When you know your motivation, pace doesn't matter; forward is forward.
I don't know how about you, but I am not great at this whole 'it's all about the journey, not the outcome' thing. Don't get me wrong - I know that anything worthwhile takes time to build, whether it's a complex skill, lasting relationship, sustainable business, or even endurance in any given sport. To paraphrase:
The last thing that grows on a tree, is the fruit.
I also know that there's probably little point in pursuing a goal if one absolutely detests the process of achieving it. Let's be real though - often the process of 'getting there' isn't pleasant. Studying for an exam, working after hours to build a business, or marathon training in and of themselves rarely feel good, in that very moment.
What makes these (and many other) challenging pursuits rewarding, is the motivation and purpose behind them.
I know it all in theory, and yet I tend to get really frustrated when I don't see the fruit of my hard work right away. That frustration then leads to self-criticism and hatred of the process itself. And it's so, so hard to motivate oneself to go forward when all you feel is disdain for oneself and the situation.
So what do you do when that happens?
Let me give you two very recent examples from my own life that perhaps you'll be able to relate to.
Firstly, yoga... Heavens know how long it's taken me to actually set up this website, find the studio to run regular classes in, and do the bare minimum to advertise them. 4 months after completing my Yoga Teacher Training, I am far from where I hoped to be at this stage, especially in comparison to some of my friends from the course, who teach multiple classes per week or even have their own studios. Not to mention the fact that I am as unable to perform a handstand as I'd always been.
Secondly, running... I am currently training for a marathon and while I haven't been following a training plan as thoroughly as I probably should've, I am so much more prepared to run long distances than ever before. Thus, I approached the Big Half-Marathon two weeks ago with quite an ambitious goal in mind, aiming to complete it in 1 hr 45 mins. Funnily enough, last time I ran a half-marathon (1.5 years ago), I rocked up after a boozy holiday, having done barely any training, and with no expectations, and yet I managed to complete the race in 1 hr 52 mins! This time, I showed up, having ran consistently and eaten healthily for weeks, and yet I barely managed to stay below the 2hr mark, completing the race in 1 hr 56 mins. I rationally know that this slight difference in times is insubstantial, but it made a massive difference to me... and so I found myself dreading my daily runs and really struggling to motivate myself to even put my running shoes on. All I could think of, was myself NOT hitting my target time during the marathon (my first marathon ever!) and having to face the humiliation for the rest of my life. Ridiculous, isn't it?
Now, I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by very wise and caring friends who somehow always manage to catch me before I get completely sucked in by the downward spiral of negative thoughts and emotions. And so, one of them sat me down and pointed out that she didn't quite understand why I was even teaching yoga or training for a marathon, if these activities were causing so much distress in my life.
Weren't they supposed to be nurturing, fulfilling activities, providing me with an outlet for creativity and energy that I couldn't quite express at work or other areas of my life?
And then it hit me - I stopped enjoying the process not because anything changed in the process itself, but because I have completely lost sight of the reasons why I embarked on it in the first place.
So I sat down and wrote down all the reasons why I originally decided to teach yoga and run the marathon. And so they go...
The truth is that timing or scaling were never my original goals when I decided to actually start teaching yoga. In fact, when I embarked on the Yoga Teacher Training, I didn't even know if I wanted to teach!
I simply did it out of sheer curiosity about the discipline and an urge to learn more about it. These then turned into a genuine craving to share everything I'd learnt with others, whilst becoming better in my own practice - both physically and spiritually - so I could become to others what my teachers had been to me over the years.
Business growth may as well become a genuine goal somewhere down the line in a more or less distant future, but at this stage in my life, when I'm also working full-time in a very demanding job, teaching yoga was simply going to be an outlet for my curiosity, creativity and caring nature.
Organising my own yoga classes was also supposed to be a chance to play - with sequences and themes of my classes, and the setting of the yoga studio.
And thankfully, in moments when I don't subject myself to any pressure or social comparisons, I genuinely enjoy teaching! I love having complete freedom to structure my classes the way I want in my small gorgeous studio near Brixton. I love coming up with themed sequences, and collecting quotes or stories to share with my students at the beginning or end of the class. I love seeing my students progress week by week, or reporting feeling better in parts of their body where they used to feel pain or discomfort. I love the fact that my classes are private and cosy, and that I can devote my full attention to everyone in the room, truly sharing my energy with them.
I know that I am doing this for fun and to fulfil my soul's yearning for purpose, and not for money or Instagram followers. And so, as long as I'm having fun and feeling purposeful, I am moving forward.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, a teacher at school told me that I'd never be a good runner (whatever that means) and that statement had been weighing on me my whole life - I skipped running at school and stayed away from it in my adult life.
And then, one day at uni, my boyfriend at the time dragged me for a short jog, and while I felt suicidal throughout, something urged me to go jogging the next day, and the next. In no time at all I actually started enjoying running - it provided me with a perfect escape from my restless mind and a chance to put my thoughts in order, whilst also moving my body. Win-win, if you ask me!
Before long, I signed up to a 5k run, then a few 10k runs, and then for a half-marathon, which I not only survived, but also completed in quite a decent time (see above). I proved to myself, despite my teacher's opinion, that in fact I could run!
My motivation to run a marathon, though, wasn't to prove my teacher wrong. It was to continue the positive growth that a running lifestyle initiated in my life. Extending my running distance, one kilometre at a time, made me feel increasingly fitter and stronger, and more confident in my own capabilities. This newly-gained confidence soon started spilling over into other areas of my life.
I genuinely started believing that if I could run, and continuously get better at it, I could do anything I wanted.
I joined a running club, meeting a bunch of very inspiring and high-achieving people (there seems to be a strong correlation between someone being a runner and a general high-performer), which inspired me even further to be the best version of myself.
The best thing about running, though, is that - once you get better at it -it is easy. You can do it anywhere you want for however long you want. All you need to do in running, is to move forward, one step at a time. No overthinking, no complex rules of the game. Just you and simple, natural movement.
I find that running, like yoga, puts me in a state of complete flow; my mind feels rested and re-energised after a longer run. It's one of my best anti-depressants, and I'm much more engaged, positive, and productive on days that I start with a morning run.
Once I tapped into my original motivation to take up running - to get fitter, more confident, put my monkey mind at rest, and challenge my body in a positive way - the way I approached my marathon training, changed.
I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks during my 'easy' daily runs, which admittedly decreased my overall pace, but made me genuinely look forward to my training sessions. I would pick a sunny day for a long run, even if it meant departing slightly from my running schedule, and allow myself a break or two in one of the stunning parks in London.
My pace - and completion time - became less important, for I (once again) really started enjoying the process.
Wired for competition on the one hand, and craving for acceptance and belonging on the other, our monkey mind simply cannot help but evaluate our journey and outcomes against those of other people out there.
The world we now live in, doesn't make it any easier either. We've now got an unparalleled - albeit often biased - insight into other people's lives, via news and the omnipresent social media, which provides us with a whole new set of ever more complex and multi-layered standards to compare ourselves against.
The majority of us, young professionals inhabiting big cosmopolitan cities, also feel pressured to constantly achieve and do so in a time frame imposed on us by the mysterious "others". Even if, realistically, the majority of so-called "others" couldn't care less about our progress in any given area; do you know who they care about most? Themselves!
This way or another, comparing ourselves to others doesn't quite make sense. We all have different stories and different obstacles we had to overcome along the way to be where we are now. To paraphrase:
There's no comparison between the sun and the moon; they shine when it's their time!
If you must compare, then compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.