How to Motivate Yourself: 9 Steps from Doubt to Doing

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Last Updated on December 17, 2019 by Audrey Scott

Have you ever told yourself that you weren’t able to do something? That you couldn't motivate yourself? Then one day you just got up and did it? This is that story. It shares how I motivated myself to run and changed the narrative in my head. However, these nine steps can be applied to anything you want to motivate yourself to do that you've been resisting getting started.

To kick off the new year, a few thoughts on the power of doing, committing, expectations, and motivating oneself to do better – through my own personal — and admittedly tortured — relationship with running. If you don’t care about running, imagine in its place something you keep telling yourself you cannot do.

Lenin Peak, Kyrgyzstan
Breaking free…running.

I’m not a runner.

It was mantra-like. I told myself and others this for a good, unhealthy chunk of my adult life. Whenever I uttered these words, I did so definitively, as if to put an end to both the discussion and the possibility that it could be any other way.

But then something changed. And I became a runner. It didn't happen overnight. And it wasn't easy.

But here's my approach, not only from taking the first step but understanding the motions and emotions — sometimes productive, often destructive — that precede and follow it.

1. Rationalizing Limitations

During all those years when I’d proudly declare I wasn’t a runner I'd justify my own negative reinforcement by saying something like, “I’ve always played sports that required sprinting, never long-distance running.” As a high school athlete, I recall holding my own on the short, quick suicide runs at the end of tennis or basketball practice. The problem: each time the coach sent us to run a mile I felt as though my heart might erupt. Even the thought of that long-ish run made me ill.

Through the emotional and the physiological and back again, I believed that my body was not — and never would be — physically capable of a long distance run, let alone finding joy in it.

2. Trying, Slowly

Then, inspired by a short talk I heard at the World Domination Summit (WDS) in Portland back in 2012, I did something astonishingly simple: I ran.

I put on a pair of athletic shoes and walked the few blocks from our apartment to Tempelhof Park, the now shuttered airport once the site of the Berlin Airlift. At the edge of the park, I looked out over the vast field and intersecting runways in front of me. The openness was both liberating and daunting at the same time.

I’ll just run for a few minutes. I know I’ll be out of breath soon and can just walk the rest of the way.

Tempelhof Park in Berlin
Perhaps fitting that my first run is on an old airport runway. Tempelhof Park, Berlin.

I set off, slowly. Those first few minutes turned into thirty.

Thirty minutes and my heart didn’t explode. My legs didn’t fall off, either. I almost couldn’t believe that my body didn’t self-destruct after all those years of cemented self-doubt.

3. Realizing What’s Possible By Simply Doing

Astonishing things happen when you put one foot in front of the other and run.

When you run, you run. Obvious, isn’t it? But for so long, it wasn’t obvious to me.

Think of all those things you believe you cannot do, are certain you cannot do. Writer, painter, lover, cook, photographer, inventor, businessperson. Whatever it is – once you begin doing it, something undeniable happens: you’ve done it.

Not only was I running, but upon each return I noticed that I’d cover the same ground a bit faster.

But just doing doesn’t make for mastery. That is a longer process. Don't let it get you down, but be aware that the work doesn’t end by starting.

4. Struggling and Setting Priorities

I wish I could tell you that once I took that first run the skies cleared and never has there been a cloudy day since in my running world.


Most days, I still need to motivate myself to get out there. It’s so easy to put it off for another day. Weather is an excuse, as is time. “I’m too busy” – now there’s a destructive mantra. Then I think of people I admire who are doing 10x what I do, while taking care of children and running multiple businesses.

And they still find time. They create time. They resist making excuses. Or maybe they just do.

Accomplishment, in large part, is about will applied through the lens of one’s priorities.

5. Committing

I realized something else, too. I must do something consistently and regularly before declaring “it isn’t for me.” This is the commitment not just to try, but also the promise to abide some rough patches, before making a decision to embrace or abandon the cause.

It’s said that habits take 21 days to firm. I imagine the reality is different for each of us, but it’s a nice ballpark figure to measure one’s attempt.

