Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Motivates or Inspires You?

This is not the first time I've pondered the topic of motivation or inspiration, nor the first time I've attempted to write about it, but it's interesting to me the things, people, places, and so on that inspire others to get up and do something that seems impossible (or perhaps unlikely). It really does seem to be such a personal thing, and yet, I think there are key points that cause many of us to find similar stories inspiring.
*Image found here
Recently, I have read a variety of articles about people whose stories were intended to be inspirational, but I struggled personally to find the relationship to my own life or the circumstances that made each of the stories something suited as an inspirational tale.

To me, there are a couple of key areas that mark a great inspirational story, but I'll get into that in just a moment.

One of the more recent stories I happened upon was this one about Bruce Berkeley who took on the challenge of attempting to ride 10,000 km in a single month. It sounds outrageous (because it is), but the manner in which the story is highlighted makes it feel as though anyone off the street could accomplish such a feat if they put their mind to it. When the reader digs in, s/he is quick to discover that Berkeley is a former racer and is obviously no stranger to riding a bike, or in his case, racing a bicycle. While I have no doubt it was a challenge for him to complete his near-miss of the 10,000 km goal, I don't personally find the story to be horribly inspiring.

When I shared the story with a friend, she had a completely different reaction. Her thoughts were more along the lines that to be able to accomplish this goal - to attempt to set a record for the longest distance covered in a single month - that there was definitely motivation/inspiration to be found in this individual.

The inspirational/motivational stories aren't just relegated to those of bicycle tales either. I think there's a part of humanity that needs the balance of hearing about individuals who go out and achieve their individual dreams, aspirations, and goals. Whether a particular recounting of an occurrence is motivating to one person or another seems a bit more individualized - or at least it doesn't seem that any one particular story will necessarily inspire everyone.

I think there are a few general categories that stories fall into that cause me to find them inspirational:

- A person who succeeds despite the odds (these could be physical, emotional, or mental)
- Non-athletes attempting and/or completing athletic endeavors (or really anyone who steps outside of their own box - whether athletic in nature or not)
- Finding a successful path regardless of life circumstances (I look at this category as more environmental causes/circumstances)

When I really boil it down though, these categories have something similar in common and could probably be summed up even quicker. The stories that inspire me are those that involve a person who doesn't do what society at large would consider typical for his/her background and/or circumstances.

The reason the story about Berkeley didn't inspire me is because I looked at what I was given information-wise about his life, circumstances, etc, and realized that he has been set up to achieve this goal. While I have no doubt it was difficult (mentally/physically), it wasn't an anecdote that made me want to achieve something greater. I viewed it more as a story about someone who was already very capable who achieved something that perhaps not every cyclist would complete.

Was it amazing? Absolutely. But, I didn't find it motivating or inspirational.

My friend, however, was motivated by the story because she saw that Berkeley had a goal that seemed unrealistic or possibly unattainable for himself and went out and did his best to get it done, despite the probability that he wouldn't achieve his ultimate dream of the 10,000 km. He overcame mental obstacles along the way and came very close to achieving his goal.

I'm pondering this as we prepare to leave behind winter and head very soon into spring. The time will change soon and the days will become longer (at least for those in the northern hemisphere). There's more time to participate in daylight activities; more time to be on a bike; more time to do those things that are easy to put off when the days seem shorter.

I think we all need a jolt of motivation and/or inspiration now and again, and I'm curious where you find yours. Do stories of others' feats of strength motivate you to reach your own goals? Do you prefer tales of unlikely success? Are you motivated purely by your own wants and desires? Perhaps you are just one of those people who doesn't require motivation to get a task completed?


  1. Motivation is complicated for me. I can be awed and impressed by stories about what other people have accomplished, but those stories don't normally provide motivation/inspiration for me. That is, I'm often delighted by accounts of what others have done, but don't say to myself "hey, I could do that too!" Instead, I seem to have some sort of internal kick-in-the-pants mechanism that gets me going on specific goals. Once I have an idea for a goal, I'll seek out examples of others who have done similar things to get ideas about how to plan for it (cause, yeah, I'm a planner all the way down).

    Like you, though, the stories that most impress me are the ones of ordinary people doing something you wouldn't have expected, something that bucks social norms. I'm on a bike forum with a guy who lives in upstate New York in an area where they get a lot of snow. He bike commutes year round and racks up some pretty amazing mileage. He doesn't make a big show of this or brag about what a great accomplishment it is and never runs down people who only commute seasonally or who don't put on as many miles. He just keeps on trucking day in and day out, year in and year out. And he's super generous about sharing advice and experiences with newcomers. I love that.

