Back in 1988 I was studying English Language. Part of the syllabus of the newly formed GCSE’s included an option for ‘Oral’ English. This was essentially a presentation to the rest of class on a topic of your choice. Some of the topics were eclectic and on occasion even fictional. My friend Terry Holdcroft chose to tell a tale of demise involving a pigeon and a steam roller (although this, like his story, may not be the complete truth. Memory is fickle, especially after all these years).
I chose to talk about Daley Thompson. At the time I was a budding field eventist in athletics and had a reasonable aptitude for them. Well, shot and discus at least. I was too terrified of planting the javelin in the back of my head to do anything really tasty with that. The mastery of two events – essentially following the same technique – was tough. I could barely imagine how decathletes found the time and inclination for ten events.
Thompson was my inspiration. I adored him. As I took my place in front of the class, I did so with pride. Although many in the class described their allotted time as hellish and very long. Mine was quite the opposite. I loved being in the limelight talking about a man I idolised.
I still love Daley Thompson. I’m still greedy for information on him. Often mining social media and my friend Google to see what he’s up to these days. When I do, something strange happens. Those feelings I used to get competing in an event I was actually good at come back to me. I get the urge to pick up a shot and go back to the field. The urge is strong enough for me to check out the results for my age group these days – I reckon I stand a really good chance of winning stuff – but not enough to actually get me out of the chair and do anything about it. Then the dream fades for another day and I go back to living my life of mediocrity.
When we think about inspiration we often think about people. We idolise people we would like to be, use them as a template in the hope it will prize us off the couch. To be fair, it’s a reasonable assumption. Inspiration is defined as ‘someone or something that provides an idea’.
I’ve been curious about inspiration (the initial idea) and motivation (enthusiasm to put the idea into action) for some time. Throughout my time in the running shop, we talked many times about the ‘magic’ ingredient. I’ve often wondered why, when we desperately want something to happen, that desire on its own is not strong enough.
What do we need in order to turn desire into results? In relation to losing weight, or training more or getting faster or running longer or learning that new skill or whatever it happened to be. I figured that if I could just find the secret and write a book about it I’d be famous. Well it turns out that someone did and it wasn’t the answer any of us were expecting.
The problem was, we were expecting inspiration to become something more than a catalyst. For it to morph into motivation and then action. In the way that I would see Daley Thompson and then hope I would leap off the couch to throw a competition winning throw. It was enough to inspire me to check the results but did not contain enough energy to overthrow the inertia that consumed me. We use the same logic when we enter a race in the hope it will spur us into action. We would witness it even on the beginners run groups where we would have a 5% drop off on the night of the course which magnified 10 fold by the time we got to six weeks in. Anthony Moore refers to exactly this phenomenon in his excellent article, ‘If you’re relying on inspiration, you’re doing it wrong’ published on Medium.
The author referred to above who opened my eyes to the reality of inspiration is James Clear and his book, I was convinced would make me a millionaire is called ‘Atomic Habits‘. Clear argues that passive inspiration is all well and good for creating a spark but in order for it to yield the results you want, that initial inspiration needs to be active not passive. In other words, Nike had it absolutely spot on… Just do it!
It seems obvious now that action – as the opposite of inaction – would be the solution. Waiting for inspiration to hit me in the face would just result in more waiting. The right time almost never comes along on it’s own and there will always be barriers to achieving the goals I want to achieve.
In ‘Atomic Habits’, Clear explains that the secret of over riding inertia and building motivation is to take action in small steps while at the same time removing barriers to change and growth.
It’s important to say here that no one expects you to be perfect or nail it at the first attempt. You just have to keep showing up. No one is expecting it to be easy but consistency is key.
As Mark Manson says, ‘Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for‘.