Some Thoughts on Motivation


{“May” from my 2012 mini Calendar “Dots and Lines,” available in my shop}

Over the past six months I’ve been watching a change in myself around something I’ve struggled with for a long time: exercise. I’ve always dreamed of being the type of person who’s intrinsically motivated to exercise {and has the lean mean body to show for it}, but instead I’ve mostly been the type who begrudgingly drags her feet to work out.

But something of a miracle has come over me these last several months, and here I am, and dare I say it: I have become a regular runner! No one is more surprised than me. I have said for many years that I hate running, although I forced myself to pick it up some years ago when we got a dog and it became obvious that running was the only way to get myself cardio exercise while exercising our dog. But over the past months I’ve watched myself go from the bare minimum runner to someone who looks forward to going out and running longer and longer routes just for the fun of it.

This crazy change has gotten me thinking about motivation—how it develops and how you get to a point of self-sustaining momentum around an activity.

THE TIPPING POINT

With any activity or practice, at some point you get to a place where there’s no turning back. This is the point when the thing is so entrenched in your life that you wouldn’t think of not doing it. I call this The Tipping Point. From my experience, you can only really see it in hindsight—at some moment you look around and realize that you’ve been going along for a while just doing without having to twist your arm anymore. The activity is so integrated into your schedule and so essential to your life that you don’t have to decide whether or not you will do it.

This happened for me with art. I can’t find the moment when it happened, but I started out forcing myself to go sit at my art desk {sometimes kicking and screaming}, and here I am four years later with creativity as the cornerstone of my life. And now this has happened for me with running. There were many years when I had to plead with myself to run instead of walk, and now I run 6-7 days per week, and I often find myself contemplating new running challenges I could take on.

How did this happen?!

TO THE POINT OF NO RETURN

Once you get past the tipping point your momentum sustains you, but how do you get to the tipping point? I thought a bit about what commonalities I see between the two examples in my life (art and running) and this is what I came up with. To reach the tipping point you need to:

1) see the activity through a bigger vision of the person you want to be (this motivates you to begin)
2) experience exhilarating, peaceful moments in the process of the activity that lead to memories of feeling good while doing that thing (motivates you to do it again)
3) see tangible evidence of progress (motivates you to continue indefinitely because you’re becoming your bigger vision)

These three criteria fit very nicely for me with both art and running. With art I had a bigger vision of myself living my life about creativity (1), and then once I started making art I felt great moments of peace and creativity while doing it (2), and then I began to amass a large collection of artworks which gave me a creative buzz when I saw how much I had created and made my want to keep going (3). With running, I started to see how running could be the fulfillment of me being the fit and healthy person I want to be (1), and then the more I run, the more frequently I experience the high of running (2), and then I started to notice that running was getting easier and I was feeling fitter, which just made/makes me want to keep at it (3).

THE BIGGEST COMMITMENT

While these three criteria are true to my current experience of running success, they also seemed to be true in my past experiences of running that never really took off: For years I wanted to be someone with inherent motivation to exercise, and I saw the bigger goal and how running could get me there, and I even experienced some great exhilarating moments while running, and at times I did feel like I had made progress towards being more fit. So what was the missing link then and what was different this time around?

After contemplating for a while, I came up with one thing: time. Both with art and running, the transition happened for me when I made the most serious commitment you can make to anything: I made it a priority by allotting very regular concrete time to it. At some point this past summer I decided on a weekly running schedule, and I set it in my head in stone: I would do two longer runs per week and run as many other days as possible. The same thing happened for me with art—I remember it very clearly: every day I would come home from work and instead of vegging out on the couch watching movies (as I wanted to), I made myself go sit at my art desk and make art. I became absolutely stone-willed about it, I let nothing else push it out. I can see now that it was this concrete dedication that made the difference. There was no maybe. I would plan in advance when exactly I would do the art (or when I would run) so that I couldn’t get out of it. And then after some time passed with this new repeated action I got to the place where I became itchy if I didn’t do it.

IS IT REALLY TRULY YOU?

After all of this contemplation I started to wonder: would this work for everything? Could you just pick any random thing and make it a habit in this way? And how could you tell whether what you’re doing is really in line with who you want to be, or if it’s just what you think you should be doing?

I think the answer to both these questions comes from my criteria number two above: you experience exhilarating, peaceful moments in the process of the activity that lead to memories of feeling good while doing that thing. I think this is the determining factor of whether or not an activity becomes a cornerstone of your life. Sure there will be moments when you feel unmotivated to do even your favorite things, but generally once you start doing something regularly (that’s in line with your true self), you will start amassing these experiences of good feeling that will sustain you through the rocky parts. Many days I have woken up and not felt like making art, but usually once I get going I sink into the good feeling. If you start really doing something regularly and you don’t begin to feel the goodness (at least some of the time), then that’s a hint that the activity is not your path.

We’re coming upon that time of year that’s known for new resolutions made and broken. I hope these thoughts with cut through a little of struggle and help you make next year full of new possibilities! Happy creative day!

10 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Motivation”


  1. 1 T Scott December 15, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Thnx! I really needed this as I sit here eating Subway! lol..

  2. 3 thelinoprinter December 15, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I have to admit I am not an exerciser but, your art example is one I can understand. The more I do the more I love doing it. But then Art is my life.

  3. 5 linda December 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I can definitely relate to trying to drag myself to exercise. I’ve never had that intrinsic motivation and I find that with many things, it might be difficult to start up, but then it’s not bad through the process at all. I like the idea of building up those motivation memories… it totally makes sense! The more we do something, the more we know about it and can easily overcome barriers!

    • 6 Nicole | Blue Bicicletta December 16, 2011 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Linda—isn’t that always the truth? It seems nearly impossible to start up (I often have this problem after vacations when I need to re-start too), but then once you get going, the momentum carries you. I think memories of good feeling really really help!

  4. 7 BoatWritesBooks December 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Very encouraging post on motivation Nicole! For more inspiration, check out my site at http://www.juliusboatwright.com.

  5. 8 leonardo December 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Nice post Nicole… I was thinking that your description fits quite well with several kind of sport addiction…even climbing.
    keep running (and posting )!

  6. 10 erica1osageErica December 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Nicole – I love your insight and the way you connect ideas together. I also struggle with running but found myself really enjoying it this past year. I think it took a while of feeling unhealthy before I really made the switch in my thinking to dedicate time and energy to running, but once I did it was amazing how much I looked forward to it. It’s something that you can’t really force upon yourself, you just need to get fed up enough with the status quo to make the change. Thanks for posts like this, I miss you lots!


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Hello there! My name is Nicole K. Docimo, and I am an artist and writer from the U.S.A. but currently residing in Zurich, Switzerand. Thank you for visiting my blog!

Some Thoughts

"Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring."
~Rumi

{from "Joy at Sudden Disappointment"
translated by C. Barks.}

~This Work ~

Unless otherwise noted, all images and writings on this blog were created by me, Nicole K. Docimo aka Blue Bicicletta. If you would like to share anything you see here for inspirational purposes online, I just ask that you kindly let folks know where you found it. If you are wanting to share/reproduce any of my work in any other way, or have any questions about how you will be sharing the work in relation to copyright, please contact me directly at nkdocimo {at} gmail {dot} com. Thanks!

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