    This is one of the things I love about your blog. You share your ups and downs and just keep plugging along. I keep coming back here to see an ordinary person with a very generous spirit share her experiences with a refreshingly raw honesty. You don't polish up every experience for us in a way that gives the impression that all of your rides are big successes or crazy adventures when something goes awry. Some of your rides a pure delight, others are cringe-inducing pains, but in every case you invite your readers along.

    Huh. Look at that. I guess I did find something that inspires me. You do.

    1. I'm not sure I'm the best person from whom to find inspiration, but I do appreciate the sentiment. I do hope that I don't make everything sound rosy all the time because goodness knows it isn't. I try to find something positive in even those bad experiences, but sometimes it's really a stretch in my mind to do so. :O)

      I completely agree that motivation can be a complicated thing to pinpoint. Those who inspire me I find are generally those everyday people who think what they are doing either goes unnoticed or isn't such a big deal and yet they continue to do it anyway. Sometimes it's a grand event, but often times it's more seemingly simple things - such as the man from NY who commutes daily, year after year, regardless of weather conditions etc.

      I also find stories interesting (like Berkeley's) but not necessarily a tale that causes me to want to move or do something for myself. I think I view it more as something only the elite get to do, but when I think about pedaling that many miles in a month, I can feel the exhaustion he must've experienced - even being a former racer.

      Really, as you point out, true motivation has to come from within, but I enjoy hearing or reading about inspirational people as a means to get myself started down the path to the "kick in the pants" that I have to give myself.

    2. On a totally unrelated note: Are you following Steve Abraham's effort to ride 75,000 miles in a year? http://oneyeartimetrial.org.uk/news. Holy smokes! But, like you say, something only the elite get to do. (I have to admit this doesn't sound even a little bit appealing to me. I mean, I love biking, but spending 15 hours a day every day for a year in the saddle? Nope.)

    3. Wow! No, I hadn't seen that (thanks for the link). I agree - probably not something I'd even have the desire to do, but I can respect the fact that he's going for it.

    4. When I first saw the question you were posing, G.E., I was going to say "Steve Abraham!!" but then thought his world record attempt probably falls into the "nothing to do with me and my world" category, so I didn't. I don't know Steve personally but my partner Adam does, and a lot of our cycling buddies do. I posted about it on my blog just before he started on New Years Day. I've had to stop thinking about the sheer magnitude of the goal he has set. But I do find myself thinking nearly every day "gosh, Steve is out in this (rain/wind/ice) today". It doesn't always make me cycle more/further myself, but he has my full empathy and support every single day, not to mention financial support, and that makes me feel (however minutely) a part of his effort and that is uplifting in its own way. :)

      Mulling over Kendra's comment, I don't think Steve (or indeed anyone in the audax community here) considers him to be "elite". I think what sets him apart is his mental state and attitude, and a rather astonishing ability to put up with physical discomfort and pain for a very long time. Have a listen to a lowkey interview The Bike Show did with him just before he kicked off his attempt: http://thebikeshow.net/a-year-on-two-wheels/ He's very modest and unassuming, but just gets out there and does what needs to be done. And I think we all can appreciate that lesson/example, regardless of our own abilities/talents/opportunities.

    5. Oh and a few little anecdotes: people have asked Steve what he thinks about, all day long out there on his bike (usually alone). He says "I notice a lot of farms have signs out advertising "Shit and eggs". Why is that?" Also, he has said before he started and again since, that this really is a year long holiday for him, doing exactly what he loves to do best, i.e. ride his bike! :)

    6. Very cool, Rebecca. I'm always impressed by someone who just does what they love. Thanks for all the additional info too. It's always nice to get a bit more background on people and stories such as Steve's.

    7. Thanks for the background, Rebecca. He sounds like an awesome guy. I check in on the blog every few days just to see how he's doing and to send a good thought his way.

  2. I like the ideas you explore in this post, and it gave me the opportunity to ponder what I would consider inspirational. For me, it could be: what a person learns about their themselves through experiencing their environment, or if they find out something about themselves that they didn't know before beginning whatever endeavor they undertook. To me, that shows vulnerability and that may sound weird, but it is inspiring to me.