As an ENFP (Myers-Briggs speak), this commitment part is really difficult for me. As in, extraordinarily difficult. Dan can tell you with a great moan how many “great ideas” and habits I’ve entertained briefly only to abandon them, having been distracted by the next shiny concept or idea to cross my path.

I think about all the aspects of life where this lesson of commitment applies.

6. Shifting Perceptions

After finally making my commitment to running, a new challenge emerged: winter in Berlin.

Now, I used to think people who ran in the snow and cold were nuts: Why would you put yourself through that? Where’s the enjoyment in that?

This time, though, I was determined not to abandon my newly formed habit. So I tried it – running in the cold and snow — myself. And it was more than OK. Actually, it was exactly what I needed in the middle of a Berlin winter – something to get myself out of the house (and away from the laptop), breathing fresh air, moving.

Tempelhof Park in Winter - Berlin
I grew to love this sign that I passed each run, even when it was covered in snow.

It shocked the hell out of me that here I was, a person who was once firmly not a runner, enjoying running in the snow.

I was now one of those crazies.

Isn’t it funny how when you actually try something that you believe you’re “not meant to do,” you can prove your doubting self wrong?

Perspectives shift. The way you think of yourself in the context of what you’ve chosen to do changes.

The way you begin to perceive others changes, too.

7. Doubting and Reaffirming Abilities

But I’m still not a real runner.

I still find it difficult to call myself a Runner — you know, with a capital R. I run just 30-45 minutes a few times a week; I’m not training for a marathon. I don't look as good or run as fast as Dan. [As Dan edits this, he resists excising such folly, but he leaves it alone.]

But what I do know is this: I’m now aware that my body is completely capable of running. I have shared that beautiful reality with myself.

I’ve reaffirmed more generally that I can push myself to do things I’ve never done before, even at my age. And instead of wanting to less as I get older, I find myself, in fact, wanting to do more.

This is a good thing. It's also a remarkable feeling.

8. Motivating To Do Better

Some may say that I should stop being hard on myself, stop trying to live up to the expectations of what a real runner is. But I’ll argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s motivation in it: to do better and to not just sit back with where I am now. Perhaps most importantly, to work up to what I think I could be.

This feeling carries over into other areas of my life as well.

Writer. Photographer. Speaker. Yes, I do all these things, even with some regularity. But I don’t always feel that I do them well enough to live up to what the title means to me. You know, the title with a capital letter at the beginning.

But it’s clear it takes doing, discipline, and time to get there. That’s what leads to improvement and mastery.

9. Reflecting and Doing Once Again

But when I consider all this processing, it's clear that the most important step is the first one: giving yourself permission to do, to try, to experiment, to fail, to work it out. To let go.

For you’ll never know if you can sustain the journey if you never choose to set off.

Audrey Trekking at Tongariro National Park
What's next?

Update April 2016: I completed my first half-marathon in Berlin in just over 2 hours, faster than I had imagined. After cheering on others at this race for years, it was so incredible to be one of the runners and to feel the energy of the crowds and bands. Guess I'm slowly inching towards being a runner with a capital R…

Have you tried something recently that you never thought you could do? What happened?

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

38 thoughts on “How to Motivate Yourself: 9 Steps from Doubt to Doing”

  1. Hi Audrey,
    This post really got my attention and I read twice just to get the essence of it. Thank you for this amazing post. I also find committing to a habit extremely difficult at times and determined that 2014 will the the year for me to make a habit on things I have set my mind into doing. And what you write about doubting is soooooo true. This definitely will be the post I will re-read again when life gets a little frustrating. Happy 2014!

  2. Great post Audrey, I love this! I struggle so much with saying I’m a writer. I rationalize that I have no formal training or education in writing, I’ve never done it as a job, and my blog is really just a hobby. But now I’m trying to earn money from freelance writing and I’m slowly working on writing fiction. So I have to stop telling myself I’m not a writer, I have to get out of my own way and just WRITE and seek out paid writing work and stop feeling embarrassed when I tell people I’m a writer, as if somehow they’re going to judge me or expect that I have a dozen best selling novels or front page articles or something. Must keep reminding myself of all of this.

