by B. Imei Hsu, BSN-RN, MAC-LMHC, Artist
Having collaborated closely with clients seeking to work through challenges involving significant weight loss and lifestyle change, decreasing the frequency and intensity of dysfunctional and harmful behaviors of self-harm, and building new pathways of managing the disarming symptoms of depression and anxiety, finding motivation for change and growth is a hot topic. People pay top dollar to attend workshops on the subject; they place themselves in challenging situations to test their resolve; they gather together in self-help and interest groups to find support. You might be looking to tap your own motivation for a big project or change, such as starting your own business, or making a significant lifestyle change. What does it take to find motivation for your life’s biggest challenges, especially if things aren’t going your way, or the road to success is long?
While on a flight to Africa, I saw a film about extreme running. Racers trained for distances that started in desserts and finished on a mountain; they traversed concrete, dirt, old river beds, and desolate land while losing sleep, toenails, calories, and hope. When I saw this film, I thought these people were crazy. Maybe they are. But it intrigued me. Why in the world would they do this to themselves? It seems like a Mission Impossible.
If we write off these extreme runner’s efforts to bragging rights for the achievement of having finished such a race, we have missed the point. Achievement is only one part of the reward, and for these runners, it only comes at the end of those three days. Achievement does not completely explain why these runners would spend 365 days a year training for hours while holding down full-time jobs, nor does it explain how their partners, family members, and closest friends come to understand why they would undertake such an endeavor. Those who have seen it before understand this is much more than bragging rights.
Witnessing a 170.3 mile Ironman in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec gave me some insights how people find motivation in their Mission Impossible. When some extreme athletes experience a post-race depression, it makes you wonder about the nature of the race. In a way, everything a person wanted to accomplish by being a triathlete has already happened before the race begins, with the exception of the exact stats of a specific race. The remnants post-race are the stuff of dreams and nightmares, reliving the moments already past, and taking a rest from the intense training of the previous months. They know that after the race is done, the adrenaline wears off, and there is often an empty silence that follows. That’s not the reward. If it was, who would want to do it? It is the process to the start line that holds the reward: the privilege to complete the adventure. You can’t know who you are until you have tried the impossible; you cannot transform into the butterfly until you have spun your cocoon and slept in it for many days and nights. The process itself — that long road — is the transformative conduit that leads to the opportunity for success. You can’t enter the race if you don’t buy the ticket, and to buy the ticket is to commit oneself.
It wasn’t a Mission Impossible after all. This was only the dreamlike saying that we once told ourselves. If you pay attention, everyone around you along the journey knew before you did that you could do what you set your mind to. They watched you prepare, practice, train, fail, get up, have a bad day, have a good day, wonder, worry, relax, and pray. It is up to the mind to find the message within: I am. I can. I am good as I am. I don’t need to be anyone but me. There is no “if only”s. It is what it is. For the many who start the race at 7 am and fail to complete it by midnight (the cut off time), there is the internal drive to complete it, even without bragging rights of being listed as an official finisher. They have simply come to complete what they set out to do. They trained and trained and trained, and they will not be stopped unless their body completely quits.
I stayed up just past midnight to watch the final hour of the race. After 2.5 miles of swimming and 116 miles of bicycling filled with heart-breaking hills, the 26.2 miles of running crush the spirits of many runners. Some had tears in their eyes as they passed the half-marathon mark, and spectators yelled words of encouragement, rang bells, tooted horns, and screamed for them to keep going. And these spectators weren’t even family members of the racers! They were strangers who had become a temporary family, a village of supporters who understand that every racer deserves to be cheered.
With the London Olympics, we expect to witness top athletes who have dedicated their lives and the best of their hours to become elite performers. But with an IronMan, we are witnessing only 50-100 top professionals, and over 2000 amateurs categorized only by gender and age group. They come in every size, shape, level of fitness, and career background. There are physical therapists, homemakers, corporate workers, and even retirees. I felt caught up in this impressive drama of story as each racer sought to simply complete the race. Near midnight, some of these racers had to be coaxed across the finish line with the voices of cheering spectators and a volunteer runner as the host on the microphone charged him or her, “Come on home!” and “You are an Ironman!” My own throat caught with emotion as they stumbled, limped, cried, and threw their arms open while crossing the finish line. Not too few had to be assisted to the finisher’s tent afterwards.
What does this have to do with counseling and coaching? Unlike the Olympics, which is filled with extraordinary athletes doing extraordinary things, an Ironman is filled with average people doing an extraordinary thing. There is something about completing it that makes us believe we can do anything, just as these racers have just proven to us. They are Supermen and Superwomen. And we become the SuperWitnesses, catapulted to a higher level of motivation than we experienced before. It is this kind of motivation that we are seeking in order to accomplish the extraordinary tasks that we have not previously undertaken. Ultimately, we find motivation in two places: within ourselves, as borrowed from our coaches and closest supporters, and then the witnesses of our journey, who cheer us on.
As I continue working on the writing of my first book, I noticed that not everyone is as supportive as I would have thought they would be. A friend mentioned that it should not be surprising. She has encouraged me to surround myself with those who are supportive, who believe I can do it, and to save my energy for the task ahead instead of grieving over those who I expected to be more supportive. If you are in need of motivation for whatever task you wish to complete, you may also need to create a supportive harbor to help you incubate and protect your endeavor.
What is it that you wish to accomplish? Do you have your coaching plan in place? Have you surrounded yourself with supportive friends? Will you create a community that will cheer you on when you need it most? Share with us how you are making your dreams come true, and how you find motivation to keep on “keeping on”.
P.S. Ready to take the plunge? We (Allison and Imei) have openings in September 2012 that will rock your socks in terms of making a change, creating a new lifestyle, or completing an important task (coaching provided by Imei only). Come and get it by calling or emailing to set up an appointment.