Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Challenges and Multiple Motivations

Note: This post will eventually be about writing, I promise.

I’ve officially recovered from the physical toll of last week, which I’m calling the I-Can’t-Say-No-to-Challenges-so-Sometimes-I-Become-an-Exercise-Masochist Week. 

I decided to take on Strava’s Rapha Rising bicycling challenge, which involved climbing the same amount of elevation as the Tour de France riders do during the “Circle of Death” stages (because that nickname sounds enticing): a total of 6881 meters or 22,575 feet in 8 days. That’s kind of insane on its own, and then I also attended my normal fitness classes and ran the Dirty Dash obstacle race during the same time period because I didn't wanted to say No to them either… basically I exercised like a madwoman for 8 days. By some miracle I managed to accomplish everything I set out to do, and I think it’s largely because I had so many different motivations all pushing me towards the same goal:
  • I wanted to feel a personal sense of accomplishment.
  • I wanted the token prize that Strava gave to every finisher, as well as the chance to win a sweet Trek road bike.
  • I officially signed up for the challenge, which in my mind always means I MUST finish it. (This can be a dangerous attitude, I know.)
  • I told other friends about the challenge and some of them even rode sections with me, so I didn’t want to let them down.
  • My husband took on the challenge as well, so we really wanted both of us to finish. (Check!)
  • I wanted to represent for my gender (only 100 women finished the challenge compared to over 1000 men).
  • I wanted to become more fit, thin, and healthy while still eating massive amounts of ice cream and chocolate.
  • I wanted a reason to take on new hills, discover different cycling routes, and see interesting sights. (I could have done without the deer blocking the bike lane or the mouthy ten-year-old heckling me up a hill, though.)
  • I enjoy cycling and most exercise, so I knew the week would be very difficult but not disagreeable.
  • I am ridiculously stubborn and maybe a little insane.
Here’s the thing: None of those motivations would have been enough on its own. I wouldn’t have put my body through such a crazy week just for a prize drawing, or just because I’d told someone I was going to do it, or just because I wanted to feel accomplished, or just because I enjoy bicycling.  

It’s the same with writing. Whenever I reach a writing goal, a number of motivations help me accomplish it: 
  • I want to feel a personal sense of accomplishment
  • I want to meet my NaNoWriMo or Write1 Sub1 or whatever goals to see my name on the list of finishers (and again, since I officially signed up for the challenge, in my mind I MUST finish it).
  • I need to send my writing group something new and polished every other week
  • I don’t want to disappoint the friends who believe in me and ask about my writing
  • I want to make money from my stories to supplement my barely-part-time job and to feel like I’m gradually moving towards making writing a career
  • I want to show my husband that his financial and emotional support isn’t being squandered or unappreciated
  • I want to tell a true story, connect with readers, work towards my dream future, and other corny but deeply real things
  • I really enjoy writing, so I know I won’t regret spending the time on a story regardless of the outcome
And, of course…
  • I am ridiculously stubborn and maybe a little insane
Of these reasons for writing, enjoyment is undoubtedly the most important. (I mean, if you dislike writing and are just in the game for the money, good luck.) But if I only wrote when it was enjoyable and I felt inspired, I wouldn’t get very much done. Those other incentives push me forward at a regular pace. They all contribute, even the ones that might seem silly. My motivation isn’t always strong, but it is always there, because I’m never relying on just one reason to write.

There’s a flipside to challenges and motivations, of course – in both writing and exercise, it’s important not to get burnt out, and it’s okay to abandon a challenge if it’s detrimental to your health, sanity, or other priorities. (Someday I might even follow this advice.) It’s also important to know which of your motivations are most important. I never want to submit a story that isn’t ready just to meet a quota, for example. But I've found that overall, challenges and multiple motivations really work for me, as long as I do my best to remain balanced. 

I'd love to hear your motivation list, and whether you're also obsessed with challenges or just find them insanely stressful (or both).

But now, if you’ll excuse me, my husband just told me that Strava has a Run-50K-in-3-days challenge that I need to sign up for right away convince myself is a bad idea since I barely even like running...


  1. Well, I'm exhausted now just reading the first part of the post. :) But congratulations! Well done! (Hey, check out Chris Cleave's GOLD - women bike racers, Olympics, training - excellent!)

    I have multiple motivators, too, and I'm with you on when I sign up for it, I do it. (Usually.) So many NaNos I wanted to give up but I wouldn't let myself. And this Off The Shelf Challenge? My husband says he has a feeling I'll be spending the last week of 2012 in a reading frenzy. :)

    1. I was already excited for GOLD (for all the reasons you mentioned) so I'm glad that you recommend it too! It would of course be fitting for me to be reading it now during the Olympics, but I do have that OTS list to tackle first... Speaking of which, my husband is quite sure I'll be reading like a madwoman at the end of the year as well!

  2. I think my competitive spirit helps me push through sometimes when my passion is harder to access, so I can totally relate.

    Except for the bike race part. That just sounds crazy. *lazy me*

    1. It definitely seems like you have the right kind of competitive crazy, especially after reading your awesome Batman dancing post. (And now I'm imagining Christian Bale en pointe... :-P)

  3. Wow! Well done on all your challenges, both writing and fitness!

    I definitely agree that it's important not to overdo things and get burnt out, and abandoning a challenge (or putting it aside for a little while) is okay if continuing the challenge will be damaging. I've had to do that with W1S1 a few times in the last couple years--put it aside for a month or two, then come back to it when i'm feeling refreshed.

    1. That sounds like an excellent mentality. Good luck with W1S1 and thanks for stopping by!

  4. Congrats on successfully completing all your fitness challenges. That's awesome! I'm new to fitness challenges but am working on week three of P90x (90 day fitness program) and yeah... I feel it. Challenge fever. I had already known it was an issue with writing but now that it's affected another part of my life things could get a little crazy.

    But at least they'll be productive :)

    I liked what you had to say about multiple sources of motivation and also about not getting burnt out. I definitely require the former, just like you, and I'm pretty worried about the latter. Hopefully just the fact I'm aware and thinking about the potential for burnout will help me avoid it. Hopefully.


    ~ Rhonda Parrish

    1. I haven't tried P90x yet, but I'm somewhat familiar and it definitely seems INTENSE. Thanks for commenting and best of luck with your challenges!

  5. Way to go on meeting & beating your July W1S1 goals -- and keeping yourself in shape! I've noticed that with more writing has come less biking and surfing, and my fitness level has paid the price this year.