While perusing Runner's World yesterday I came across an article from December 2010 about intrinsic motivation. This concept is probably not new to anyone who's run for any length of time, but what I especially liked about it was the use of three key aspects of intrinsic motivation and how they differ from runner to runner.
Exercise psychologist Jay Kimiecik described these three qualities in his 2002 book The Intrinsic Exerciser. As quoted in the Runner's World article, he suggests that "we all have innate needs to feel competent, to relate to others, and have a sense of freedom about how we do something." These "powerful desires" are his three keys to intrinsic motivation:
The article largely consists of a few profiles of runners, at the end of which each of the above aspects is rated on a scale of 0 (not at all important) to 5. (The article stated that the scale used was 0-5, but the lowest any of the three keys was ranked was 1.) I found these "motivation meters" fascinating for the simple way they break down the psychological and social forces that push an individual to make the choice to run—week after week, year after year.
What initially caught my attention was a statement by another psychologist, Edward Deci. He noted that, for many runners, motivation is initially extrinsic with a shift to intrinsic motivation over time:
For your first attempts, running was probably something you thought you should do—to be well thought of by others. Over time, it became something you want to do, rather than thinking it's something you should do.
This rings true for me, and I suspect for many others who also began running at the encouragement of someone else. When I began running in high school, it wasn't my idea. And although I enjoyed it then (and in fact count it as the best part of my high school experience), I always had the feeling that it was something I should do. Coming back to it after a break of many years (during which I like to think I've gained a little bit of wisdom), I now feel free of the pressures that were my primary motivating forces back then. I now have a simple desire to move (however slowly), to feel myself building endurance and strength, and to enjoy the experience of being alive and outside in connection with nature. In other words, my motivation to run has shifted from being extrinsic to being intrinsic.
The concept of the "Motivation Meter" helped me think in a more in-depth way about why I now want to run after years of not running, and I thought others at Stride Nation might find it useful, too.
Here are explanations of each key concept (again, drawn from the article):
Competence is "the feeling that you're getting better over time"; setting/achieving clear, specific goals such as PRs or some kind of ranking among other runners; meeting incremental challenges; improvement in performance.
Relatedness involves feeling "like you're part of a community."
Autonomy is "having control over whether you run"; feeling that running is a choice, not something you have to do; the sense that you are "in charge of your performance."
In my early years, my Motivation Meter would have looked something like this:
Now, it looks more like this:
Obviously something has shifted for me, and my hope is that this new type of motivation will help me stay committed to a sport I love for reasons that will be far more lasting than they were the first time around.
How would your Motivation Meter look for where you're at with running today? Has it changed from what motivated you in the past? These are interesting questions to think about, and can help provide some insight into what gets you onto the road, trail, or treadmill—week after week, year after year.