How to Keep Yourself Motivated to Run – Simple Hacks for You

Maintaining your motivation to run regularly can be one of the biggest challenges runners face when they’re starting out.

We carried out a poll here at Garage Gym Power and asked this simple question:

What is your single biggest challenge right now when it comes to running?

About 80% of you answered that motivation is the key issue.

woman running outdoors during rain - running motivation

But, you’ll be pleased to know, this isn’t an impossible problem to solve.

In fact, you could go as far as saying that it’s easy to solve if you follow the guidelines I’m about to let you in on.

Firstly, notice how I specified that motivation is primarily a challenge for runners who are starting out?

Don’t get me wrong, we all struggle occasionally.

Even the most dedicated runners have days when they would rather stay on the couch with a movie and a takeaway pizza. And these occasional occurrences may genuinely be your body telling you to take a day off, in which case, it pays to listen.

However, generally speaking, most people who have been running regularly for a number of years don’t struggle with motivation too much on a day to day basis.

This is because they have already formed the habit.

What’s That You Say? Habit?

Yes. This isn’t going to be one of those long drawn out articles where I keep you hanging on until the very last minute before letting you in on the secret.

I’m giving it to you right now, for free.

The secret is to make running a habit.

Like Casey Neistat, the guy runs every day, sometimes twice a day. All after a surgery where the doctor said he could never run.

If you focus too much on how to increase your motivation, you’re unconsciously telling yourself that you have a lack of motivation. You, therefore, end up sending messages to yourself that you are inadequate.

This is a paradox because once you subconsciously believe that your current level of motivation is inadequate, it’s going to be very hard to change it.

The fascinating thing about our brains is that they are lazy.

Making decisions and choices, especially those that require willpower, a.k.a. motivation, takes energy. Our brains don’t want to expend this energy.

So, they have generated a way of maintaining beneficial behaviors through the formations of habits.

They are so good at maintaining these habits, that once a habit is formed, the only way to break it is to replace it with another (think: smokers who suddenly realize how much they love eating once they quit!).

The good news is that once we make running a habit, we don’t need to necessarily be motivated.

The habit center in our brain will make sure that running stays a regular part of our routine.

woman trail runner running with hydration backpack

So, how can we make running a habit if it isn’t already?

The habit cycle works in 3 phases: cue, action, and reward.

Take for example your morning cup of coffee or tea. The cue is waking up, the action is making or buying your coffee/tea, and the reward is the taste/warmth/caffeine buzz or whatever it is about your beverage that triggers your pleasure receptors.

For me, my running habit is cued by the restless feeling I get at a certain point in the day if I haven’t been for my run yet.

The action is then, of course, going for the run.

The reward is the satisfaction, the achievement and the endorphins (I also usually reward myself with a yummy snack after as well).

Various studies show that it can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks to form a new habit.

This essentially means that you only need to find the motivation to keep running regularly to get through that initial phase.

Then, once running has become a habit, it will be a part of your life for good (provided you don’t let it get replaced by a different habit of course!).

people running on hill by road

Tips to make running a habit:

  • Set goals that focus on frequency (number of runs per week) rather than duration (length of your run) to begin with. Often getting out of the door is the hardest part. If you can get into the habit of starting the run, it will be easy to lengthen it later.

My favorite Hack about setting up goals

I always set up fitness goals for every month but I always add MIN and MAX.

For example: in July run 60 miles (min: 30 miles, max: 80 miles). Why the min and max? Becuase, let’s be honest, our plans can always change or something spontaneous and unplanned can occur in July.

That’s the reason why I add min and max because if I don’t reach my milestone and run only 40 miles I don’t feel miserable because I still reached my set-up goal.

Did you want to run 30 miles but ran only 10 miles? Cool, that’s very GOOD because you just ran 10 miles more than the last month!

Also, a great way to make your brain stop overthinking is the 5-second rule by Mel Robbins.

