Modes of Motivation

Have you ever wanted to desire something more?  In other words, have you ever wanted something (or at least realized that you SHOULD want something) but without wanting it badly enough to take action?  You wanted more motivation but didn’t know where to find it.

From my own experiences, I’ve learned there is more than one type of motivation.  If my normal source of motivation has stopped working for me, then it’s time to switch.

Before my mission, I had very little motivation to exercise.  However, during my mission, we were required to exercise for half an hour at 6:30 every morning.  My desire to be obedient to mission rules and meet expectations motivated me to exercise.  However, the manner in which I exercised was left entirely up to me, and I could have easily gotten away with only doing half-hearted and wimpy forms of exercise.  Exercising at full capacity required a different type of motivation.  I wanted a challenge, so I chose to go running every day.  But there were six phases I went through to maintain that motivation.  I call these my six modes of motivation.

Mode One: Doing it for Others

Throughout my life, my primary motivation for getting outside my comfort zone has been to remember that I’m preparing to be the best wife and mother I can be.  So, in the beginning of my mission, I motivated myself to exercise and run my hardest by thinking things like, “My future children deserve a mom who has the stamina to run around and teach them to play sports and keep up with them,” or “my future husband is so wonderful that I want to give him a companion who is in top physical condition.”  This mode of motivation worked for me . . . for a while.  But a few months into my mission, I started struggling with anxiety attacks that caused me to reevaluate my whole system of thinking.  I realized part of my anxiety came from the subconscious fear that I would never be good enough for the type of future family I envisioned.  It was time to shift my thinking.

Mode Two: Doing it for God

I decided, “You know what?  In the eyes of men I may never be ‘good enough,’ but God knows me perfectly, and He knows whether I’m trying my best or not, so I should just care about what HE thinks of me.”  After that, I motivated myself to run by telling myself I was working to please God and that I was honoring Him by taking care of the body that He had given me.  Besides, hadn’t God inspired the leaders who made the mission rules?  So by obeying the mission rules, I was really obeying God, and by giving it my all I was expressing my love for God.  Again, this motivation worked for a while, but, over time, even this one started losing its effectiveness.

Mode Three: Doing it for Myself

It occurred to me one day, “You know, the things God wants for me are the same things that I SHOULD be wanting for myself.  However, since I don’t always have the motivation to do it for myself at first, then God has to give me commandments for my own good—because I don’t yet understand what’s good for me!  So what’s the real reason behind why God wants me to exercise?”  From then on, when I went running I would tell myself, “I’m running because I want a healthy body, because I want to have energy, and because I want to live a fulfilling life and be strong and active for as many decades as possible.”  This mode of motivation worked great for me for the next several months of my mission, and the next mode just added fuel to the fire.

Mode Four: Doing it for a Hero, and because I Realize my Potential to become like Him or Her

Halfway through my mission, I was partnered with a sister missionary who was a genuine marathon runner.  I deeply admired her stamina, willpower, and enthusiasm, and I desired to be more like her.  When we went running together, she could literally run circles around me.  But even so, as I pushed myself to keep up with her and impress her, I made an astonishing discovery: I was capable of running faster and farther than I had ever thought!  It occurred to me that maybe I had what it took to become a “real” runner after all.  There was no reason I couldn’t run a marathon someday too.  This realization kept me running vigorously for the rest of my mission, even when I was later assigned to mission companions who didn’t like running and were very unsupportive.

Mode Five: For a Deadline

When I completed my mission and came back home, I was worried I would fall into old habits and lose the precious running muscles that I had worked so hard to develop for 18 months.  So I signed up for and paid a large entry fee for a half marathon that was 6 months away.  I knew that my fear of not being in shape and perhaps humiliating myself on race day would motivate me to keeping running consistently, even on days when I didn’t feel like running.  Deadlines are great motivators because they keep you from getting distracted by all the other “important” things in busy life.  (For more details on the power of deadlines, see my post from August 29th.)  I did run that race, and I was among the top third of runners to finish (which was quite impressive, considering that it was my first race of any kind EVER).

Mode Six: For Joy

Once my race was over, I fell into a slump for a while.  But then I realized I missed the exhilarating feeling that I got when I ran.  I realized I loved running!  So I started doing it again, and I’ve more or less kept it up ever since.

Just a few days ago, I felt super excited about going running the next morning, so I went to bed even earlier than usual.  The next morning, while it was still dark outside, I bounced out of bed even before my alarm went off.  Within minutes, I had on my tennis shoes and I was out the door.  As I proceeded to charge uphill, I glanced up at the stars, and suddenly it occurred to me, “Wait, what am I doing?  What or who am I doing this for now?  Am I doing this for my future family?  For God? For myself?  For a role model?  For a deadline?  No . . .”

Then I had a flashback to a time when my best friend (before she became my sister-in-law) told my brother that he should put a banana in his ear.  When he asked her incredulously why he should put a banana in his ear, she rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “For JOY, silly!”

That was the answer.  I was running simply for the joy of running.  What better reason was there?

Now, granted, this final mode of motivation wouldn’t have worked for me in the beginning.  Let’s face it; running is hard, and it hurts, especially when you’re out of shape and you’re not used to being in the running mentality.  And especially when it’s early morning and your pillow is so much more appealing.  When I first started “running,” I would jog for a couple minutes, and then, heaving and gasping, I would slow down and walk for five minutes.  Then, at my companion’s cue, we would start jogging again.  I pretended to like it, but deep down I hated it.

I had to cycle through five other types of motivation before I could reach what I now call a “Joy Breakthrough.”

In my next post, I’ll have more details about the Joy Breakthrough.  I would share them now, but my discussion includes a chemistry analogy, and I need to have some chemistry-savvy friends of mine look it over first to make sure I got my facts right.

In the meantime, there’s more you can study about motivation.  (That is, if you’re truly motivated to become more motivated.)  In a 1978 BYU speech, Sterling W. Sill discusses motivation in even more depth than what I just did.  Some of his ideas are similar to mine but others are very different.  In his opinion, the six motivators are

  1. Ideas
  2. People
  3. Consciousness of possessing a great skill
  4. Awareness of the reward
  5. Fun
  6. A great conviction of something

If any of those motivations stand out to you, I encourage you to read the speech at

Now go find your next mode of motivation and run with it!

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