Written By Lloyd Emeka
Lloyd is an MSc Sport Psychology student at St Mary’s University. He enjoys the opportunities that running provides to create new friendships and experience different cultures. You can find Lloyd on Twitter @nathan78.
It is the morning of 1st January 2021, which would normally involve participating in my local Parkrun. On this occasion however, I wake up to media coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic and a strong sense of déjà vu. This feeling is reaffirmed when lockdown 3.0 is announced just a few days later.
Although the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines provides us with renewed optimism, the pandemic continues to affect people in a multitude of ways. The ongoing uncertainty can trigger feelings of anxiety, worry and fear (Carleton et al, Hillen et al), which could understandably lead to declined levels of motivation for some runners. In this piece I address what motivation actually is and the role that it can play in our lives.
What is motivation?
From an early age, we are taught about the importance of being motivated to achieve our goals and aspirations in all aspects of life, and this is reinforced through societal narratives. Our environment can influence us to pursue goals throughout our lives without pausing to reflect on what drives us to achieve success.
There are many interpretations of motivation but it is worth briefly outlining the origins and definition of the term. We can trace the origins to the latin word ‘movere’ which means ‘to act’ and motivation is considered as a process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviours (Deci & Ryan). Although our actions can be focused towards performance-oriented goals (i.e. extrinsic), it is also possible to freely participate in running for the interest and enjoyment that it brings (i.e. intrinsic). This is underpinned by our basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness (Ryan & Deci).
Do we need motivation?
The need to experience activities as self-endorsed, to interact effectively within the environment and feel connected, and to be cared for by important others are vital components for human thriving, wellbeing and personal development. These needs also facilitate forms of motivation using one’s will and enhance the ability to persist with goals.
The pertinence of intrinsic motivation has also been reflected in research (Hanson et al, Doppelmayr & Molkenthin) where the motives of ultra-marathoners was investigated. The findings illustrated that personal goal achievement, life meaning and affiliation were more prevalent motives in ultra marathon runners comparison to runners who participated in shorter distances.
Dealing with uncertainty
It is also feasible to lack motivation and this can stem from the perception that an activity is unimportant, a task is too difficult or the belief that the desired outcome is unachievable. However, there are numerous psychosocial factors that contribute to amotivation during this ongoing period of uncertainty that we find ourselves in..
In the absence of races, reflecting and remembering the reasons for training and competing in your sport can assist with sustaining or regaining motivation. Establishing a daily routine enables us to attain structure and develop a renewed sense of purpose. Although there are many apps that can support you with this task, writing in a journal is an effective method for capturing our thoughts, feelings and behaviours that contribute to the emergence of a routine. Writing expressively can result in a positive effect on our health (Pennebaker & Smyth) and has the potential of enhancing the level and quality of sleep (Harvey & Farrell). Journaling could thus be incorporated into a schedule as a bedtime ritual.
We can also continue to set ourselves goals with the emphasis on task mastery (i.e. nutrition/fueling approach, practicing on appropriate terrain, focusing on shorter distances to develop speed) whilst reflecting and determining our long-term goals. It is worth reflecting on where you are at currently as an ultra-marathon runner and what your aspirations are during the next twelve months. For example, what tasks would you need to master if there are plans to transition from a marathon to a 125km or 250km race?
When developing a list of task mastery and long-term goals, it is important to strive for an optimal amount that considers available time for training, resources and other life commitments. Sharing your goals with friends and family can also facilitate accountability and enhance levels of self-motivation.
The pandemic has created an opportunity to further engage in personal interests outside the sporting domain. This could be developing a new hobby or investing an increased amount of time in the company of loved ones. Having a deliberate break from running can result in feeling physically and psychologically recharged when ready to return back to the sport. As a consequence, the pursuit of goals and task mastery might not be the most appropriate option in the current climate.
Although the current national lockdown presents various challenges, there is also an opportunity to reflect on our underlying motives for running and re-evaluate our goals. Undertaking this process can also facilitate a clear structure and purpose for the year ahead. There are clearly a range of motivational approaches for consideration and however you decide to proceed, I hope that 2021 will be a fun-filled, enjoyable running adventure.
- Increasingly certain about uncertainty: Intolerance of uncertainty across anxiety and depression, Carleton et al (2012)
- Tolerance of uncertainty: Conceptual analysis, integrative model, and implications for healthcare, Hillen et al (2017)
- The ‘’what’’ and ‘’why’’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior, Deci & Ryan (2000)
- Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development and wellness, Ryan & Deci (2017)
- Motivational Differences Between Half, Full and Ultramarathoners, Hanson et al (2015)
- Motivation of participants in adventure ultramarathons compared to other foot races, Doppelmayr & Molkenthin (2004)
- Toward a hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, Vallerand (1997)
- Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain, Pennebaker & Smyth (2016)
- The Efficacy of a Pennebaker-Like Writing Intervention for Poor Sleepers, Harvey & Farrell (2003)
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