  3. @cherishka: Really glad that this post resonated with you and came at the right time as you are setting your new habits and commitment for the year. I am trying to use what I learned in running for other parts of my life as well. Bookmark this page for when you need a bit of motivation and deep breath about pushing past doubt to commitment.

    @Ali: Yes. Understand how you feel completely. I often shy away from telling people I’m a writer as well, but then when I think about it much of what I do has to do with writing – whether it’s for a blog post, article for a publication, script for a presentation, strategy/concepts for a client, whatever. So it’s kind of silly that I shy away from calling myself a writer. That doesn’t mean that my goal isn’t to be a writer who is published more and has a book to her name, but that’s where the commitment, time and investing in improving comes in. Good luck with your writing journey and hope we see you again in Berlin soon!!

    @Kristin: It’s funny how as life goes on you realize that all the limitations you put on yourself are mostly just in your head. Maybe that’s one of the benefits of getting older – questioning these titles or restrictions – to push through the noise to do the right thing for you. Yes, here’s to curiosity, doing, and breaking molds!

    Also hope our paths cross again this year, whether in Europe or the States. We have a great park near us to run 🙂

  4. Agreed! As a former, “I’m not a Runner” who is Now, I resonate with what you say. And as a “I’m not a Writer” who is now somehow an Author, I get it doubly!

    Here’s to breaking out of our molds and trying something new and potentially becoming something we never dreamed of!

    HUG and hope to see you both somewhere on the road, perhaps even running together! 🙂

  5. Taking the first step and then before you know it, you’ve taken hundreds. That’s my hack for trying new things. Once you get in motion, inertia kicks in! 🙂

  6. @James: Yes, it’s that first step that is the hardest. Isn’t it funny how most life & productivity hacks come down to that if you boil it down?

  7. Great post Audrey. I found that once I started to travel I become a lot more confident and started believing that I could do anything I wanted to do

  8. @Mike: I completely agree. Travel is a great confidence booster and it helps break us out of our regular roles or how people think we are. There’s a certain freedom to explore and try new things.

  9. @Rachael: Glad this post resonated and thanks so much for sharing your own story. I can imagine the feeling of accomplishment you must have felt while crossing the finish line. I can’t imagine honoring the lives of the loved ones you lost in any better way. Here’s to more pushing of that comfort zone!

  10. @Corinne: In most parts of my life I do well with doing and experimenting, but realize that there are still some areas where I hold myself back by my doubts of my perceived limitations. That’s great that you’re approach is more experimental and accepting that if you fail, it’s not the end of the world.

  11. Thanks for this, very very inspiring! I just wanted this was me back in 2010, I had a heartbreaking time with watching a few people I love pass away after battling with Cancer.

    I think I needed something to take my mind away from the grieving so I decided to run, I could barely run a mile ( I am not overweight but just a little unfit) and decided I am doing a half marathon to raise money for Cancer Research UK

    It took me 9 months of baby steps to get me half marathon ready, it wasn’t easy but the feeling after I crossed the finish line you couldn’t put into words. I had pushed out of my comfort zone and the results were remarkable.


  12. I’m not one that stops and thinks a whole lot about what I can and cannot do. I usually just jump in and sometimes I fail…oh well. I really don’t mind…most of the time. I loved your post, though…very inspirational.

  13. I’m actually just working on a post about running too. I realised that it was so easy to use travelling as an excuse not to run but really it was just an excuse, so I just started. I’ve been running for a year now and just before Christmas I ran in my first ever 10k race. It was a huge achievement for me as I’ve never been sporty or athletic and a year ago I could barely run for 5 minutes at a time. It was actually really fun and I was on a high all day. I’d definitely recommend signing up for a 10k as it really helps to keep you motivated to get out there and to push your running a bit further.

    In the post I’m writing I called myself a runner then started doubting it. I struggle with that too, just as I do with calling myself a writer.

