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Is all motivation created equal?

The new year is upon us, which means so are the new year’s resolutions – more than 40 percent of Americans will vow to cutback on TV, reach inbox zero or achieve some other self-improvement carrot. For the athletic-minded, the goal is often to break into running, recharge a stale running routine, or meet a new running goal, like completing a dream race. The chances we actually follow through? About 8 percent.   

So how do we keep from tapering off (womp, womp) too early? Experts say it all comes down to motivation.

Our reasons for completing any activity can be divided into two categories, intrinsic and extrinsic. The former is the kind of drive that comes from within (say, cooking a meal because it makes you happy). The latter is the kind that comes from the thought of reward (cooking a meal to impress a hot date). If you can tap into the intrinsic type of motivation, you'll be less likely to procrastinate, and more likely to succeed.

It’s a truism that extends to running. If you’ve started pounding the pavement solely in order to, look good naked -- and not because you've found joy in the activity -- it's going to feel a lot harder to hit the track. (Yea, this means all of those “fitspo” memes floating around social media aren’t actually as encouraging as we think.)

We know, we know -- rewards can be great. Who doesn’t love the idea of noshing on pizza guilt-free or smoking a frenemy in a big race? But if you don’t also find pleasure in the workout itself, those hill repeats are going to feel like something you have to do, not something you want to do, and you’ll be more tempted to opt out. It’s the logic behind one study, which found lawyers are more likely to accept work for a client who offers no money at all, than for one who offers a small fee. Once there’s reward involved, people struggle to disassociate a task from "work."

So, how to find the joy? Experts suggest starting out slow by setting small, frequent and achievable goals; connecting with other runners who have similar workout interests; buying new gear before a sweat session and NOT as a reward; and exercising in a place that has special meaning, like a favorite childhood spot.

As for pruning that inbox? You’re on you own.


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