Don’t look around, look within: Six tips for motivation that moves you.

Want to fire up your motivation engine and keep it running strong? I’ve got tips to help you do just that.


Motivation. The big ‘M.’ Who doesn’t want to find its big, fat tap root? Workouts, long runs, work deadlines, laundry – everything’s better with an extra dose of M-sauce. IV-drip, please.

But where do you get it, and how do you keep it coming? How do you make it stick and truly work for you?

I’ve recently been making over my motivation mojo, and want to share with you what I’ve unearthed in the process that can help you create a never-ending IV-drip for yourself and perhaps even nail every last one of your goals this year. First, though, some background on how this quest started for me.

An Unconventional Path

After running the Boston marathon in 2013, I developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I didn’t fully realize it until about a week afterward, when I started clock-watching daily, waiting for 2:49 p.m. (the time of the first bomb’s detonation), forgetting what I was doing mid-task, pacing my house repeatedly, and dreading Mondays.

Long story, over-simplified: I sought help and was referred to a PTSD counselor. We worked together last summer to get past Boston and prepare for New York in November, so that I could place myself in basically the same situation (running a huge marathon) and be able to focus on marathon running, not unexpected triggers from the aftermath of my last marathon.

A huge takeaway was the concept of internal locus of control. For me, that meant the ability to control what I took in mentally and my reactions to it. The bombings obliterated that skill for me – reacting to everything about them  - talk, images, memories – had left me splintered, exhausted. I’d let the world come flooding in and destroy my focus and dictate my emotions. To move on from Boston, I had to regain – and keep – my internal locus of control. 

Happy moment: I did it. Running the New York City marathon on November 3rd was AMAZING. No more pacing, worrying, dreading or agitated reactions to magazine covers featuring smiling victims back at home, either. To get here from there, I’d worked at controlling what came in from the outside and how I dealt with it once I did let it in. I’d also called up skills I already had but had inadvertently abandoned, post-tragedy. Seems pretty simple to do, but isn’t always.

Arriving Inside

So… back to motivation. Marathoning, Cross-fitting, losing weight. The tendency – and even culture - in tough pursuits like these is to look for external sources – others’ race splits, workout times, marathon PRs, or even pictures of incredibly fit athletes to get motivated to achieve greatness ourselves. Compare and once you get what they have, you rock. Right? I think there’s a better way. Via my Boston experience of being pulled in all directions by external stimuli, I now think the fire lit from within burns hottest for running, working, everything.

San Francisco-based psychotherapist Daniela Tempesta agrees.

A Huffington Post Healthy Living blogger, her post on how to stop comparing yourself to others caught my eye one day on Twitter. I messaged her and we started talking motivation with respect to fitness and health initiatives, and how comparing yourself to others constantly won’t really work for lasting motivation. It’s also not great for friendships. (A-MEN!)

“What will work, then?” I asked. I wanted her professional opinion, hoping it validated what I’d been experiencing.

She answered. I said YAY.

Below, find Daniela’s top six tips on creating your own motivation from the inside out, so you can draw on it over the long haul. (You can high-five me later!)

Tips for Better Motivation Mojo

1) Learn to compare constructively.

Comparing yourself to others isn’t actually ALL bad, all the time. Wait, didn’t I just say it was?

“When we look at what others have achieved as a source of inspiration, we allow it to recharge our battery instead of drain it,” Daniela says. “It can help us keep our eyes on the prize and see what’s possible.” The key is knowing when it’s gone too far. If you’re checking up on your fellow running pals and you see half-marathon times that make you feel like a turtle – as in you want to stop running with them, you feel so slow – it’s time to pull back from comparison. “Research shows over and over again that being hard on ourselves actually decreases goal completion, so if comparing to others leads us to berate ourselves, it’s time to kick it to the curb,” she says. In other words, if comparing yourself to another doesn’t expand your idea of what’s possible, it’s shutting you down.

2) Be careful where you throw down your anchor.

While everyone knows that having a clear goal, even one that’s a bit lofty (“if it doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough”) is a positive thing, putting all your eggs in that one basket, or anchoring your self-worth to that goal (a marathon time, for ex.) exclusively, can backfire on you. “One’s sense of self should arise from internal factors – things that are uniquely you, that give you value and worth – not external factors,” she says. So, if you fail to hit your marathon goal time in your next attempt, keep that time as your “north star” for another go. You finished the race, so you are still a success. This redefining of success, she says, may even keep the havoc-wreaking stress hormone cortisol from being elevated in your body, which can hamper your resiliency after the race. (No, thank you!)

3) Save your energy for yourself.

