Monday, June 4, 2012

Motivators that Work for Me: #1 Never Say Never

This post is the start of an occassional series in which I will describe the top 10 things that have helped me stay motivated during the last 3-4 years of working out and becoming a middle-aged athlete. I think this list of motivators could be helpful to a lot of folks, but I must be clear at the start that I am not the most experienced athlete, nor the best. To put things in perspective, over the last year I have logged 142 miles of running, 841 miles of cycling, and 136 miles of swimming. Compared to some people, these totals are small. But compared to most people, these totals are exceptional. Compared to me 3 or 4 years ago these totals are exceptional. Today at my workplace, at my church, and within my family I'm viewed as someone who is really dedicated to fitness. I even have a colleague who keeps saying "I know you eat really healthy, but would you care to join us at X resturant?"  Yes, of course! My diet isn't really that great--it is terribly void of vegetables--but I let her have the impression that I'm a health nut anyway. So how do I stay motivated and reap the benefits of this reputation among my friends? My first strategy is to never say never:

1. Never Say Never
Insecurities hold you back. I look at them as being excuses that cause us to fail before we ever begin. That doesn't mean we can fix the things we are trying to fix, but what I have found is that accepting the challenge and working toward improvement--even if it does not ultimately succeed--makes me a more confident person. Motivation and self confidence increase together. If you work toward a goal, that is evidence that you are motivated. As you work, you gain confidence in your self. With greater self confidence, motivation to succeed grows even more. The key is tricking yourself into starting this process. I suggest imagining yourself as a motivated and confident person. Ask yourself "What would I do if I had no fear, anxiety, or lack of confidence?" Then do what comes to mind. It's easier said than done. I know that. But it can be done. I celebrate these successes:
  • In a previous blog post I described how I grew tired of being a lousy player on a fast-pitch softball team. Maybe this was due to a lack of confidence, maybe it was lack of skill. Probably it was both. So after failing a few times during a game, I picked myself up and decided to concentrate much harder. Ultimately, I was the MVP of that particular game. This sort of softball success was rare for me, but simply knowing that not every game would be a disaster kept me motivated to do well.
  • In late 2010 I didn't think I could commute to work by bicycle because there are two hills between my home and work. With some encouragement from my swim coach, I did it, and it wasn't bad at all. I have continued to commute by bike whenever the weather is nice.
  • I don't think I've mentioned this on my blog before, but my recent experience as a cyclist gives me a lot of thrills, both good and bad. Since buying a road bike last summer, I have started to ride regularly on roadways with motor vehicle traffic. The roads around my house are narrow, winding country roads, plus a few busy yellow-striped highways. With 359 miles on the new road bike, I admit I am still nervous to ride this bike. What if I get a flat tire when 15 miles from my home, or what if I get really exhuasted in climbing a hill? Or worse, what if I get hit by a car, or lose control and flip over the handlebars? I would be so much safer if I didn't ride my bike on roadways or anywhere else. But is the answer then to give up? Of course not. Someone with greater confidence and less fear would head out on his bike because it is fun and good. So, with Godspeed and defensive driving, I ride, and I ride well.
  • I joined a competitive swim team in late 2010. What in the world happened to me? I had only just learned to swim 15 months before. I felt self-conscious about swimming, diving, and what I'd look like in a close-fitting competitive swimsuit. But I did it anyway, and I've kept at it.
This "Never Say Never" rule has worked for me a lot of times, but there is more work to be done. Even now, about 4 years after learning how to swim and 1.5 years of competitive swimming, I have a deep, subconscious fear of water. It doesn't come to my attention very often, but I know it is still there. It showed up recently when I asked my swim coach to show me a second kind of dive that swimmers use when they are on a relay team. The dive must propel me quite far into the air before I hit the water so that I don't dive into the swimmer below me, swimming to the wall as s/he finishes the first segment of the relay race. My normal dive plunges me rapidly into the water without much time spent in midair. So on this day, as my coach asked me to aim farther as I launched off the diving platform, I just stood there. I did many false starts, sometimes loosing my balance and jumping defeatedly into the water feet first. But for at least 15 minutes I would fall in, climb back out, mount the diving platform, and try, try, try to jump off. Finally, I gave up. But not for good. I won't say "never." I'm going to do it someday, and when I do, I'll feel as though I'm at the top of the world. That will be a good feeling, and that hope is what motivates me to keep trying. 

Stay tuned for more motivational tools I use to keep me fit. The next one I'll write about is Keeping Records.

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