Waiting for Your Moment of Inspiration? Don’t.
I’ve had a switch flipped once before, but I’m not waiting for that to happen again.
We’ve all had that experience when we witness something so motivational, so empowering, that it inspires us to act. You watch Rocky, then hit the gym for an intense workout session.
You see someone commit a touching act of kindness, so you pay it forward. You read a self-help book and immediately start bettering yourself that day. You watch a documentary about a successful business tycoon and set new goals for your career trajectory.
These moments of inspiration are wonderful. But they’re moments — and moments are short-lived. So perhaps we wait for something that will change our behavior more permanently…for that so-called switch to be flipped and forever change our mindset.
Former Navy SEAL, ultra-runner, and overall badass David Goggins had a moment that did just that for him. He was at home, feeling bad about himself when a TV show about Navy SEALS came on.
He was overweight and not in a good place in his life, after facing much adversity. This moment inspired him to change his life. His resulting transformation (including being named “The Fittest (Real) Man in America” by Outside Magazine) has been nothing short of astounding.
While I didn’t see quite as drastic of a before-and-after, I, too, have once experienced a moment where a switch was flipped.
As a big fish in a small pond in high school, I had become pretty good at cross country and track & field — setting school records and being one of the top runners in the conference.
Everyone in my city knew me as ‘that girl who runs.’ They would comment on my Facebook page that they had seen me out running somewhere miles away, or would ask me when I was trying out for the Olympics (as if that was something I could just do).
But I faced a different reality when I arrived at my small, Division II university. I was a walk-on athlete who barely made the team. Always at the back of the pack on training runs, I tried to keep up just enough so that I wouldn’t get lost on the trails.
The summer after my freshman year, I was sitting alone in my tiny bedroom back home. I looked at my walls, which were plastered with posters of professional runners who had autographed their photos. Motivational quotes were printed out in different colors and taped up everywhere. There was barely an inch of paint to be seen.
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” — Steve Prefontaine
“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” — Juma Ikangaa
I read the dozens of quotes like these surrounding me and realized I was living a lie. I actually felt like a joke. Here I was, obsessed with my sport and living in a literal cube of extreme inspiration…yet I was one of the worst runners on my team.
It wasn’t just that I lacked natural talent, but that I wasn’t leading the life I claimed to live. I was nowhere close to giving it my best effort. That first year of college, I was barely matching my high school times — I had been going to bed late at night, not eating enough nutritious food, and wasn’t pushing myself. I had settled as being ‘good enough’ to make the team.
This was my ‘flip the switch’ moment. I suddenly realized there was a huge gap between the identity I portrayed and desired versus who I actually was. I wasn’t walking (or running) the walk. So, I decided right then and there that if I was going to be known as ‘that girl who runs’ then I better put my money where my mouth is.
I was going to do whatever it took to be a damn good runner, not just latching on to the back of the pack and reaping the benefits of the team. I wanted to be a contributor, a leader, and see how far I could go. My potential was completely untapped.
I busted my ass that summer, following our coach’s training manual to a T. When we returned to campus and submitted our mileage reports, I was proud of what I had done. I had transformed.
This was now my lifestyle. I started getting better sleep, going to doctors proactively to address health concerns, taking daily vitamin supplements, spending much more time in the athletic trainer's office, and taking ice baths after practice.
That season, I was one of our team’s top runners, scoring at the conference championship and making it into the ‘top 7’ squad to compete at regionals and nationals. And throughout those next three years of college, I consistently improved, continually shaving seconds off of my best times.
But then I graduated, entered the real-world, and flash-forward more than a decade later…I no longer have that same drive and adrenaline rush.
And I haven’t experienced another ‘flip the switch’ moment since that one day when I was sitting alone in my bedroom as a 19-year-old. I’ve wondered how I can get that feeling again — to give me that drive to become a morning person, to get back into better shape, to reach my personal and professional goals.
This is when I realized two things:
- Even if one moment fuels inspiration, the work hasn’t even started. Long-term results require day in and day out self-discipline. While my goals certainly were not as extreme as Goggins’, one thing we had in common is it wasn’t just one moment that drove our results. Sure, there was something that fueled the fire initially, but progress came from ongoing, hard work when no one was watching. We had to bottle that inspiration and take it with us every single day. There were many days when I was tired and didn’t want to run, but I did because I had made a commitment to myself.
- These extreme moments of inspiration are far and few in between. We don’t know when they’ll come our way — if they ever do — so we can’t wait around for them. As author Mark Manson says, just do something. Reminiscent of the famous Nike slogan, it’s true. He claims that doing something — anything, no matter how small — breeds inspiration, which then drives motivation. Act first, he says, and you'll find yourself in this healthy cycle. In other words, create your own motivation; don’t wait for it.
While I wish we all had those ‘flip the switch’ moments whenever we wanted a little extra push, that’s just not the way life works. So we need to be realistic with ourselves. Here’s how I am trying to do that:
- Surrounding myself with as many small-dose inspiration moments as I can (aka those Rocky movie moments). While I know they’re not a replacement for having self-discipline, I’ll continue to take all the help I can get. I recently read Alexi Pappas’ book, Bravey, and this is exactly the type of content I should be consuming regularly to help myself stay on track. I also hung up my Tracksmith “No Days Off” calendar as a general mantra and reminder to be consistent throughout the year — that small actions taken each day accumulate into something much bigger.
- Taking some form of action. To follow Manson’s advice, just do something. Even if I’m feeling uninspired, I’m making a conscious effort to stop the dilly-dallying and start the action. Put sneakers on and head out the door, even if it’s just for a couple, slow miles. Or, I’ll open my laptop and start writing a blog post (like this one), even if I don’t know what I want to say just yet.
Ultimately, this all comes down to looking within ourselves to identify gaps in our values. Where is that discrepancy between who we want to be and who we are? And, whatever that value is, how bad do we want to emulate it? As a 19-year-old, I uncovered the gap (between excellence and adequacy) and wanted to close it enough that I took the actions necessary to do just that.
While there may be many things we want to accomplish in life, we should hone in on the area or areas that matter most. We must first identify what it is we want to achieve excellence in. Then, make it impossible to ignore and get after it.
Falling off the wagon doesn’t mean it’s time to stop. It happens. It just means starting back up again and not losing what you’ve gained thus far.
To end here, I’ll take inspiration from another one of those quotes once printed out and taped up on my high school bedroom wall:
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” — Confucious
B2B technology PR professional. Boston-area native. Pug mom. Competitive runner turned recreational jogger.