    I was very captivated by the two climbers who took on the Dawn Wall, because of how they spent so much time preparing and training for this experience, because they were committed to climbing it and reaching the top as a team, and because there was the possibility of failure. Certainly their physical abilities were beyond anything I could ever imagine having and I'm not even a rock climber, but seeing them execute their plan after years of practice, and then watching as they accomplished a dream was quite inspiring to me.

    1. I agree, MG. I think being able to learn something about ourselves in the process of an undertaking is invaluable.

  3. What I find inspirational is ordinary people doing things they thought they couldn't do. Like you, I am not really impressed by extra- gifted people doing well at what they are gifted in. That is easy, or at least easy enough. It is far harder to do something you are not really great at but have always wanted to do, and stories of other ordinary people who achieve these seemingly impossible aims are really motivating.

    1. I agree and I think GE was saying the same. It's hard to relate or feel common ground with people who have a natural talent or ability. Sometimes watching them at the top of their game actually discourages you from giving their "sport" or speciality a try. I mean, I'll never be Mary Lou Retner so why should I try the uneven bars?? LOL

      Steve Abraham is a different kind of inspiration for me. Because he's not an athlete, he has no particular physical gift. He was working full-time in a warehouse yet rides his bike every minute he gets. The single thing that makes him succeed where others may fail is sheer bloody-mindedness! And that, I think, we can all, to one degree or another, learn from. Mental fortitude and determination are "habits" that all of us can strengthen or improve on. Certainly the longer the distances or hours you ride, the more you learn about yourself and your ability to solve problems and keep yourself going when everything inside is screaming stop. So often, it's not the physical difficulty, it's the mental roadblocks we put up sometimes that stop us. And that is where sometimes, some days, thinking of Steve out there pedalling away through the cold, the wind and the rain -- doing something that at is heart is very simple and indeed something you and I do nearly every day ourselves -- makes me question myself and my comfort zone: Is this rain/wind/cold really a deal breaker for me today? :)

    2. Natural talent and/or ability is an interesting part of this equation too, Rebecca. There are people who we would never know were struggling during an undertaking, but perhaps they seem to have all the qualities needed to easily get through an activity.

      I am one of those who can always work on mental fortitude for sure. I can be incredibly stubborn about some things, but there are other times when I know I should just stick with something and I find it so hard to actually do.

  4. I've thought about this post for a week because not because it's a complicated question, but because I didn't know my answer! Which really made me dig deep...so here goes:

    I need mini goals to ride, for example when I do my overnight trips, I look for things to inspire my route: visiting a museum, a village I've yet to explore, etc. I recently discovered there are many cheese and micro breweries in our state so that may become my inspiration for 2015.

    On the other hand, I've been inspired this year by all people committed to riding in the winter. It doesn't make me want to do it per se (motivation and inspiration not necessarily connected), but to see the contingent grow each winter means that ridership is increasing in our region. And then there is our 13 year old who is hearty and rides when it's below zero to school - his choice!

    And last night, I was inspired to see a 15 year old stand up for what he thought was right. At the time it was upsetting because this teenager was staying at our house (my husband and I were watching a movie in another room), part of a birthday sleepover party for our son. This kid hadn't brought a computer, felt left out, while everyone around him was zoned out on video games, and didn't want to be part of it so he (unbeknownst to us) called his parents and told us the truth moments before he left. The more my husband and I digested the information the more we thought this teenager did a very difficult thing and removed himself from an uncomfortable situation. I'm proud of him!

    1. Annie,

      First... I completely agree with you that motivation and inspiration can be two different things, so I think they may have completely different triggers for anyone. Just because something inspires me, it doesn't necessarily motivate me.

      I can see that watching your son would be a huge inspiration (and maybe even motivator at times).

      I remember being in similar situations as a teenager. What a great kid (and parents - and you guys as parents too!) to know when he needed to remove himself from a situation. It's not that he was in danger, but he wasn't comfortable, so I think that's wonderful that he was aware enough that he wanted to be home.

  5. Just saw some terrible news: Steve Abraham was hit by a moped. He's in the hospital now, and it looks like he may needs surgery on an ankle (I think).

    1. That is quite unfortunate. I was just reading the update myself... never good news to hear of someone being injured while riding a bicycle. Wishing him a speedy recovery, as I know so many others are too.


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