Finding Your Why And With It Your Motivation

March 5, 2021

2020 has tested all of us in ways that impact training, racing, and most importantly, motivation. Without races and events or often even running groups, some have found their motivation draining while others took the extra time to put in more work. Motivation in its simplest form is the reason for action, willingness, and goals. In sports, it is often framed as a question: what is your ‘why’? For example, one of our resident coaches Tommy’s ‘why’ is to avoid human interaction as much as possible. If you can clearly identify what gets you out the door on the days when the couch is calling your name, and what helps you endure through tough workouts, you can probably already identify parts of your ‘why’.

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Sometimes, especially if somebody has been a runner for many years, their ‘why’ changes depending on their circumstances. For example, a college athlete might define their ‘why’ as winning a conference championship, while that same college runner 30 years later might say they are mostly motivated by running to stay healthy so as to fully enjoy their children or grandchildren.

Our resident recluse, Tommy, originally defined his ‘why’ as to improve his mental health, changing it later to avoiding his family members during holiday gatherings (which coincidentally also improved his mental health). Sometimes this change happens naturally over a period of time, but occasionally it is forced due to unforeseen circumstances like a sudden injury (or a pandemic).  

Motivation can generally be categorized into two categories: intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is “the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfaction” (Ryan, Deci, 2000). While intrinsic motivation is generally considered “better” and more stable, extrinsic motivation can play a significant role in more short-term motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is when you are engaging in an activity in order to gain some external reward, approval, or response. This usually comes in the form of trying to win a race or an age group award, beating another runner or training partner, or any situation where the primary motivation is for external recognition.

Although extrinsic motivation can yield short-term success, it does not stand up as strongly to adversity and obstacles - like a pandemic. It is during these times, when training or racing is not going to plan, that one must rely on intrinsic motivation to maintain their drive. Finding a definition of success in the midst of 2020 requires thoughtful consideration of intrinsic motivators, especially when most races have been cancelled.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

First, let us establish some expectations for you. If you have no idea what your ‘why’ is right now, you’re not going to magically discover it in the next hour. For most of us it can take months or years. It’s not like looking for your lost keys; it’s a process. However, the exercises below will help you to get started in that process.

We asked Chaski athletes and friends some questions about their motivation throughout the course of 2020, and their answers varied quite a bit depending on which direction they decided to take their training in response to their circumstances. Some athletes bought into virtual racing, which provided a great opportunity to put some dates on the calendar to work towards (and some semblance of the extrinsic motivation and recognition that we often look for at races). Tommy, on the other hand, went with a different motivator, of never being present at the birthday party of a loved one.

Others found that they gained value from focusing on the mental aspect of running and improving their mental strength. This method indicates an attempt to improve upon their intrinsic motivation and possibly act in alignment with their values: grit, commitment, or persistence.

Another common trend was finding gratitude and joy in running during stressful and uncertain times. This method points to awareness and thankfulness of running's purpose for them; a tool to remain healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally.

No matter your motivation for getting out there this year, the key is to understand your ‘why’ and continue to act in alignment. If races (virtually or in-person) get you fired up, great, sign up for more. If wanting to stay healthy for your grandchildren (or future grandchildren) gets you out the door, great, keep them in your mind and visualize all the fun you’ll have with them.

Finally, if you’re like Tommy and want to avoid all human interaction, running in the forest to a hidden cabin where you will live off tree bark and bush berries may be the motivation for you. We are all different and that's ok, you still belong here!

As we approach the beginning of 2021, now is a great time to try to get to know your ‘why’ and think about how you can improve your intrinsic motivation.

Try these exercises to find or clarify your ‘why’.

EXERCISE 1 - Answer the following questions to help you pinpoint your 'why'.

  1. What makes you come alive?
  2. What are your innate strengths?
  3. How will you measure your life?
  4. What values guide your life?


Analyse past decisions. Look over your past jobs held and races you signed up for, including,

  1. The reasons you were drawn to particular jobs or races.
  2. Your most rewarding work and/or athletic accomplishment.
  3. Compliments received by peers and mentors about your work or athleticism.
  4. Circumstances that made you feel productive.
  5. Your favorite work tasks.

EXERCISE 3 -  Practice this each day.

Begin a practice that strengthens your self-awareness. Meditation and 5-minute journaling are perfect. This practice will help you to improve awareness and stay in tune with your ‘why’. Sometimes our motivations change and it's best to understand how and why that is to best align our actions accordingly.

Want to learn more?

We’re stoked you want to get in touch! Our real, live human staff of elite athlete-coaches will get back to you as soon as we can.

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