By Dana Ayers

As someone who calls herself merely a “casual” runner (AKA, sometimes physical fitness and I see other people), I’ve had to resort to all sorts of tricks to keep myself going through the years. Tricks like, you know, joining the U.S. military where being in shape is literally part of my job. (Note: most people don’t have to go such lengths to keep themselves in shape. I’m just super stubborn, even in laziness, so it takes extreme measures for me.)

As we head into the winter, perhaps you too could use a trick to stay motivated. One that I use – that doesn’t involve signing an eight-year contract to defend the nation or stay within weight requirements – is to leverage something that’s close to most everyone’s hearts: money.

Most of us don’t like to talk about money. It isn’t mannerly, or terribly inspirational. It’s not the thing you yell out to people cheering for you in a race: “Thanks! I’m really only out here because I already paid the race fees and didn’t want to waste money!” #SpectatorBuzzKill. We want to feel like our motivation is purer, more admirable. Intrinsic versus extrinsic. We don’t want our motivation to be as superficial as simply avoiding leaving money on the table. But you know what? Sometimes extrinsic motivation is all I have-, and I think that’s ok. It’s still helping me progress towards an inherently good goal.

Take the last few weeks, for example. I’ve been routinely getting up at 5:00 a.m. multiple times a week and driving a half an hour to meet a personal trainer before work. Am I doing it because health is important to me and I’m a responsible human? Sometimes. But mostly I do it because I hate the thought of leaving money on the table for the eight training sessions I signed up for. That’s it. Money. Otherwise I’d totally have stayed in bed on some of those days.

When I started running races (and by running, I mean slowly jogging/walking/occasionally getting physically pulled to the finish line by friends), I realized that races were fun enough in and of themselves to make me want to run. I’m social and love to feel part of something bigger than me, so being in a race is fun. The problem I quickly discovered was – to run a race, you typically need to have trained beforehand. Which meant I needed to get out and run in between the fun races. I’d need to run on my own, without people motivating me with cowbells, and without men in tuxes on bended knee handing me my race medal at the end. (That really happened in one race I did years ago. I’d never skip a workout again if that happened every time I worked out!)

I started bribing myself to train by signing up for a race. The future promise of a fun race was often enough to get me out on the trail for training runs. But then sometimes even that wasn’t enough. Eventually the thought of future fun couldn’t cancel out the thought of current fun: and current fun looked a lot like staying sweat-free, eating cheese in a recliner. I had to appeal to an even more basic desire – to not lose money.

When I couldn’t motivate myself with future fun, I motivated myself with the fact that I’d already paid a race entry fee. Embarrassingly enough, that has, at times, been the only reason I kept working out – to make sure I could finish a race I already spent money on.

I’ve used this trick with other goals, too. When I started writing my second book, I decided to self-publish it. The downside of that was there would be no one holding me to a timeline, which meant I needed a way to keep myself to a schedule if I ever wanted to finish it.

So, I paid someone.

I essentially outsourced motivation for those moments I knew would come when I could no longer find enough intrinsic motivation myself. I signed a contract with an editor for a specific period of time so that I was forced to keep writing chapters on a timeline. I’d be wasting money if I didn’t meet the deadline because I agreed to pay her for editing – so I had to keep up my part of giving her things to edit.
Would I like to say I have enough passion and self-discipline to stay the course on my own with all my goals? Sure. But it’s not true. I often have to use tricks and one of the ones that has always worked is to put my money where my goals are. That way if I miss a milestone, I get hit where it hurts – my wallet.

If you find yourself this winter wanting to keep up your workout routine but just not feeling your heart in it – try putting your wallet in it instead. You can still let people think you’re staying in shape for noble reasons like health consciousness or finishing what you started – but it can really be that you don’t want to waste the money you put down on training or on a future race. And that’s ok too.

It can be our little secret.

Dana Ayers is the author of the #1 Best Seller “Confessions of an Unlikely Runner (A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated).” Dana accidentally became a runner over 10 years ago and has logged a vast array of average finish times since. She is a former White House staffer, and current military reservist.