These are great motivation pieces written by a great runner, Eric Grossman. I had to copy these from Running Times just for my own record in case this is ever removed from the site. LOVE IT! You can find it by clicking here or just read below.
One of my earliest crushes was a demure small-featured girl who visited my neighborhood each weekend. Whitney’s father shared custody of the children, including two younger brothers: Joel and Jamie. I imagine the quarters were small. In any case, we spent our time outside, where Joel and I had plenty of space to goof around. Our partnership worked well: He got to play with an older boy, and I could lose my inhibitions long enough to catch Whitney’s attention with our crazy antics.
I knew it was working when I ran continuous laps around the block with Joel riding piggyback. Each time I crossed in front of the house Whitney sang out from the porch: “I think you’re really loony but you’re really loony-toony.” We eventually established that we liked each other. I don’t remember if we ever defined our relationship, but I remember one summer that Whitney spent away. For a long time I kept a box of all the letters she wrote me during that time.
We had at least one date. Whitney went to Collegiate School in Louisville and she invited me to a school dance. It must have been semi-formal, because I remember being dropped off at the home of her mother and stepfather and waiting at the door feeling utterly self-conscious in my borrowed brown sport coat. Thank heavens for the beneficence of the older generation, who can casually intervene when middle school becomes unbearably awkward. Will, Whitney’s stepfather, opened the door, pipe in hand, and ushered me in. “Your outfit is a symphony of brown,” he stated. The ice broken, he kept up the cheery banter throughout our dinner.
Too bad he didn’t go to the dance with us. I won’t linger long on the gory details. Just picture a half-lit wall with a line-up of gangly overdressed preteens pressing backwards like they wish they could disappear and pop through to the other side. We wished we could cut loose. Someone had collected good dance tracks. “Rock Lobster” echoed across the empty dance floor. We were completely constrained by our self-consciousness. We needed a Joel to run across the floor and slide on his knees to seize the hand of a partner. He could have dragged her off the wall. When “No Parking on the Dance Floor” played, he would have the perfect excuse to pry the rest of us off.
That’s the lesson in motivation: When the music plays, you dance. There’s no room for reflecting on it. Think of how different the dance floor looks when you are on it, dancing, compared to when you stand pensively beside it. You stand by the dance floor because you don’t want others to see how silly you might look. Dancing from the middle of the floor, the music fills your body and you move with it and with the people around you. You stop thinking about how others will view you and you just are. You are less self-conscious and therefore more yourself.
Your continued motivation depends upon your ability to perform to your potential. High-level performance depends upon achieving the state of mind in which you are the performance and nothing else. To achieve this, you will need to have developed the habit of complete focus and engagement with the task at hand. This Holy Grail of sports psychology may be best known as “the zone.” When you are in the zone, you have a heightened awareness of salient sensory information (baseball pitchers, for example, see a larger strike zone), and you become less aware that time is passing. You move fluidly, without hesitation. You are “lost” in the moment, but, ironically, just when you stop thinking about yourself, the best you can perform.
You can find lots of prescriptions for reaching the zone. These are like diets. If they worked, we’d stop hearing about them. The problem is, we are working against antagonistic forces. In the case of diets, we are working against the biological imperatives to stock up and the environmental triggers to consume. In the case of reaching the zone, we are working against the biosocial need to fit in. With the exception of sociopaths, we have all been equipped with psychological mechanisms for alerting us to the potential scorn of our peers. How hard will you work to avoid embarrassment, shame and social exclusion? Your level of self-consciousness is a good measure. If everyone else is standing on the wall, you may do well to avoid potential embarrassment and stay put yourself.
So, like a lot of our less-than-optimal traits, self-consciousness is a trade-off worked out by our ancestors. You have inherited the mechanism and a fragile means of working around it. The means? Accept yourself. Let others see you, and let go of the worry over what they might think. The risk is that they will think about you in unflattering terms. The gain is nothing less than an open gateway to becoming better. That, and attracting the attention of yon fair maiden.
Eric Grossman is a member of the Montrail ultrarunning team. At age 40, Grossman won the 2008 USATF 50-mile national championship. Check back next week for more of Grossman's motivational tips.