If you ask people why they run, they’ll often refer to the elusive runners high. And while the jury is still out on what an actual runners high is and if it even exists, the real reason people decide to run or do a workout is probably to do with dopamine. Most people think of dopamine as the reward hormone, but the truth is it’s far more complex than that. Dopamine spikes when we anticipate a reward and the spike of dopamine creates the motivation for us to do the work in order to get the reward. So, it’s a pretty big deal in terms of creating habits for running or fitness or change of any kind.
It’s not without it’s problems though. When you start out you have an expectation of feeling fitter or running faster or whatever it is and usually in the beginning you get big results, so it’s easy for you to meet those expectations and your dopamine levels stay intact. But progress is not linear and what happens the next month when your results weren’t as good as you were expecting? Your dopamine takes a nose dive and you now have less motivation.
So how do you get around it?
Make the process your desired outcome. And break it down into small goals. Goals like completing the session. Goals like doing a certain number of sessions in the week. Rather than focusing on annual goals or goals for the training cycle – start focusing on a few goals just for the daily session. It might be to finish in a certain pace, stick to a heart rate zone, practice core activation, complete the full warm up. And after you’ve finished each session reflect on the successes of it. This is why post-run selfies are a great training tool.
Make sure your long-term goals are achievable. Realistic isn’t a dirty word. In order for you to thrive, you need to be able to see progress towards your long term goals and if it’s too out of reach, then you won’t be getting that ongoing feedback that you are getting the results that you are working for. Make sure your short-term goals are things that work for your long-term goals and make sure they make a clear, achievable and realistic path.
Vary the program and introduce unpredictability. One of the things about dopamine is that it highlights how we are all innately built to be gamblers. Predictability is great, but it gets boring. If you sometimes get the reward and sometimes don’t, then your dopamine levels are going to be double that compared to always getting the expected outcome. So in training that means your coach not sharing training plans too far ahead into the future. It means creating new workouts that you haven’t done or a combination that you haven’t tried before. It means them occasionally springing something totally random on you.
Turns out motivation might not have been as fickle as we always thought!