This is an excerpt from Mental Training for Ultrarunning by Addie J. Bracy.
Although the why was the first step of the journey, the exploration doesn’t stop there. That was just the beginning, and now you get to put your why into motion with the how and the what. As you plan your training adventures, personal challenges, and race schedule, consider how they are an expression of your why. The what can be thought of as the desired outcome or product. Imagine the most successful representation of embodying your why and what the result would be. There are no wrong answers and everyone’s response will be different. For one person, the what might be to win a race, while for someone else it might be to inspire others to take on a difficult challenge. It can be subjective or objective. What matters most is that your what makes you feel more connected to your why.
The what is where goal setting should happen. While I believe that the why should always come first, setting goals provides direction to your effort and is a necessary process. It may be more about the journey, but there is still a destination and you need to know where you’re headed. Many athletes make the mistake of setting an arbitrary goal without having a reason to fully buy into it. There is a powerful difference between setting a goal because it would be “nice to have” and because it’s a reflection of a personal value or belief. We often set goals based on what the social reaction to achieving that goal might be. Whether it’s a kudos on Strava’s social online training platform, peer recognition, or a better UltraSignup ranking, try to think beyond just the extrinsic rewards. It’s okay to be motivated by external factors and use them as checkpoints to see whether you’re improving. However, use caution and don’t place too much stock in your interpretation of their meaning.
It’s also important to be honest with yourself by paying attention to how those types of things make you feel. If you feel empowered and motivated by monitoring where you stand on a leaderboard, keep doing it. But if you find yourself frequently comparing yourself to others or prioritizing arbitrary data over your own intuition of your body, it might be time to examine the external influences you’re allowing to enter your training environment.
Most athletes are motivated by a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. There’s nothing wrong with being driven by the thought of adding a sub-25-hour belt buckle to your collection, but intrinsic motivators tend to be more sustainable and controllable. Athletes who are intrinsically motivated feel more free and autonomous, factors that can greatly influence levels of passion (Cox 2007). Such athletes are driven by the desire for more knowledge and experiences rather than by physical reward or accolade.