutes, so thanks Beth!

Once I hit 4km I did another pick up just to make extra sure that I would get in under 30 mins….the first three minutes of my run had actually been at a walking pace while I figured out the programming and I was worried that this would screw up my time. So even though I was quite tired at that point my rational was, “I can do anything for half a km”. At the 4.5 km mark I slowed back down to 6km pace and well, quite frankly I felt like I was going to puke, but I kept running and with .25 left to go I was so excited I felt like I could fly and puke at the same time!

The end result? 5 km in 29:30. And I did call Martin over who high-fived me and said he knew I could do it. Now I know I can do it. The believe of another person gave me the confidence to try and the motivation to continue when the going got tough, but now I have the internal belief that I can do it–because I did it! This will keep me running fast for the next 5km…and then next. Before I left the gym Martin asked me what was my next goal. Well a 10km in less than 60 minutes of course!

Small successes open up your mind to bigger possibilities. The mental part of it is so much more powerful than the physical part. Today at yoga the instructor was talking about belief. When you believe you can do something you can do it. Well hot off my running success I decided to believe her statement about belief. There is one move (no, not the standing bow pose) that I have been trying to master.

This is what I could actually do.

I visualized myself doing the full pose and not just the half that I have been able to do so far.

This is what I visualized doing:

Now while I was not able to do the whole pose, I did more of it than I ever have before! It was an awesome feeling! My instructor told me that if I had my neck out like this lady and not on the floor like the man I would totally have had my legs straight up in the air.

The mind is a powerful thing that can either prevent us from reaching our goals or drive us to surpass them. It is all in where our focus lies and we do have control over what we focus on. Sometimes we need another person to tell us that we can do it–to encourage us to try– and then miraculously we CAN actually do it, or at least more of it than we ever thought possible. What was the 2010 Canadian Winter Olympic Team’s moto? I don’t think they chose it to sell t-shirts, I think they chose it because it works!