Accountability vs. Motivation: An examination of 'drive' in 2018

What drives you? What ignites that internal fire that kick starts you to get things done?

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When it comes to school, I’ve always been a “last minute” type of student. No matter how much I would plan in advance and try to get studying or start an essay, I would always cram the work in the night before. Reflecting back on my habits as a student has me wondering if my last minute tactics will extend beyond my university years. Thus beginning my accountability vs. motivation self examination. Was I merely accountable to get my work done at the last minute because if I didn’t there would be a penalty - failure, expulsion? Or was I motivated to do well on exams and essays for self pride or another kind of self fulfillment? Does it matter what the reason was behind the action, as long as it got done? Does this behavior mean someone is unmotivated? Does this last minute motivation extend into my fitness habits?

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Let’s unpack my motivation behind exercising. I’ve always been active - I played soccer, volleyball, was on the track & field team, the cross country team and did competitive dance while growing up. In university, I joined intramural sports teams, went to the gym 3-4 times a week, and practiced hot yoga. It sounds admirable, but don’t get me wrong, there was not much exercising done during that first year (I have the Freshman 15 photos to prove it)! Despite that, there’s no doubt that fitness has always been a part of my life, but as I got older I noticed my motivation to be active start to shift. 

I can remember in my fourth year at university, Moksha Halifax had become so popular that you had to sign up in advance to reserve your spot. While this is now the norm, back then it seemed absurd to me to not only have to commit to class ahead of time but mainly to be held accountable to cancel 30 minutes before class if you couldn’t attend, or else you’d be charged. I remember thinking, This is absolutely barbaric! What if twenty minutes before the class the bus is late and I can’t make it on time!? They are going to take my class away that I paid for? How unfair. Fast forward to today, where boujee fitness studios in Toronto are guaranteed to be waitlisted with up to a 12 hour advance cancellation requirement… Looking back, I wonder if the habit of signing up in advance for a class began to build a different layer of motivation for me to workout.

Once I moved back to Toronto, a friend recommended a kickboxing studio to me. I fell in love with the workout after my two week trial and bought a 10 class pack. I hadn’t yet sorted out a gym membership or a new yoga studio to call home, so kickboxing became my new go to workout. My love and excitement to kickbox became increasingly stressful as work got busier and I would have to stay at the office late. Watching the time pass, my blood would boil knowing I was going to miss my class and be charged $10. Looking back, I think this was the exact moment when my motivation to exercise started migrating towards accountability to show up to a fitness class in order to avoid a penalty. I was completely unaware of it at the time, and went through at least three more years of doing this through a class pass subscription, kickboxing membership, and classes purchased at different fitness studios across Toronto. What got me out of bed for those 6am fitness classes was not my excitement and motivation to exercise, it was the thought that I can’t afford to be paying my extremely expensive membership and pay a late cancellation fee. I even began to use it as my motivation to go. At one point I found myself signing up for 6am or 7am classes, not because they would fill up, but because I would then be forced to go when my alarm went off in the morning. It wasn’t until recently that I identified this habit of accountability I had developed and realized that this system of signing up ahead of time for classes and financial penalties if you canceled late, combined with my own thoughts/actions trained myself to lose my self/internal motivation. My new motivation came out of fear of having to pay a penalty. 

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Opening up the topic of motives is tricky. It’s one I consistently struggle with and can easily get into a rabbit hole thinking about. What motivates someone to do something? What motivates me? What is motivation? Does it matter how you are ‘motivated’, as long as you are getting things done? Is motivation and accountability the same thing? See… a rabbit hole. 

I should point out that this wasn’t the case for all fitness classes. I have never signed up for a yoga class at my second home Pure Yoga ahead of time, yet I still manage to make it there at least once or twice a week because that is what I want to do. In addition, although I am shedding light on this topic, I am not saying this is necessarily bad. It’s simply a realization of change in myself and an interesting examination of the culture of signing up for classes, wait lists, financial penalties, and how this impacts our mindset and motivation towards exercising and our health. 

I slowly began to ween myself off of these classes this past summer, and began running and going to the park to do my NTC (Nike Training Club) workouts. More so because of a large financial change in my life, I could no longer afford the highly expensive group fitness routine, although this change has definitely made me reevaluate things. I thought back to my young self in university, packing my workout clothes as I headed to class, and hitting up the Dalplex (my university gym) on my way home. I wonder what my motivation was? I wonder what my thoughts were that moved my feet to go from the lecture hall to the gym floor…

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We all go through natural ups and downs in our motivation, and perhaps this could also be related to a change in routine. Previously, a student with a flexible class schedule, ample time to play around at the gym vs. presently working 8, 9, 10+ hours a day in an office, while also trying to balance a social life, Yoga Twins, attend night school. With all of my current commitments I began to feel the need to schedule in a quick and efficient workout. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE exercising. Love it. I do look forward to beating up bob at kickboxing, and sweating it out on my yoga mat, and group fitness also gives you such a nice feeling of community. I am by no means bashing group fitness (trust me, I was the biggest advocate for years). But when it comes to routine motivation - sometimes it’s worth taking a step back from your life and reevaluating what is driving you, is it coming from the right place? 

Epilogue - because this was truly a novel. I still have class pass, I do very much enjoy taking the odd group fitness class, I have pre-paid classes at Yyoga, and Pure Yoga to use at my leisure (no pre signup necessary), and I recently joined a gym thanks to a big corporate discount on an annual membership. I have decided for my routine day to day that I am going to get back to my roots of holding myself accountable, and being my own motivation to roll out of bed at 5:45am and get grinding. I will let you know how it goes and I challenge you to take a step back and evaluate are you being held accountable because of external factors? Can your motivation still come from within? I challenge you to IGNITE YOUR OWN FIRE with me :)

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Kaitlyn Sydney