  • Do everything you can to make your running habit easy by getting rid of unnecessary obstacles. For example, make sure you have the right shoes and your running clothes easily accessible and in plain view. Encourage your family and friends to react positively when you share your running goals and intentions.
  • Make your running enjoyable. Run in places that inspire you and let you escape the daily grind of pavement pounding through commuter traffic. Travel a little further to run through that beautiful park or along the beach if that will ‘up’ the enjoyment factor of your run.
  • Make your running a priority. Make your social engagements and other life commitments fit around your running. It’s not hard, it’s just about prioritizing and getting creative. Find solutions to fitting in your run like running in your lunch break or running to the supermarket with a small backpack if you just need a couple of things.
  • Keep a running diary. This adds an additional layer of reward to the habit making process, as you will subconsciously start to anticipate the satisfaction you get out of logging your miles.
  • Reward yourself with something yummy that you only have after your runs such as a particularly yummy post-run smoothy. Yes, rewards are important!
  • Social media can also be a great platform for accessing inspiring content on a daily basis. If checking your Instagram account is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, seeing posts about running may be the extra push you need to lace up those shoes and get out the door. Check out @garagegympower or follow hashtags such as #lovetorun if you’re looking for ideas.

If you’re interested in reading more about the psychology behind habits, check out The Power of Habit (link to Amazon.com) by Charles Duhigg.

It describes the part of the brain responsible for habits, and consequently, how to program your brain to replace the habits that might be holding you back from the kind of life you want to be living, with the habits that you want, ie. running!

fitness woman runner trail running

Find the WHY

Focussing on the right kind of motivation can also make a big difference.

We talk about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is this workout motivation article.

Essentially, intrinsic motivation is your personal, inner reason for wanting to run.

While extrinsic motivation would be external sources of pressure that don’t necessarily go with your personal reasons.

At the end of the day, intrinsic motivation trumps.

Which means you need to find your intrinsic reason for running. This inspirational video, “Start with Why?”, explains the concept as it relates to marketing and the corporate world. However, the principle stands.

Once you know why you’re running, and remind yourself of your ‘why’ regularly, the motivation will follow.

Anti-Charities

If the habit thing isn’t floating your boat or you’re looking for something a bit different, anti-charities might fit the bill.

Most people are motivated by financial incentives.

These might not necessarily be in the form of accruing money, but minimising the loss of it, or getting your money’s worth from an experience.

Have you ever wondered why life coaches or inspirational seminars cost so much?

Part of the reason is that the more you pay for the service or experience, the more likely you are to act on said service or experience, and then, the more success stories said service or experience can claim to be responsible for.

By charging more, they ensure that you will follow their advice!

If you think adding some financial motivation into the mix might work for you, then take a look at the concept of anti-charities.

Basically, the process involves making a goal, such as running a certain number of hours of miles in a month, and then surrendering some of your hard earned cash with the agreement that if you achieve your goal, it will be returned to you.

However, if you fail to achieve your goal, your surrendered sum is donated to a charity of your choice that you are less than enthusiastic about.

Imagine how motivated you would be if it meant preventing a donation to a ‘charity’ that you wouldn’t support on any other given day?

jogging on bridge

If All Else Fails, Be Kind

If a rigid approach is going to stress you out excessively and bring out the inner rebel-child, then look at your running goals as an exercise in curiosity and incremental improvements.

This will require some self-awareness and introspection, but this is something we can all benefit from in this fast-paced world.

Set your goals as you would otherwise, and reward yourself, either after each run or after each milestone achieved.

But, be forgiving and kind to yourself on the days that you don’t achieve.

Then, pay attention to how you feel after not having gone for that run.

Were you exhausted and genuinely in need of a day off?

If so, you probably feel pretty good about choosing to look after yourself. Days off are key when life gets intense.

But if you weren’t that tired, and the failure was purely one of motivation, do you feel guilty?

Annoyed with yourself?

Would you have felt better if you had actually just pushed through the run in the first place and would now be basking in feelings of satisfaction and achievement?

Eventually, remembering how you feel when you don’t stick to your running goals, will motivate you to stick to them, as you realize that you prefer the satisfaction and achievement over the guilt and annoyance.

Well, there you have it, psychology 101 on running motivation… not really.

But it’s a fantastic start!

Make it a habit, maybe invest in an anti-charity but at the end of the day, persist!