What’s in a Game: motivation

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As we approach finals week and struggle to find the motivation to put in the work, we can look to the most motivated people of them all, the marathon running elite, for some study tips. Here are 5 take-aways. 

  1. Break down tasks

Does the idea of running 100 miles make you tired just thinking about it? Turns out, it does for ultramarathoners too. Ultramarathoners, who race distances of often 50 or 100 miles, are known to battle mental fatigue, according to reports by ultrarunning.com. 

In a phenomenon similar to when you look at your planner and see a seemingly insurmountable list of tasks, the anticipation of running for such long distances can hinder an ultramarathoner’s performance. Ultramarathoners battle this phenomenon by thinking of the race not as 50 miles as a whole, but rather as smaller parts independently from the others. 

For example, they might think about the first 10 miles as one unit, and then mentally move on to the next 10 miles, until they have completed the whole race. In the same way, we can break down tasks into their component parts to make our lists of tasks more manageable. 

  1. Be disciplined

There might be a day when Eliud Kipchoge doesn’t feel like running. If there is, nobody would know. The current marathon world-record holder is intensely, almost inhumanly, disciplined. Yet Kipchoge’s motto is an expression of human freedom: “no human is limited.” 

It seems paradoxical that this intensely disciplined man’s motto expresses freedom. Kipchoge perfectly understands this paradox between freedom and discipline. He tells us, “only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.” So Kipchoge’s study tip would be simple: be disciplined and choose to hit the books. 

  1. Have the right study buddies

Athletes don’t make it to the Olympics alone. Olympic steeplechaser Colleen Quigley tells us of the importance of her support system: “I can’t count how many times I have advised people to find a running buddy to train with. Running with someone helps distract you from your inner dialog (that can often be negative) and keeps you accountable (you would never stand up your running partner).” 

Study buddies can bring our studying to a new level, and make the process more enjoyable in the meantime. In fact, 2017 New York Marathon female champion Shalane Flanagan said that she thinks a network of training partners “makes or breaks” a race. But just as you wouldn’t want to show up to practice unprepared, the best results come when we review material alone first and then get together with a study buddy to consolidate that knowledge. 

  1. Make study breaks intentional

Even elite runners need to rest. Quality breaks are essential for studying, too. But just as elite runners set aside time for training and rest, make sure your study breaks are as intentional as your studying. As Flanagan likes to say, “go all in on one extreme for a period of time and then shift to another extreme… It’s too hard—physically and mentally—to try to do everything at once.” 

It can be tempting to scroll through Instagram without getting up from your chair as a “study break.” Quality study breaks, however, are active and help you refocus on the material once you sit back down. Get up, stretch, do a few push-ups or a coffee run, and then re-focus. 

  1. Trust your studying

Was Shalane Flanagan nervous before her New York Marathon victory? She says that on the starting line, she was just thinking about the strength in her body. “I didn’t feel worried,” said Falnnagan, “because I knew deep down inside how prepared I was.” 

Just as Flanagan trusted her training, trust your studying. When it’s time to crack open that blue book, be confident in what you know. Shalane said she was excited to run the New York marathon because she was confident in her fitness. The same goes for us: if we have our best effort to studying, we should be excited to take the final and flex our mental muscles.

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