  14. @Erin: Congrats on the 10k and your journey towards running! I have to admit that I am not as disciplined running when we’re on the road, so I have to get better about allocating room for running shoes and making the time at the beginning of the day to do it. I was thinking of signing up for the Berlin half marathon this spring, but then thought that perhaps starting with a 10k might be a bit wiser…

    @Victoria: Woohoo!! We’re starting a movement!!

    @Sylvain: And the key is to not keep postponing taking action on that plan or giving up when the bumps come along. You’re right, sometimes the way there takes you on a different road than imagined.

  15. Yes, the first step is to make the decision… then follow a plan make it happen. There might be some bumps along the way, sometimes you’ll deviate a bit from the course… but if you keep the goal in mind, and keep working towards it, you’ll get to it… even if the road to get there is full of turns.

    Great post!

  16. Nothing like a 9 step program and the New Year reminder to get off my duff and try to better myself…I think I get better every year. Great post!

  17. @Corinne: Like your spirit!! It’s all about experimenting, trying, doing and then pushing to improve. Here’s to a great 2014!

    @Paula: Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comment. It’s hard to shed what you feel are the perceptions of what you do or how you think other people look at it and just focus on the task and commitment. As you said, what matters is for you to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud and satisfied with what you’re doing. Easier said than done, I know 🙂

  18. You are a runner, no question about it. You are also a good writer, again no question about it. I am going close to having the confidence to say I can write .. but as you point out, you do have to give yourself permission to. It becomes harder when others see it as akin to knitting bootees or stamp collecting, a nice little hobby. Like you all I work my butt off. I enjoy it so much I try to let the hobby perception slide, which is not so easy, but at the end of the day it is only me that has to look myself in the mirror. Great post.

  19. @Tal: When I began running I wasn’t sure where it would take me, but this process is also helping me in other activities and in trying to challenge my preconceived identities. Thanks for the recommendation for “Born to Run” – just looking it up right now on Amazon 🙂

  20. Really enjoyed the process you adopted to challenge yourself Audrey 🙂 , “I’m not a runner” is an arbitrary identity many choose for themselves. I HIGHLY recommend the book, “Born to Run (by Chrisopher McDougall) in this context. It really shows that everyone can run. It also explain the minimalist running concept, while telling a brilliant story. Happy 2014 🙂

  21. Audrey, I found so much of my own experience reading this wonderful article! I was the same, although I never run before, not even short distances. And when I started, it was for 2 minutes, not for 30 😀
    Well, the important thing is I did it and there was a moment in time when I knew that there is no excuse, at least not before I try, and try, and run a little more each time. I ended up enjoying running!
    But it is wonderful to be reminded and get some fresh motivation, sometimes, so thank you for your words!

  22. The post harks me back to 2-3 years ago when I missed a long distance train by seconds just to see its last coach detaching itself from the platform. My friend who was way ahead, turned back to say “Start sprinting”. I heeded that. Today I have started running small distances and am anticipating longer strides in the next few months

  23. This was a great post, especially for me. I recently did something that I was REALLY anxious about. The past September, I quit my job to pursue a career with my websites. I haven’t made as much money but enough to put food on the table and a roof over my head so I am not complaining. Again, great post and thanks for being an influence.

  24. @Roxana: It’s such a great feeling when that moment comes that you think, “I’m really doing this. Something I never thought I could do. I’m doing it. And, enjoying it.” Inspiration is great, but motivation to do is even better 🙂

    @Sussan: Ugh, how awful to miss the train by seconds! But, good motivation to start training and doing longer strides. Good luck!!

    @Clay: Thanks for sharing this great story here in the comments. Congrats on making the decision to quite the safety of your job for something new and exciting to you. I certainly know first-hand that it’s not easy to make money with new websites, so kudos to you for making enough already to pay the bills!

  25. very motivating! whether it be about running or anything else you think you can’t do. I love point number 3!

    I use to run all the time but when I started traveling, well I stopped and now have found myself not doing it again. So I am dedicating myself to 21 days of running! straight! for at least half an hour! plans to blog about it as well so ill let you know how the forming of habit goes… thanks for the hopefully life changing inspiration!

