Unmasking my Motivations

This past Christmas as I began to prepare for my journey back to my hometown of Michigan, I went through the same tired routine I always do when I’m trying to decide what to pack. I began to wish I had more options. I thought about how I could probably use another pair of jeans. I concluded that none of my sweaters were stylish or cozy enough to wear to Christmas Eve dinner.

Five years ago I would have solved this “problem” by hopping online and overspending at the Gap and H&M. This year, I did something different. I paused, looked around my closet, and then thought–come on, this isn’t about sweaters. What are you really feeling?

The truth was and is–my semi-annual clothing conundrum has less to do with cardigans and more to do with the feelings of inadequacy that often pop up when I spend seven days around my far more fashionable model sister. We live about a 10 minute walk away but often see more of each other back home in the midwest than we do here on the streets of Brooklyn. Well—that’s not completely true. We actually do often see each other on the streets of Brooklyn. Her in some fab leather jacket, red hot lipstick, and cool boots, headed off to some event. Me in any number of layers of sweats and a bun on my head, hustling my way to the corner bodega to score the last few bottles of Passionberry Kombucha. We have very different lives. She loves hers. I love mine. So what’s the problem?

There’s no problem. That’s what I figured out this year. Going home is a funny thing. I’ve written before about how I used to always try and lose weight when I had a trip planned. The clothes are no different. My first instinct is to manipulate the thing on the outside that I’m sure is going to represent how I’m doing to friends and family I haven’t seen in months. Then I get home and I remember that my friends and family are awesome, and they don’t give a shit about that stuff.

Luckily this past year I was able to remember all this before I overspent on things I didn’t need. Since I was able to get honest and play the tape all the way through, I was able to assure myself that shopping was not the answer–that it would only leave me with regret and that the quality of the time spent with friends and family would never be dependent on how chic or thin I managed to be. Once I worked through all this, packing was actually fun! I dug through my closet and got creative and of course realized I have way more things I like than I even knew or remembered. I spent the afternoon full of gratitude upon recognizing how fortunate and privileged I really am.

I really think there is something to this–the “playing the tape all the way through.” It’s an expression we use in recovery all the time. The first time you hear it is in early sobriety. When you are in your first year and the warm months are approaching, and the streets are suddenly filled with people on patios sipping cocktails, your head starts to get crazy. After the long, cold, hard winter, you think about how good it would feel to sit in the warm sun and share a few salty-rimmed margaritas with friends. If you’re smart, you tell someone you’re thinking this–that you’re missing the ritual–the conviviality that drinking brought. If you’ve rightly shared this with someone who’s been in recovery for a bit, they’ll inevitably tell you to play the tape all the way through–to consider what might happen after the wonderful couple hours with friends in the sun, sipping tequila. For me the fairytale ends when the sun goes down. It’s when I go inside to go to the bathroom and stop at the bar to do a shot or two by myself before returning to the table. Or when I decide to leave my friends, unbeknownst to them, to go hang out with strangers at a place down the street. I’ll of course start a tab at that new bar and not realize I’ve left my credit card there until I’m trying to pay for the cab I’m taking home from a random guy’s house at 7am the next morning. Walk of shame.

Ugh. Yeah. I’ll skip the margaritas today.

Now that I’ve been sober for a little while, I use the “play the tape” concept less for drinking urges and more for everyday situations. When how I’m about to handle something doesn’t feel quite right, I try to stop myself and get honest about what exactly my motivations or reasons for doing the thing are. When I am able to recognize what’s really driving me, it’s often harder to justify the original course of action I intended on taking. I’d say 90% of the time, I rethink and actually forgo my plan.

Case in point: I was recently trying to decide whether to sign up for the Brooklyn Half. It’s my favorite race and one I try to do every year if I can. It sells out in about a half hour so if you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to be perched and ready at noon on the sign-up day (which is January 31st this year if anyone else is so inclined!).

