The Truth About What Motivates You

Plus 3 Motivation Tips For Fitness

What Motivates Marathon Runners

Motivation is everything. Without it, you wouldn’t be where you are today – taking steps to enhance your body, mind, finances, relationships, etc. Or maybe you’re like me and some of these areas in your life have become stagnate. Maybe you’re looking for ways to improve but can’t seem to muster the energy, focus, and perseverance. Have you stopped to examine what actually motivates you?

For our purposes here, let’s put motivation in the context of exercise and fitness. You’ve likely experienced times when you’ve been unable to stick to an exercise routine or diet, right? We tend to blame it on any number of things: lack of time, too expensive, too hard, not fun…

On the flip side of the coin, you’ve also been a part of an exercise program or sport that you completely rocked. You’re teaching that yoga class now. You’re on your fifth half-marathon. You’ve been playing Sunday morning hoops for fifteen years straight. You walk 3 times per week, rain or shine.

What makes the difference? What does it take to motivate you?

In his book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us1, Daniel H. Pink describes what he calls Motivation 3.0 – the operating system required in today’s world to get us to do what we do.

What follows are my takeaway points from the book…

Our Current State of Motivation

You and I were born with an instinctual level of motivation – the motivation to survive. If a bear starts chasing you, you will run away. If you are hungry, you have eat. This is Motivation 1.0.

Motivation 2.0 is based more on an extrinsic reward system – “If you do this, then you’ll get that.”

Work, as most of us have come to know it, operates on this very system and, to a certain extent, it works. You do your job and you get paid for it – fair enough.

Rewards, though, can take an otherwise interesting task and make it feel dull.

Here in the U.S., we’ve been groomed to think this way. I’m unwilling to do a lot of things because I first weigh the benefit in terms of tangible rewards. If the reward isn’t great enough, or if the task is too difficult, I won’t do it.

This is why, I think, so many people can’t get motivated to exercise. Exercise is hard work. To earn rewards in the form of results takes a lot of effort over a long period of time. The question then becomes: is it worth it?

Then there are those people who love to exercise. I mean they LOVE exercise. They can’t get enough of it.

How do they stay so motivated?

What’s the difference?

Motivation 3.0

Real, lasting motivation doesn’t come from an external source. It doesn’t come from someone shouting at you. It doesn’t come from a carrot on a stick being dangled in front of you.

The difference comes from Intrinsic Motivation – Motivation 3.0.

Intrinsic motivation is born from the satisfaction an activity gives you. The reason you do something is for the freedom, the challenge, and the purpose of it.

Any rewards that might come along the way are great, but they don’t determine your level of engagement. No, your effort level comes from the three components of Motivation 3.0: autonomy, mastery and purpose.


Let’s face it: you don’t want to be controlled. When someone tells you what to do, you’re limited to doing merely what they ask and nothing more. Control leads to compliance.

You would rather be self-directed. You perform at your best when you are in control of the task, your time, your technique, and your team – when you call the shots.

Autonomy leads to engagement.


Every time the Summer Olympics rolls around, I’m always fascinated with Michael Phelps. Here’s a guy who has done it all. He’s won more medals than anyone else. He’s got nothing left to prove. What is it that’s motivated him to keep going?

If you’ve had a chance to watch some of the features about Phelps’ training routines, you’ve seen that he adopts new techniques and pushes his body harder and harder every year. When the rest of the world continues to get faster times, Phelps continues to push himself to improve. It’s his desire to get better and better at swimming that has kept him at the top.

This is mastery.

Mastery isn’t easy – there’s often pain involved. But if you have the grit to push through the pain, whether physical or mental, you will improve. This is why it’s so important to choose tasks that are challenging for you – not too challenging, but just a step or two beyond your current level.

Flow is what happens when you find yourself in the middle of such a task and you become so focused, so engaged, and so present, that you forget about everything else. You’ve been there before – that time you painted the baby’s nursery without breaking for lunch. That time you sat down to make that presentation you were so passionate about giving. Or that time you went for a three mile run and ended up running six. Flow is ultimately where you want to be to achieve your best and to move the needle forward.

If people are conscious of what puts them in flow, they’ll have a clearer idea of what they should devote their time and dedication to master. And those moments of flow in the course of pursuing excellence can help people through the rough parts. But in the end, mastery often involves working and working and showing little improvement, perhaps with a few moments of flow pulling you along, then making a little progress, and then working and working on that new, slightly higher plateau again. It’s grueling, to be sure. But that’s not the problem; that’s the solution.” – Daniel H. Pink


The third component of Motivation 3.0 is purpose. Nothing is more inspiring and motivating than knowing that the effects of what you’re doing extend far beyond yourself.

Some of the most motivated people I’ve ever seen are volunteers. People building houses for the poor through Habitat For Humanity. People flying to third world countries after a major catastrophe to offer whatever help is needed. People running a marathon to raise money for kids in the Congo to have access to clean water.

As a Physical Therapist, I get the privilege of seeing direct results of my work and how it helps people. Part of what motivates me to devote my whole self to my job is knowing my level of engagement can have a dramatic impact on my patient’s lives.

If you want to get motivated, work towards a purpose.

Tips to get motivated

Although the principles of Motivation 3.0 apply to just about anything, let’s continue to think in terms of exercise. A really great addition to the book Drive was a subsection devoted to developing a fitness plan. Here are a few tips to get and stay motivated when designing an exercise program…

  1. Set specific goals: make sure they are geared toward your level of fitness and aimed at what you want to accomplish. Don’t make the goals about extrinsic rewards such as looking good or losing weight. Rather, set intrinsic goals: to get in shape in order to feel good or to stay healthy for your family.
  2. Participate in activities you enjoy: if you don’t like running, don’t run. Perhaps the best predictor of success in any exercise endeavor is to choose activities that you enjoy doing. In particular, choose activities that will put you in flow.
  3. Strive toward mastery: to stay motivated over the long haul, working to get better at something is an evergreen source of energy. So choose an activity or sport that you can get better at over time. As you see improvements, beware the plateau. Gradually increase the difficulty to continue to provide a challenge for yourself to work toward.

To get and stay motivated, external rewards aren’t going to cut it for long. You must have a say in what you do – autonomy. You must work on challenging tasks that you can gradually get better at – mastery. And you must find a greater cause to work for – purpose. These 3 components of Motivation 3.0 are required as renewable fuel to motivate you in any endeavor you undertake.

Question: So what’s your next challenge? How will you get motivated? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

  1. Pink, Daneil H. Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. 2009. Penguins Books Ltd, Registered Office: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England. ↩︎
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