text by Sara Gross

It all started a couple weeks ago during a late night wine-suffused discussion about Instagram, specifically, #shitthatannoysus.

My friends and I had observed a trend. Despite being a largely visual platform, there are an absurd number of inspirational quotes posted daily. From graphics with quotes in calligraphy to images of sunsets or landscapes with phrases superimposed, it’s a little #overthetop. Then there are the #motivationmonday posts of lightly-clad gym-bodies with quotes about going for your dreams. Perhaps the worst offenders are the mildly pornographic, come-get-me images with “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”, or similar written below.

And it made me wonder: What in the heck is going on here? Is anyone truly motivated by this?

Don’t get me wrong, I see that there is an art form in choosing a good picture and a phrase to go with it that will speak to people. I do find myself occasionally buoyed by this type of post. It’s not all bad, but it did get me thinking. What is true motivation? Where does it come from and how do we get it when we don’t have it? How do we create and control true motivation on a day to day basis?

I was in the middle of a swim set contemplating “the true meaning of motivation” (as you do), when the answer came to me. And it came to me because I felt dour and unmotivated and I desperately wanted to move out of that emotional space.

What I realized was this:

I feel unmotivated when I do not get to spend time, on a daily basis, working towards my goals. Life has thrown me so much crap lately, that I felt like I was… well… swimming in it.

But swimming, in this instance, was not the problem. What I was facing for the rest of the day, and the week, was the problem. Life was getting me down. I had in front of me a mountain of menial tasks that I did not want to but had to do, and when I was finished with those tasks, I had to pack up my stuff, fly across the continent and race Augusta 70.3 at a time when (due to injury, personal problems and a fairly major trauma in my life) I am barely fit enough to hang onto the back of the professional women’s field. What I would rather do is stay home, spend time on my other projects (women’s sport theory and history research and media coverage, preparing to represent TriEqual in Kona), and spend time with my daughter. As a result of multiple injuries, life changing events and new priorities, my new goals are moving in one direction and I was not facing that direction. Lethargy and disillusion were creeping in.

For ambitious people, the most valuable commodity we have is our time.

That’s what hit me as I was swimming along that #unmotivatedmonday morning. True motivation comes when we face our dreams and goals and are moving towards them. Motivational quotes only motivate the already motivated. When we are feeling good and moving forward in life, and Facebook hits us with a motivating message, we might smile and nod in agreement and feel good. But if I have the flu, am spending the day (or week) filling out my tax return, the house is a disaster, the dog needs walking and I have to pick up my daughter from school in 20 minutes, I might be tempted to unfriend someone who hits me with: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In reality, the “motivational quote culture”, if you will, is preaching to the already converted. For true motivation, we need to examine our lives, our priorities and the direction we are facing on a daily basis.

Here’s my advice for finding true motivation:

First, you have to know what your dreams and goals are. For me, this has changed significantly in the last year. My dream is to make a real difference for women and girls in sport and to do this by helping create and advocate for more media coverage for female athletes. My dream is to be part of a process that ends in true equality for female athletes on all levels. My goals align with this dream, and in the short term involve doing a good job at being a mom, launching livefeisty.com, continuing my work with TriEqual in the sport of triathlon. (Notice how racing triathlons hasn’t come up yet?)

Identifying one’s dreams and goals can be difficult, especially for people who have put aside their own ambitions for someone else (Moms – I’m looking at you!) and are not used to putting your own desires first. If you need convincing, think of it this way, do you want your own daughter or son to grow up to fulfill their potential? Your parents want that for you too.

Secondly, you need to make sure you are facing those dreams and goals head on and taking steps towards them every day. Once you have created that time, you will look forward to it and the laundry and the groceries and the menial tasks of day to day life will be more manageable. You will feel motivated.

Further, if laundry and life’s regular chores are your only problems, then you are doing pretty well. For those who are facing major issues, making the time to move forward every day is even more important. It will take longer to crawl out of a deeper pit, but you have to move in that direction. If you lost a loved one or you feel stuck in a dead-end job or you suffer from depression, the path to living a motivated life is the same.

When my childhood friend Alyson found out she had brain cancer, she was given three months to live. So she unpacked her life, made sure her priorities were in order and aligned everything she did with her immediate goals. For Alyson, these goals were simple: she spent time with loved ones and raised as much money as possible for cancer research. Every ounce of her energy went into these projects, she lasted three years instead of three months and died knowing she had lived well and done the best she could with the time she had.

That is true motivation.

Admitting to myself what my priorities are ultimately freed me to pursue my goals and made me feel motivated again.

And we should not have to be dying of cancer to get there. Alyson’s legacy is the way she effected the people around her with her motivation to make true and lasting change in the world.

As lap 100 or so of my swim came around, I realized how far down my list training for triathlon is. And, I realized that it’s not triathlon per se that is the challenge, but the all-consuming task of performance triathlon, of trying to win. In fact, a little training on a day-to-day level and doing a race to the best of my current fitness is… actually… fun.

So, back to the scene at the pool on #unmotivatedmonday morning. Admitting to myself what my priorities are ultimately freed me to pursue my goals and made me feel motivated again. I made a commitment to Bahrain Endurance 13 to represent them by racing triathlons this year. And I want to represent them because I believe that sport has the power to make change in the Middle East. I think triathlon can be a cog (however small) in the change machine and I want to be part of that.

And so I flew across the continent to Augusta, Georgia and for, maybe the first time ever, I participated in a triathlon. And it was Awesome. And while I was there, I used the extra down time to start writing an article about a Bahraini woman who escaped the war in Syria, left her depressed fundamentalist Muslim husband in a culture that is hostile towards divorced women, and found inner strength through triathlon. (I mean wow right?) I recorded an episode of the Five Ring Circus podcast with Kelly O’Mara, I aligned some of my day-to-day activities with my dreams and goals and I feel motivated.

So Instagram and social media can keep preaching the to already-converted through pithy phrases mounted on eye-catching imagery, but I suggest, if true, lasting motivation is what you are after that you align your life with your dreams.

You may just wake up one day and find yourself posting a selfie with the hashtag #ilovemylife

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