Motivation, discipline and true grit

‘Don’t wait around to feel “motivated”, just get disciplined.’

These were wise words of Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness, speaking in a recent interview on the Runners’ Connect Run to the Top podcast, words which have been doing circuits in my mind ever since.

It’s funny how some things just catch your ear; some pithy refrain that you hear in passing suddenly resonates with you, as if holding up a mirror to your thoughts and behaviours.

How often have I waited to feel inspired to get up early and go for a run and found myself still in bed gone 6am as inspiration has failed to come? Or how many times have I allowed myself to skip a swim session at the end of a work day on the basis that I just wasn’t feeling up to it?

And how many times have I pushed on to do that workout and discovered that actually, despite a weary mind, my limbs are feeling pretty good, and by the end of the session I’m so glad that I overcame that glimmer of doubt, that moment when I let myself half think that I might not train?

The fact is I’m sure very few of us have actually ever regretted doing a workout. There are of course bad sessions and tough sessions and sessions where the whole time you just want it to be over, but when it is over the emotions experienced are more likely pleasure, satisfaction and relief, not regret. Conversely, if you are anything like me, there are certainly times when a missed workout has left you feeling guilty or flat.

Taking this all on board, the message from Kamb is that motivation shouldn’t be a necessary precursor to exercise (or indeed to applying yourself to, and excelling, in any aspect of your life) and ‘I just wasn’t feeling motivated’ really isn’t an adequate excuse to not do something to push yourself closer to your goals. Yes, it certainly helps on those days when you have that extra ‘get up and go’, but with a bit of discipline, the cultivation of good habits and hacking your lifestyle to decrease any obstacles that may get in your way (for an early morning run Kamb suggests sleeping in your gym kit, or putting your alarm clock at the other end of the room from your bed and next to your trainers for example) then your goals are eminently achievable, with or without that ideal of a motivating force powering you forward.

This all put me in mind of an article I read in the Guardian Family by Paula Cocozza on the power of ‘grit’.

Alongside discipline, grit appears to me as one of the paragons of successful living. I like the idea of pushing myself, challenging my expectations and perceived limits, staying motivated and focusing on goals even in the face of adversity. Of course back in the real world practice doesn’t always follow theory and I’m apt to be taken over by flights of fancy, dead set on some idea one minute and on something totally different the next.

Cocozza’s article is based around a new book by Angela Duckworth. Entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The book examines the notion that natural talent is not the only path to success. Duckworth uses herself and other successful people, from entrepreneurs to athletes and from chefs to army cadets, as case studies to uncover the traits that have resulted in each of them rising to the top of their fields. Qualities include ‘the commitment to finish what you start, to rise from setbacks, to want to improve and succeed, and to undertake sustained and sometimes unpleasant practice to get there’.

In the book, which is part autobiography part social study, Duckworth reveals that in her own difficult relationship with her father, who was never satisfied by her achievements, grit and the adoption of an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude spurred her on to success.

As a mother now herself, Duckworth also teaches her own children ‘grit’, although in a slightly more palatable way than the one served up to her. She has developed a practice called the ‘hard thing rule’, where each family member must choose a discipline and apply themselves to it, and no one is allowed to give up until the activity has run its course. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for learning to stick with something, particularly when it is something that you find so tricky and I’m thinking of applying this rule myself.

In the book Duckworth also challenges the reader to discover how gritty they are. The quiz questions she uses are below so you can see if you really have true grit. For each question select the answer phrase which best applies to you and make a note of your score (from 1 to 5, as given) for each answer.

1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

2. Setbacks don’t discourage me, I don’t give up easily

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

4. I am a hard worker

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

6. I finish what I begin

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

7. My interests change from year to year

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

8. I am diligent. I never give up

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lose interest

Not at all like me (5) not much like me (4) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (2) very much like me (1)

10. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an import challenge

Not at all like me (1) not much like me (2) somewhat like me (3) mostly like me (4) very much like me (5)

Now add up your points and divide by 10 for your grit score.

If you scored 2.5 you are grittier than 10% of US adults,  3.0 grittier than 20%, 3.3 grittier than 30%, 3.5 grittier than 40%, 3.8 grittier than 50%, 3.9 grittier than 60%, 4.1 grittier than 70%, 4.3 grittier than 80%, 4.5 grittier than 90%, 4.7 grittier than 95% and 4.9 grittier than 99%.

Of course, this score only applies to you as you are at the moment, and you can cultivate more grit based on your weaker answers.

I’ll leave you with another of my new found favourite quotes, this time from Jack Canfield speaking on the Rich Roll Podcast:

‘Do just one thing each day towards your goal.’

It’s that simple. Now go and achieve something!

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January Blues?

