Sunday, September 30, 2012

Internal vs. External Motivation

During my senior year of high school, my AP English teacher assigned us an "I-Search," an independent study on the topic of our choice.  I chose the topic "How to most efficiently use my 24 hours in a day."  Being the naive girl that I was, I thought a few weeks of introspection would turn my life around and turn me into a time management expert.  While it was an eye-opening "research" endeavor, and I got an excellent grade in the end, still today I complain that I don't have enough time in my days.  Clearly, I have yet a lot to learn.  One positive finding did come about from this project, however.  I finally realized that I am extremely motivated by external sources.

I had been in denial about it.  All my life, I had taken pride in the fact that I was a self-motivated person, and I scoffed people who sought external sources of motivation.  And yet... I was the girl who used to say,
"Coach Jen, would you yell at me?" 
During gymnastics practice when I was too scared to perform a new skill on beam and couldn't motivate myself, I used Coach Jen as my motivation.  And what about grades?  I used those to motivate me to pull an all-nighter in Modern Thought in Literature (MTL) my junior year of high school... twice.  

When I first found out how motivated I was by external sources, I was ashamed.  In school, they teach you that self-motivated students succeed and all others... well, you should just try to be like those top self-motivated students.  Even interviewing for grad school, they stress the importance of self-motivation.  And it is important.  Don't get me wrong.  You can't succeed unless you are self-motivated in some respect, but that does NOT mean that all motivation must come from yourself.  If you rely only on yourself, what happens when you're having a bad day?

And so, I let go of the shame and forgot all about this internal versus external motivation in my life.  That is, I forgot about it until I had to go running shoe shopping.

This past week, I haven't done really any of my 8k training (gasp!).  I know, I ought to be ashamed of myself!  My "excuse" (call it what you wish), is that my super cute Nike running shoes hurt my feet and give me blisters... after just a 2 mile run.  I originally bought them because I thought they fit me well; apparently they don't.  I have wide feet.  (<Sigh> My name is Sarah, and I have wide feet.)  Well, I can't run in shoes like that!  So, it's time for some new running shoes.  

Nick and I went running shoe shopping at Philadelphia Runner.  The employees there are great-- they're all runners and very knowledgeable in the type of shoe appropriate for the type of foot that you have.  Last time I went, I learned I needed a neutral shoe, and I had my choice between a pair of Asics (which is the brand I had been using before) and a super cute pair of hot pink Nikes.  I went with the Nikes (I have a weakness for pink).  I also liked that the sole was kind of rounded and forced me toward my toes when I run (which is what I do anyway... I am a forefoot striker).  Really, though, I just use that to try to justify my original purchase; I bought them because they were cute.  But, there is a purpose behind that: I used my super cute Nikes as my external motivation.  I actually wanted to go out and show off my cute shoes to the world, which made running slightly more enjoyable.  Honestly, who doesn't want to look cute when they work out?  I love buying cute fitness clothes because they motivate me to exercise.  


My super cute Nike running shoes.

Unfortunately, I started running about a month after I bought my shoes, and about a month after that I realized they weren't good for my feet.  By that time, though, it was too late to return them.  Fast forward half a year, and here we are today.  The shoes were wearable before since I was only occasionally running (and when I was, it was short distances), so my blisters had ample time to heal.  Now, though, I need new shoes because I'm training for an 8k, and a pair of super cute Nikes that gives me blisters after a 2 mile run won't cut it.  

I went back to Philadelphia Runner and decided to go with the Asics Gel Nimbus 14.  They had 2 color options, and one of them happened to be another super cute (even cuter that my Nikes) hot pink and black pair!  I was in love (or as "in love" as I could ever be towards a pair of running shoes).  But... they were out of stock, and I wanted new shoes NOW!  I had the option of choosing a gray/purple/blue shoe (also adorable, but didn't give me butterflies) or waiting to see if they could order the pink shoes to the store.  I went with option 3 (wait, I thought I had 2 options?): purchase the hot pink ones myself from online.  This is going to put me about another week behind in my training.  Why did I purchase them?  Because, I hate running.  (What?)  I need all the motivation I can get, even if that means succumbing to my inner love of external motivation.  If buying cute shoes will make running even an ounce more enjoyable, then I should buy myself the cute shoes.  Luckily, I think I have enough of a base that getting behind another week in my 8k training shouldn't ruin my goal (I hope).

If only I were more self-motivated...

Wait, I AM self-motivated, and it's gotten me far.  BUT, my self-motivation wanes in situations like running, and I must then rely on any type of motivation I can get.  One "kind" of motivation isn't really better than any other; if something (whether it be internal or external) motivates you, then it's done its job, and you're one step closer to your goal.  Accept any motivation you can get.  

The moral of the story is that you need to take a moment (or your whole life) to learn about yourself and accept you for you.  Don't be ashamed for who you are or what you are motivated by; instead, take advantage of it!  Buy the cute shoes if it will help get you out of the door to go for a run (just make sure they actually fit you well...).  Also know that what may motivate you may not motivate your friend, or put another way... one person's couch potato is another person's motivation. 

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