Oddly for me, for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to decide whether I want to run it or not. I’ve run several half marathons, and after finally completing a full last year, I thought frequently running halves would be a no-brainer–it would become my norm. I think I even declared several times here: the half is my distance! Still, after grappling with the loss of no longer having the huge goal of the marathon, it’s been difficult to transition into the new year and feel unclear about what exactly I want from my running. As I’ve given it a bit of time and things have come into focus, it seems I’ve lost my desire to run long distance. I understand that this could be temporary. I even have a coworker who has run a few marathons who told me recently that he has never wanted to run one two years in a row. He actually entered the lottery for NYC this year after a couple years off. It was encouraging to see that that desire can ebb and flow. In the spirit of following my intentions for 2018 to stay in the present, I think I’ll let my enthusiasm for running distance wane in order to make space for other things I might accomplish.

It’s taken me a minute to come back from Crazyland and acknowledge that the half marathon is long distance running. Whether I train for these races or not, the mileage required to keep me in the endurance shape I need to be in to run them is higher than I want to log right now. I’m intent on getting stronger, leaner, and faster. I’m really enjoying spending more time on my strength training and focusing my runs–using intervals and speedwork to get a lot out of them in a shorter amount of time. I even attempted my first true tempo run this weekend which I’m super excited about (I was totally doing them wrong!).

So it seems like a no-brainer right? Don’t anxiously sit in front of my computer on the 31st staring at the clock–waiting to drop $100 on a race I don’t really want to run. That seems obvious now, but it’s taken me a minute to get here. A week ago I was pretty sure I was going to sign up. I had quieted all my true feelings and instead let a more minor one lead–my fear of missing out. I’ve not been able to run the Brooklyn Half before because I was injured. It was devastating. I actually got teary-eyed when I saw runners leaving the park and passing my building with their shirts and swag bags. I wanted to be with them so badly.

Besides the fear of missing out, there was another, more embarrassing motivation for my determination to sign up for the race. I have another coworker–a friend–who runs the Brooklyn Half for charity every year. She is not really into running otherwise. The training she does for the half is probably 90% of the running she does for the whole year; she prefers other forms of exercise. Last year when we both ran it, it was a lot of fun coming in on Monday morning and sharing how our long runs went with each other. People in the office even kept up with us a bit–they’d ask how training was going, they’d help countdown the weeks before the race. That attention–and the thought of it solely being focused on my coworker–that was driving me to sign up for the race. I cringe as I write that–but it’s the truth. I got honest with myself, and in a voice that sounded more like a 5 year olds than my own, I heard myself say: if you don’t race, everyone will think that she is the runner. Ugh. Seriously.

Thoughts like these used to go on inside me, unchecked. They led me. I’d do all sorts of things for all the wrong reasons–jealousy, anger, pride. Luckily these days I’m a little more aware of when these defects are trying to steer me. As mortifying as it is, I know the only way to make a turn and head in the right direction is to tell on myself–to admit what is guiding me out loud to another person. In this case–as it often is, that person was my husband. I shuddered and also giggled at myself as I barely mustered out the words to him: If I don’t race than (insert co-worker’s name) is going to get all the attention for running! 

Having already known all of my good and legitimate reasons for not wanting to run the race, my hubs lovingly chuckled at my admission, and then immediately shut it down. That’s kind of how we do things in our little family–we don’t let each other get away with bullshit. He reminded me that it was just a few months ago that I got ALL the attention from everyone in my office for running the marathon, and that the co-worker whom I was set to envy was especially supportive of my endeavor. At the end of my conversation with him I felt clear and free and sure about my decision to not sign up for the race–and I walked away with an even better plan: to be as encouraging and supportive as I could to my co-worker. I can’t take credit for this. It was my hubs. I think his exact words were: “Ok, so we are going to not run the race and instead be there with signs for (insert co-worker’s name), yelling loudly and rooting her on like mad.”

Yeah. His plan is better than mine.

I’ve been so focused on what I can get out of my running in 2018. I didn’t think about what I can give to it as well. My running has always been all about me. Perhaps growing my appreciation for the sport this year will involve getting more active in encouraging other runners and supporting their success.

All in all, it’s a relief to know that I will not be pushing my body to do something it’s not into doing right now. Gone are the days of me forcing it into submission. We are more of a team now–my body, my head, and my heart. I am hoping this unity will not only help me avoid injuries, but also allow me to listen and make decisions that benefit my whole self–and maybe even others.



How do you know when you’re doing something for the wrong reasons? What is the motivation behind the voice you usually let guide you? Anyone rethinking any decisions they are about to make? I’d love to hear from you…






header: jon-tyson