Putting one foot in front of the other: How to deal with a dip in running motivation

Motivation is a complex topic. Many conscious and unconscious factors can influence our levels of motivation causing unforgiving fluctuations. When discussed, a lot of people talk about how to combat these motivational lulls in a 'one size fits all' way. However, from my experience, finding that eagerness to run again depends upon the reasons my motivation dipped to begin with. Not every trick works every time, with differing points in my running journey needing different approaches in order to bring my mojo back. Sometimes goal setting has been the answer to my running payers whereas, in other cases, the best approach has been stripping it right back and throwing any sense of a plan or aim out the window. Individual differences have a lot to play here with not only different scenarios requiring different solutions but also people varying massively in their motivation influences. Therefore, by sharing the variety of solutions I have found to get me out of a motivational slump over the years, I hope to offer some guidance and inspiration of ways to help you get back on your feet.


#1: Losing motivation due to feeling a lack of purpose

Especially relevant in our current global climate, having no purpose to your running can cause a sudden downfall in motivation to get out of the door. Whether this be through a notion of not seeing improvements or a lack of a clear goal, it is understandable to feel somewhat discouraged and disheartened to continue with your weekly mileage. Commonly, when faced with a losing scenario an individuals motivational levels are decreased, thus a lack of seeing improvements will likely provide the same outcome. This is something I have personally experienced, watching my runs slowly decrease in distance and frequency because they seem "pointless" and getting me closer to a big, fat nowhere. Of course, this is not true in the slightest. But it can feel that way when you have no end goal in mind or nothing to show for these tireless sessions.


It is said that "a sense of purpose is reached when people perceive their current activities as relating to future outcomes, so that current events draw meaning from possible future conditions." Considering this, it is logical to assume that providing yourself with achievable goals is an excellent way to draw some purpose back into your training, something that has worked for me on numerous occasions. Having a goal in mind can cause an alignment in your mind on how your sessions are directly impacting progress towards that goal, claimed to have very positive effects on motivation. Now, setting goals doesn't mean you have to sign up for the next marathon that pops up as an Instagram ad, although this is completely fine if you wish. Race days booked into the calendar are the usual goal to get me feeling pumped to begin a training block, however, currently, any events this year are not looking hopeful. Smaller, achievable goals that act as your 'future outcomes' are just as ideal to work towards and provide some focus and structure for your training. Whether this be by following a training plan and ticking off each weekly session or trying out monthly 5km max efforts to chip away at your PB time, a goal to aim for will give back that purpose and therefore *hopefully* cause your motivation to sky-rocket.


#2: Losing motivation due to a busy work or life schedule

We've all used the phrase "life just got in the way" before, whether as a reason for falling off your diet, not seeing a friend in 6 months or forgetting entirely about a scheduled dentist appointment. But, it is true. Much like motivation fluctuations, our work and life schedules fluctuate from times of a steady flow to complete chaos and all of the areas in between. Increased workload, social events, holidays and illness, all of these elements of life can cause our exercise schedule to go out the window in order to cope with the new found demands on our time or body. The thing we need to remember is, this is completely okay. If anything, this is normal. Sometimes we have to give ourselves time off or adapt our routine in order to live and focus on the present.


Having said that, it can feel difficult pulling ourselves back into the groove of running once a busy period of life passes. Once feeling ready to get back into training, I often employ the following approach to help kick start my motivation; I strip away all pressure on myself for any run. No pressure on pace, no pressure on distance and no pressure on not stopping if I feel I need/want to. This takes running back to the essence of why I'm sure many of us started, pure enjoyment. I tend to ensure my mindset is all about having fun, getting outside in nature and feeling good whilst I do so. Removing all pressure always heightens my motivation, especially when I'm running short on time or energy. If I set off and begin to feel lethargic, I'll happy cut my run shorter. If something pops up meaning I can't fit in my third run of the week, I'll only run twice. Whilst it sounds so simple, pressure is something many of us place too much of on ourselves, resulting in increased burnout or stress. Studies have shown that providing employees with a more flexible work-life balance increases their motivation and productivity through relieving multiple stressors, and our running schedule works much the same.


Additionally, this often means I step away from the training plan that I'm currently following, unless with a race in the imminent future. Plans can create further pressure on weekly sessions which is unnecessary when not in the correct head space. Taking a break in a busy life period is nothing to be ashamed of, the plan will always be there when you're ready to jump back in.


#3: Losing motivation due to lacking a sense of enjoyment from sessions

Admittedly, this is something that hasn't happened very often for me since I find running very therapeutic and thrive off of the endorphins. However, there are times when completing similar sessions on the same few routes week after week can become somewhat monotonous and cause a plummet in motivation. Personally, one thing that greatly helped this for me was joining a running club. Socially running with others made sessions much more enjoyable and added that variety I needed for all my sessions to feel unique and fun. Motivation wise, I found myself a lot more eager to get out the door come rain or shine if I knew I was off to meet others for the session. Not only is it more fun but it also keeps you accountable, nobody likes being the one to cancel on a running buddy. Additionally, the intrigue of not knowing what the session would be until I arrived kept things more interesting and exciting, since all sessions were planned by the club coach and varied week on week.


If you are continually feeling this low motivation due to a lack of enjoyment, it could be that running isn't the sport for you. Switching things up by adding in more cross-training and experimenting with sports you've not tried before might allow you to find the one that sparks your passion. Running can still be a part of your schedule but mixing it up with other forms of exercise might keep things more interesting and fun for you, depending on what you enjoy. However, if you're set on sticking with solely running, try and add in different sessions each week such as varying distance intervals, tempo efforts or slow exploration runs on new routes. This variety may be what you need in order to feel driven to tick off each session of the week.


As I previously mentioned, not feeling motivated all the time is completely normal. Many say we cannot rely on motivation to get us through life and reach out goals, needing elements of discipline and determination thrown in as well. Training plans can be mentally and physically strenuous, but finding that balance between staying consistent and dedicated and ensuring we look after our mental and physical health can be tough to master. Running should always be enjoyable and maintaining health should always be a priority. Learn to understand your body and the important difference between it requiring rest and your mind just having a case of "can't be bothered". If the latter, hopefully some of these approaches may help in getting you laced up and out of the door. And remember, you'll never regret a run once it's done.


How do you keep up motivation for running? Let me know in the comments!

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