A lot has been written about ‘Motivation’. And it still does not motivates. I guess motivation is a science which can be only understood by experimentation. And an interesting thing about this science is that everyone has different factors that will motivate them. There is no one size fits all concept here. We need motivation for everything, even to get off from the bed every morning. I will write about two areas where I need motivation- work and running. Let’s first talk about running, motivation at work follows naturally.
Running is an amazing thing or the latest ‘fad’. Most people I see around are trying to run marathons and other long distance. My case has been pretty bad. I have been an okay runner for small sprints. I could run very fast for 100 meters and after that would not even walk. I wanted to learn to run for long distance. Let’s just define long distance in my case as 4 Km (2.5 miles). I started observing people who run. There were a couple of upfront qualities- consistent speed they would not run very fast like in a sprint but at a consistent pace, their body posture- it was not bent forward like mine and the length of their stride. With all this information I started running with better running posture, consistent speed, and manageable stride. Well, I think first time I could not run more than 150 meters. I was panting, just could not breathe. I had to take breaks to find my breath and then again started running. It became so exhaustive that I felt like avoiding it. But I think I saw Milind Soman picture on my instafeed and got inspired again. This time I had written down all my issues while I was running. I basically had to stop because I could not breathe, not because my legs started hurting. So I devised a plan based on it. I realized I had strong legs so the only thing I would have to manage is my breathing. I have been meditating for some time and I am aware of a couple of breathing techniques. Moreover, if you do yoga or gymming you know when to inhale and exhale while exercising. I again started running this time focused on my breathing. With every stride making sure I breathe properly. This definitely had a great effect. On my first run while focusing on my breath I could run 500 meters straight. And I was not panting in the end. I could still cover the full distance by walking if not running. Now I tried doing this everytime I started running. My total distance limit did not increase for few weeks but the whole experience of running for 500 meters changed a lot. I was less out of breath, I was taking less time and was feeling comfortable running that distance. But after a while, it became boring running same distance every day and not improving neither in terms of distance nor in term of quality. I was stuck and not feeling motivated to go for running. Running 500 meters was nothing great compared to what people were doing around me.
I have been working on my company and it is very depressing at times especially when I am not signing new business. My behaviour varies so much sometimes I am ecstatic and sometimes really depressed. One thing I observed was even a small thing we achieved like a feature deployed well or a pat on the back from the customer or simply we were meeting our deadlines would make my day and of my team. We would feel motivated and supercharged to achieve the impossible. I thought if these small wins work here they should also help me in running as well.
Next morning I was again in the park where I run. This time I had decided to run 550 meters, 50 meters extra in the same time I use to run 500 meters previously. This may not be a great distance for anyone but for me, it would mean something. I started, focused on my breathing, kept on repeating to myself- My legs are strong, I just need to focus on my breathing. I did complete an extra 50 meters in the same time. I was happy feeling great. And was planning on the next milestone to achieve maybe another 50 meters in a week’s time. This sounded like a plan. It was simple- just focus on running 50 meters extra in 7 days i.e. ~10 meters extra every day which is I guess 16 strides. Doable!
I started following this approach- slice down the distance in small achievable targets and just focus on them. Celebrate whenever you achieve this micro-target. I have started calling them micro-targets. A feeling of win is a great motivator. And in case you get stuck in achieving this micro-target, it is so small that your mind does not feel demotivated. It knows it is just 10 meters or 7–8 steps extra. It is just tricking your brain. It worked pretty well for me and is still working. Following this, I have improved my running. I can now run 2 Km non-stop without dying. And now I am focusing on increasing my speed and reducing the time I take to run this distance. I am following similar micro-target of being 5 seconds faster, consistently for few days and then 5 more seconds and so on.
Now one side effect of this can be you feel you are progressing very slow. But I think with experimentation of the micro-target value you can figure out what works for you. You just have to be better than your previous self.
I started applying this same micro-target approach at my work also. We started dividing work into small milestones we would achieve in a week. Once we had micro-targets for a week, I started dividing these micro-targets for every day and then every hour. This may sound overwhelming and it was for the first week but I have been able to meet all of my work targets following this approach. And at the end of the day, I feel happy and motivated to achieve the next thing. Our productivity as a team increased, clients were happy and we felt more in control.
This micro-target approach takes more time in planning but it gives results. As Abraham Lincoln said,
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend first four in sharpening the axe”. ~ Abraham Lincoln
Our ax here are our micro-targets. The more clear they are the better we can perform.
In summary, if you are learning to run or doing anything worth pursuing in life you will have to go long distance. And going long distance starts with taking the first step and the next and so on. Micro-targets are those first steps. They provide constant wins which are required to keep you motivated for the long haul.
Some things are tried for running-
1. I stopped listening to music. Yes, this sounds strange to me also but I realized when I stopped listening to music I was focusing more on keeping my breath normal and that made me run for longer distance. I don’t know how it will work for you.
2. I constantly remind myself “I can do it” throughout the day while at work or running. I still have to figure out how it is helping me but it sure does. I feel better and I am able to finish the task like writing this post.
3. You will also need some commitment, in the beginning, to stick to the process. Once you start seeing small wins you will feel motivated. Share it with your friends, this should help.
Originally published at medium.com