  26. Rebecca: Good luck with your 21-day running challenge! I do know that it’s hard to keep up a running routine on the road – I’m also guilty of abandoning it when we’re traveling or on a project. Just need a bit more discipline.

    @Nathan: Glad you enjoyed this!

  27. That was a super motivational post! Pushing yourself to do something out of your comfort zone is what life is all about. Great job 🙂

  28. I always have these lame excuses, like: I have to get up too early, I have to buy the proper sport gear, actually do the whole running thing…:) Your article is very inspiring and I thank you for taking the time to write it and share with us some of your insights.

  29. @Julie: Know those excuses quite well 🙂 Hope this article motivates you to go beyond them and get out there. Good luck!

  30. Hi Audrey
    I’ve been a yoga nut for almost ten years, as I’ve had many niggles from running in the past, with last year being no exception. My partner recently completed his first 100k ultra, which was super inspiring. After time off, I was determined to defeat the niggles, seeking treatment and sticking to set rehab plans. I set my sights on a 28k trail run in mid-Jan (yeah it was hard being relatively quiet over the festive season!) – I made it 🙂 – The last 4k was horrendous with an ITB flare up – almost didn’t think I’d make it at one point, the pain was unbearable. But, no, there was no giving up. Two days afterwards, I was like ‘yeah, i’m doing that again’. It’s getting into routine, believing in yourself (and this applies to anything, yes, even blogging), and just doing it. Thanks for a great post, it’s a great reminder to many of us!

  31. @Anna: Thanks for your comment and sharing this inspiring story. Congratulations on persevering through the 28k trail run and how you kept going through the ITB flare up. I don’t know that pain firsthand (fortunately), but Dan had ITB problems leading up to the Prague marathon he ran years ago and I remember how painful that was for him.

    And yes, although this article is mostly about running, the principles of routine and commitment apply to almost anything in life. Good luck on your next race!

  32. I’ve actually never understood why people feel the need to run 🙂

    It’s part of that mentality of ‘it must hurt you to have a benefit’, when that’s not true at all.

    I’ve never been a runner, but can speedwalk for 10 miles or more a day. It’s honestly much better for you than running as running is torturous on your knees and joints and will impact your ability to walk as you get older.

    I’d say don’t force yourself to do something you hate 🙂

  33. @Michelle: Although this article used the example of running, you can replace that with whatever it is that you think you cannot do or fear doing. How can you know if you hate something if you’ve never really tried it?

    I do agree that speedwalking is a great health benefit!

  34. Beautiful post Audrey, thanks for sending it to me 🙂
    I saw myself in the mirror whilst reading it, especially the last year has been almost like that. I always played team sports (football/soccer) and because of my job that involves a lot of traveling (which I love) I had to quit it. I’ve never been a big fan of individual sports (like running and swimming) and the sports doctors always told me that I would have had difficulties on doing long distance runs, because of my bad pace. But I knew that with training and especially mental focus all can be possible. It was not easy at the beginning, being used to have always team mates around me it was really difficult to train solo, and that’s why I sometimes wanted to give up, it was really boring. But after one month of literally forcing myself to do it, and as well signing up for a race to have a goal and keep me motivated, I reached the point where I feel really good and positive after a run and I cannot wait for the next one to arrive. Also, loosing almost 17Kg in 7 months helped me to find my balance and especially health condition again, and it makes everything in my daily life more easy! 🙂

    • Thank you, Nick, for this great comment. Congratulations with all that you have accomplished in these last seven months with your hard work and sticking to it. Really impressed with your commitment and so glad that you’ve kept at it — the beginning is the most difficult, but forcing yourself to do it for a while makes it into a habit or routine. Also, signing up for a race is a good way to motivate. Your comment reminded me that I think it’s time for me to sign up for a half-marathon in the fall as I feel like I’ve lost a bit of that motivation in my running lately and am not going for as many long runs as I did when training. Good luck with your race today!!!


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