Guest post by Kristy Swanson
And so last weekend, at the suggestion of my guy, I signed up to do a century ride, a century being 100 miles long.
Now, I’ve done these before, so I know that it IS possible for me to finish one of these things—but it had been awhile. Like over a year. And with the Seattle weather this year and the fact that it has been cold, damp, and generally unappealing in terms of biking, I am not exactly in peak summer riding shape quite yet.
So while I was a bit worried about the state of my quads and whether or not my tush could stand being in the saddle for so long, I agreed to take on the challenge.
The morning of the ride, I was feeling really motivated. The sun was shining, the forecast was for warm temperatures, we were going to be traveling through some beautiful Eastern Washington scenery, and I had a bunch of friends also riding. I was looking forward to a good time, and looking forward to adding a feather to my biking cap with the completion of another century ride.
Ahh, motivation. It’s great stuff when you can find it, because it gets you started. It’s the magnet that pulls you forward, gets the ball (or in my case, the wheels) rolling, and it’s the adrenaline and energy that launches you into that interesting task or starting off on a fresh journey.
As we rolled along over the first twenty five miles, I could have sworn I had a tail wind (well, maybe I did.) I was energized, excited, and really happy to be pedaling along. Hills were just interesting changes in terrain, and the going, while not necessarily easy, was enjoyable. Motivation was on my side, and I felt really good.
The funny thing about motivation is that it tends to disappear when you’re in the middle of the hard stuff. All that fire and gumption and juju that got you moving seems to vaporize into thin air when you settle in and realize that you’re in for some nose-to-the-grindstone moments.
For me, this happened about mile 50. We had just spent about twelve miles going gradually, then more steeply uphill, and my legs were feeling spent. And usually, about every 25 miles on these rides, there is a rest stop where you can get food and water, and get refreshed before continuing on the ride. So I was expecting to hit a rest stop any minute.
Except it didn’t come. We kept pedaling, and looking, and still no rest stop. By mile 60, we were wondering if we had somehow missed it. We caught up with other cyclists who were wondering the same thing. And meanwhile, my motivation had disappeared, along with the strength in my legs. I was really feeling drained, and didn’t have motivation pulling me forward any longer.
At last, we saw the signs, and breathed a big sigh of relief. We pulled in, and I quickly shoved down as much food and water as I could stomach, trying to get some gas back into my tank. A quick stretch, a bio break, and it was time to get back on the bike and power out the last 40 miles.
Unfortunately, while the food helped refuel my body, I was hoping for something that would refill my motivation, and I was coming up empty. Oh sure, there was the carrot at the end of the ride of earning that sense of accomplishment, of the feather in my cap, or even more simply there was the reward of a cold beer and a cheeseburger at the finish line waiting for me.
But somehow, it just didn’t sparkle and shine the way it did when I was starting out that morning, and I had to find something to keep me going, because my initial motivation seemed to be MIA.
And this is where I realized: there is a distinct difference between motivation and perseverance. We think that the magic ingredient of success is feeling motivated, and so when it is in short supply, we fizzle. And then we blame our inaction towards the goals we set out for ourselves on an absence of motivation—when what is really required in those moments is something else entirely: we need sheer dogged perseverance.
I know that we all love feeling motivated, because it’s like running on turbocharge: you get more of the right things done, you feel energized, excited, engaged in the flow—and that’s juicy, good stuff. And I’m right there with you—on those days when I feel motivated, it seems as if I can do no wrong, and all is right in the world.
The problem is, I don’t know about you, but in my world motivation can play hard to get. It flirts with me, shows up on occasion, even puts out once in awhile…but no promises, no commitments. No steady relationship.
Perseverance, on the other hand, is more of an intellectual throwdown. Dictionary.com defines perseverance as “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”
In other words, perseverance is doing the work you’ve set out for yourself, whether or not it’s easy, fun, or fueled by motivation. It’s using your brain to override other resistance, your emotions, circumstantial pushback, or in the case of my bike ride, my spent quadriceps. (Tweet this tidbit!)
Those last 40 miles, I had to find some perseverance. I needed to conjure up some tenacity to keep moving forward, even if my speed was slow. I had to mentally override the part of me that really wanted to just stop and let the sag wagon pick me up. And I had to just decide to do what I said I would do, which was to finish the ride. Not kill it, not win anything—just finish it.
And I’ll tell ya…the last chunk of the ride required digging deep. Because hills kept appearing out of nowhere, just as I thought I was done with them. And when the odometer clicked past 100, I was expecting to see the finish—and turns out, it was still five miles away. Dig even deeper…
But something cool was happening as I was holding on by my fingernails: I started realizing that I could stick with it. That I could feel uncomfortable, and not want to keep going, and be physically running on fumes—and I could still complete the ride. I could persevere, and I could accomplish what I set out to do even when my motivation was nowhere to be found.
And this shift in how I see myself feels powerful to me, because there are moments every day when what is asked of me is perseverance, in spite of how I feel about it. I know I have the ability to do something hard, even when I don’t feel like doing it.
And suddenly, we made a turn, and we were back to where we had started. The end was literally in sight, and I could smell the cheeseburgers calling to me. We rolled in with big smiles and high fives all around, and guess who showed up at the finish line?
Kristy Swanson is the Chief Catalyst and Velvet Hammer at Kristy Swanson Coaching. As a life and leadership coach, she is an ardent advocate for helping gutsy women do cool things. For more info, you can find her at kristyswan.com.
Power Chicks Chime In: Have you experienced a time where you didn't think you would make your end goal? What kept you going?
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