The Power of Cheese (balls)!
I spend my 9-to-5 working as a speech-language pathologist. Very early on in my career I realized that there would be kids who simply wouldn’t want to play my games (literally), that is, until I figured out just what it was that motivated them. I’ll never forget walking into a room full of wild tykes who refused to use any form of communication. So there I was standing in a room full of 5-year-olds who were walking all over me. I quickly realized that this crew needed more than high-fives and stickers to motivate them. After weeks of trial and error, I had it figured out. All they wanted from me were cheese balls. So cheese balls they got and cheese balls they most certainly ate. Before I knew it, I had a room full of relatively well-behaved 5-year-olds asking for cheese balls throughout our sessions, as well as other things too, in time.
Motivation is a powerful beast, and I swear there really is a connection between running and cheese balls.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about how motivation can be the catalyst to attempting tasks that one may feel is beyond his/her reach. Sure, I technically use these skills to prompt kids to communicate; but as it turns out, the same principals can be applied to running motivation.
So go ahead, read my post, and I’ll give you a handful of cheese balls if you’re lucky.
1. Feedback works best if we get it around 60% of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I love when running my app shouts in my ear that I just finished my last kilometer a complete minute faster than my previous one, but maybe, just maybe, we should turn it off every now and again. In fact, how about we turn it off 40% of the time. Let’s just run without that constant jibber-jabber in our ears, obsessing about paces and splits. That way, maybe we’ll be a little more motivated the next time we turn that app back on.
2. What motivates us changes, constantly.
Eventually, you’re going to need to change things up. When I started running, I was running away from a former, slightly out-of-shape version of myself. That worked…for a little while. Then, one day, my boyfriend handed me a Clif Blok while we were running around the mountain. My eyes lit up as I realized I could run for candy. Every five miles I’d reward myself with 3 sugary cubes of heaven. Who knows what I’ll be running for next week. (I have a sneaking suspicion that it may be my homemade bars of goodness. Stay tuned for that blog post!)
3. Intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic.
All of the gummy cubes and cheese balls in the world probably aren’t going to do the trick if there isn’t something deep down inside of you that loves to run or, at the very least, enjoys the way running makes you feel; if there isn’t some part of you that looks forward to the climb, the sweat, the views, the wind, or the speed than maybe running isn’t really your thing…And that’s okay. At the same time, as we are getting ourselves into shape, it physically hurts (and hurts mentally at times, too), so don’t be so easy to check off running as something you dislike after one or two attempts.
4. Caution: Intrinsic motivation may decrease with too much extrinsic reinforcement
Basically, this means that if we get too caught up in the praise some of that intrinsic motivation may start to dwindle. For example, if we get too wrapped up in walking away with a medal (or any of the other random assortment of prizes that ultra runners walk away with), that part of us deep down that just loves to run may begin to fade. So, run for you, and if you happen to win a statue of an armadillo along the way, great!
5. Random reinforcement works best.
I suggest running a couple “easy” races here and there and then signing up for something that’s way out of your comfort zone. A prize here and there, when you don’t necessarily expect it, is going to be more motivating than winning a medal every week. Also, mini races are a great way to keep you moving. “Mini races,” for those of you who are not familiar with the term, are those unspoken competitions between you and a complete stranger on the trail. You’ll win some and you’ll lose some, but perhaps that is just what you need to keep going.
Next time you hit the trails, think about leaving your Garmin at home, stocking up on cheese balls, and running for you. With the right motivation, I bet you can go farther, faster, and longer than you ever imagined.