When I was in high school, my basketball coach asked me to join the cross country team and I reluctantly said yes. At that time I hated running. I ran as a form of conditioning in basketball and track, but I viewed it as a necessary evil.
I remember, after every practice run or race, I told myself "I never want to do that again," but somehow I always found myself doing it again. Not surprisingly though, that was my first and only season of cross country.
This last summer I made the decision to start running as a way to get back into shape. Later, I ended up joining a running club. Miraculously I now enjoy running.
Back then I was barely able to run a full 3 miles without feeling like dying. Now, after five sedentary years and gaining 30 pounds, I am somehow able to run 8 miles consistently. Not only that - I went from dreading the next time I had to run to looking forward to it.
If you told me that I was capable of running 8+ miles straight back then, I would have called you crazy. Now I do those runs on a weekly basis. Also, I'm looking to increase my endurance to the point where I can do 18+ mile runs.
So What Changed?
It's not that I wasn't physically able to run 8+ miles during high school. After all, I was in way better shape back then. I would say that back then I did not have the same internal motivation. My reasons for running did not come from within. Rather, my biggest reason for why I ran was that I didn't want to disappoint my coaches. This was an external motivation, which could only take me so far.
This time around, it was solely my choice to start running. There's no external pressure to do it - I know that I can quit any day and no one would care or think less of me. It may sound counterintuitive, but this freedom is what allows me to stay motivated. That's because it lets me know that I'm doing it because I genuinely want to.
We all understand this of human nature: if you tell a person what to do, they are less likely to want to do it, even if they know it's in their own interest to do it. Also, if the person does it, they will most likely do a worse job than if it was through their own volition.
During school (and I guess throughout my whole childhood) I got accustomed to being controlled. I was told what I should or shouldn't do and what I should or shouldn't aspire to. As a result, I lost touch with my own wants and needs - the things that wake up my internal motor.
I think this is what happened with me and running. I felt the external pressure to run, therefore I didn't do so well. Now that I have no one telling me what to do and feel no pressure, I am more motivated than ever to be a better runner. Now, instead of having people push me, I have an internal motor that's faster and unrelenting.
Making the transition between being internally motivated rather than externally hasn't been easy. After being externally directed for so long, it's taken me 5 years to realize that running is something I genuinely want to do. This is just one thing, but there are many other aspects of my life where I'm still lost.
This is why I would urge parents and teachers to stop controlling children's lives so much. For about 18 years we push them towards what we want out of them and then when they're set free we expect them to suddenly become strong willed. This just doesn't make sense.
What we need to do is teach them to be in touch with and follow their own compass, because that's where they will thrive.