If you’re always checking out your (perceived?) competition, you’re robbing yourself of vitality you could be using to get there, yourself. “Remember that comparing yourself to others actually uses up energy that you need to accomplish your own goals,” Daniela says. “You need all the energy you’ve got! Save it for yourself.” I have a huge hug waiting for her on this one – I personally feel exhausted by trying to analyze someone else’s success, and if I notice that I’m a twinge envious over someone’s post-run Garmin pic on Instagram, I look away. Fast. Instead, I look at some of my own workouts from my training logs – or I look at how my 2013 as a whole turned out (two really tough marathon finishes, a half-marathon NYC qualifier and earning the right to call myself an ultra runner via a 50K- yeah, that kinda did rock). I’m feeling my internal locus of control work kick in big-time with this one.

4) Use only yourself as a benchmark.

How can you compare yourself against another person when he/she may have entirely different priorities and goals? You can’t. Or, at least, you shouldn’t. “You should create your own barometer for measuring your success, rather than using someone else as a benchmark,” Daniela says, “everyone has a different destiny and everyone has a different set of skills.” Stop worrying about what you cannot control. Differences in available time, income levels, genes and so many other factors can stack odds in the favor of one person over another. Focus on your own priorities that work for you, and what you can work toward going forward. That’s all you need.

5) Learn self-compassion.

It’s not a cop-out and it’s not for weenies: research shows that self-compassion actually is MORE effective in helping you accomplish your goals than self-criticism. See Daniela’s own blog post on self-compassion for her tips and focus on a proven method of motivating yourself.

6) When your eyes wander, refocus quickly on you.

If you notice yourself getting caught up in another’s accomplishment and it’s not inspiring you, get back inside yourself. Right now. “Take a few minutes to appreciate all the things you’re proud of or appreciate about yourself. This shifts your energy toward something that is re-energizing instead of draining,” says Daniela.

To that, I add: rather than focus solely on attaining your goal, race time, desired weight, focus on your process while working toward your goals.

After all, the process that gets you to this goal can also get you to the next one – if it’s all about getting it, what will you do once that bird’s in the hand? Don’t get stuck in the bush.

How are you improving your motivation from within?

How do you stay inwardly focused?


  1. From summer 2012- summer 2013 it was a brutal 12 months and while I kept telling myself I did not need counseling for PTSD, I did. After all– it is not every day that your boss is shot to death in front of you. I am hard headed and I ended up paying with my health until I decided to get help and what a difference it has made. These events really made me loose my focus and motivation but slowly I have been getting it back thanks to my faith and my family/friends. I love the tip about watching where you throw down your anchor and redefining success. This is something I’ve had to do and I think I am happier because of it. :) Great post!

  2. Maria – I cannot fathom what you have been through. Can’t even begin, but I do know some of your experiences. I have to. Reframing and redefining is key for me, and taking stock in what I have already that I can work with to make progress. And reserving the right to control what I take in. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.

  3. Maria – Dang I am so sorry to hear of that traumatic experience you went through. I am glad you are getting counseling. And faith and friends and family support too! I am thankful to my God who is my strength and my rock of stability in a dangerous world. He carries us. God is bigger than any circumstance!! And He loves us! Healing takes time. We got to keep moving right? Emotionally, physically, spiritually in every way so we don’t get stuck.

    And Cindy, thanks for the MOTIVATING article. I am struggling with motivation. Winter blah’s that is what I have. I did do my speed workout today on the treadmill. Yes! But I feel tired a sluggish a lot lately. It is extremely hard to get a move on the fitness. Weight training is non-exixtent. One day last week! Help!

    Love you!


  4. Sheryl – great words I will let stand for Maria.

    On motivation – winter is tough but we have to make this stuff up for ourselves sometimes, you know? That’s one reason I wrote the post. Sometimes inspiration doesn’t happen and we have to get more active in generating it – esp in the dread of winter. Go be awesome and tell me when you’re done. Won’t be hard, because you already are! xoxo

  5. This is a great post. I especially love points 4 and 5. I find self-compassion very helpful in my running. And any time I get down about myself or down about my running all I have to do is look at where I was a few years ago to where I am now and I instantly feel better.

  6. Hi, Karla! Exactly. For me, self-compassion is big. I’m on a conscious mission to actively build that skill this year. I just don’t give myself enough credit for what I’ve done (overall). How much more do I have to do in running to place myself where I rightfully belong on this journey? Nothing. I’m lucky to be where I am and even luckier for the opportunities I have to keep rocking it into the future. Hope your weekend is great and if you were at Fred Lebow this morning that you’ve thawed out! ;)


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