So it’s colder than it was in December, even though you were hoping that Spring might be on its way, and it’s still dark when you wake up in the mornings and when you leave the office at night. The joie de vivre of the New Year and all of it’s resolutions seems an awfully long time ago, and, if you’re anything like me, you’re totally broke. With all of this stacked against it, it’s little wonder that January is associated with the blues.

In the dying moments of January, I wanted to write a post to give readers a little lift; to give you that spark of motivation to keep on top of your training and to maintain the post-Christmas clean eating and regular workout habits that you entered into with so much energy just 31 days ago.

So what keeps me going when the January blues are lurking?

  • Let someone else talk you into the right head space
Listen to Radio Headspace or check out the free Headspace app
Listen to Radio Headspace or check out the free Headspace app

I’ve mentioned previously how much I love the Runners Connect Run to the Top podcast, but it bares repeating. I find listening to other runners talk about their training, fuelling, form, races and the hurdles that they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are today incredibly motivating. Listening to these interviews and insights during my long runs helps to distract my mind from how many more miles I have to go and listening on my train commute only makes me want to go out and run all the more. If you want an episode to motivate you to run, listen to this interview with Fernando Cabada, or if you are more interested in running form, try this interview about the TrueForm Runner. There are heaps more that I could recommend, but I’d suggest you check it out for yourself – download an episode and then head out on a run.

I have also started listening to the Healthynomics podcast, which I discovered as a result of Run to the Top. It has some really interesting interviews and a great no-nonsense approach to running and fuelling for runners and while I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes, I can tell that I’m going to be tuning in regularly. My other recent discovery is the the Radio Headspace podcast, which was recommended to me by my friend Sophie and which is motivating in a very different way. With subjects ranging from mind and body, to careers, innovative inventions, relationships, life and death, it’s a great all-round informative and inspiring listen and particularly great if you’ve got a curiosity about mindfulness and meditation.

  • Make plans and stick to them
Schedule your runs
Schedule your runs

One of the best things about following a marathon training programme is that it doesn’t require any thinking in terms of what workout you are going to do. You have a week-by-week list of runs and cross-training sessions and you have to complete them. This removes that moment of doubt when you wonder if you really want to go on that run after work, when its cold and dark outside, or whether you might just be better off going straight home and having a nice hot bath. As soon as you start to question if you will make a workout, the chances are you will end up skipping it.

Schedule your workouts like you would meetings or supper dates and don’t flake. Once you have your plan, don’t question it and if you have a particular run or session that you think might be difficult to do, enlist a friend to come with you. I don’t know what I’d do without my pal Louise accompanying me on my mid-week evening runs. And this week I also organised a trip to the pool followed by supper with my friend Rosie. On a chilly, dark evening I could easily have bypassed my swim and skipped straight to supper, but having someone with me helped me make it into the pool and made the post-swim meal taste all the nicer as a result.

  • Change it up

Try a new route, run your usual route backwards (not actually backwards, but you know what I mean!), swap a swim for a weights session, or yoga for dancing. Changing up your workouts helps to keep you motivated, prevents exercise complacency -when you just allow yourself to go through the motions without really pushing yourself – and also helps to keep all of your muscles active.

I’ve been cross-training with swimming and trying out new pools to add more variety and I’ve been using the techniques I learned at the yoga retreat to lead some of my own yoga practices, rather than just going on autopilot and not really engaging properly with my body and breath as I let someone else talk me through a workout.

  • Read yourself fitter
'The Way of the Runner', Adharanand Finn
‘The Way of the Runner’, Adharanand Finn

As with listening to fitness podcasts, I find reading books, blogs and magazines on health and fitness also keep me motivated. Buying a copy of Women’s Health to read on my lunch break or picking up a free copy of Coach Magazine on my commute to work can make the difference between fitting in a workout that day or not. Similarly, reading about other people’s fitness exploits in books or on blogs also makes me want to go out and succeed in my own sporting challenges. Recent blog discoveries include Healthynomics and Underground Wellness, while on on my ‘to read’ list I now have My Year of Running DangerouslyThe Way of the Runner and The Dark Side of Fat Loss. There are more reading recommendations on the Read page of my blog if you are in need of further inspiration.

Surrounding yourself with people who normalise being fit, healthy and mindful of their diets really helps to keep you on course when others suggest that your vegan diet, lunchtime runs and early morning workouts are just crazy.

  • Dress to sweat 
osprey backpack
A good running rucksack allows you to run your commute – definitely a worthwhile investment!

When in doubt I love treating myself to a new piece of running kit to help motivate me to get out and run (this is probably why I am broke!). At the moment I love any excuse to wear my pink and navy Nike leggings and at the risk of becoming an ‘Active Wear’ stereotype, that means working out!

Treating yourself to new gym kit obviously isn’t a sustainable motivating factor but sometimes it’s ok to splash out on a new headband or some brightly coloured leggings if it means you feel you are investing in your health and you do then go out and use them for sports.