The best way to start running is to start running. That may sound stupidly obvious, but it’s tough advice to follow. Especially when it’s raining, or very cold, or very hot, or very early in the morning, or…

Often the toughest obstacles in life aren’t physical. They’re mental. Indecision, fear, doubt…These things will paralyze you. At some point you just have to get up and go.

It’s easy to motivate yourself in college.  “sounds fake, but okay,”  say all the current college students reading this post, but hear me out.  It’s easy to make yourself go to the gym when it’s free and when everybody you know is doing it, when you’re surrounded by other young people who are all really fit and excited about fitness.  It’s easy to study, even for a really, really lazy person like me, when all your friends cancel plans because they have to study for exams, stay in the lab all night, or assemble end-of-year portfolios.  You see other people working hard and so you work hard, too.  This is probably one part “i’m relatively recently graduated from college and haven’t been outside of a school environment longer than a few months in 17 years,” one part “i’m living in a new country and don’t know how to organize my young-adult life still,” one part “i know the other people are doing fitness things, study things, creative things, but i can’t see them doing them so i’m not motivated by them.”

Within the past month, some before that, I’d set up some practices which I had hoped would stick.  I set up the language exchange with my Korean coteacher, I made a gym schedule with my coworker friend so we could kick each other’s butts into going.  Even with other people brought into the equation, though, it’s pretty easy to slack off.  Life, uh… finds a way to get in the way.  One night out to celebrate/commemorate Chris hyung‘s departure for Pennsylvania can disrupt the whole week’s flow, unfortunately.  Grading papers and other spontaneous outings sap the energy for the “”””important””””” things.

I think it’s a bit of toxic rhetoric saying that quality time spent with friends and good experiences mean next to nothing, while the “important things” like working out, studying, keeping a clean house are held on a pedestal.  It’s what you value, really.  I think there’s a good balance to be had, somewhere, I just tend to be a bit too heavy-handed on the good times and neglect the hard things.  It’s easy to find motivation for the good-times-things.  The hard things are rewarding, but only after a great deal of time is invested into them, which is to be expected but it can be disheartening at first.

A few weeks ago I was on my way to the bar in Hongdae and a Korean girl approached me.  This happens frequently, being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner who is almost 100% likely to speak English.  People are so excited to practice their English that I get approached all the time.  If it’s a man, usually it’s to say something scuzzy, but since she seemed pretty young I figured she was a university student instead.  The transfer at Hapjeong station to the Line 6 is a long one, and she talked with me the whole time.  She wanted to do a sort of language exchange / be friends and since she was a lady and not a creepy old dude, I agreed.  Usually I say yes to these things and then don’t follow through, but she was persistent.  She is very nice, but also persistent.  I met her and her friend and we had ddeokbokki, spicy rice cakes, at a real restaurant rather than from the street stall, which was awesome.  They didn’t come on too strong at first.

The second meeting, at some point, the friend asked if I go to church.  This is common curiosity because a lot of Koreans are Christian.  I’m Catholic, but I’ve been lax if not nonexistent about going to mass on Sundays.  That’s hangover recovery day or hiking day, most weekends.  Or, at the very least, it has traditionally been the only day of the week I’ve been allowed to sleep in, after school on weekdays and water polo or swimming on weekends.  I should have said no, I’m not religious.  End of conversation.  But I’m usually pretty honest about most things so I didn’t think anything of it.

A third meeting was the friend taking me to her church.  I should stop assuming that Christians mean actual mass when they say “church,” because it was far more like a bible study.  Everybody was nice, but it was an intensely weird experience.  They had this very “”stylish”” music, but then a very bizarre sermon which was more like a college lecture, complete with the expectation that you should be taking notes.  When they read the verses, everyone reads in unison which is terrible and chaotic.  I missed the order and tradition and structure of Catholic mass.  This was cemented for me when I went to the beautiful cathedral in Myeongdong and remembered what “real church” is like.  I like “real church” infinitely better.

Things escalated quickly, recently.  The friend says that she wants to help me learn Korean, which is like, okay cool, awesome, great.  But the reasoning seems a bit off, like I’m her project, like I asked her to do this, which I never did.  I’m not dragging myself around on my knees asking Koreans to teach me.  I know that I’m pretty capable of teaching myself serviceably well by myself, but I’m just really l a z y..  Especially since she decided that the way I needed to study Korean was using the Bible, since it’s the best book and I will learn better that way.  Like, I’m all for Bible study, but only on your own terms.  And the reasoning is just very cyclical and tiring.  I want to learn Korean, just not this way.  She feels like it is her god-ordained project to teach me Korean and make me a better Christian.

We had our bible study/first Korean lesson yesterday.  It was brutal.  While I do find a measure of comfort in having the structure of grammar and lessons to follow in a textbook, I think the method of listening test from a text/ rewrite correct spellings of vocabulary words/ define each word/ use each word in a sentence/ read each sentence aloud/ text translation is a good one. However, I don’t think I’m interested enough in knowing the source material to continue.  I don’t want to have a bible discussion twice a week instead of studying, and I don’t like feeling like anyone’s service project.

Wow.  There was  a huge chunk of negativity.  Long story short: don’t use the promise of language exchange to push your faith on others.

So, I’m thinking that that’s not a really good motivation for learning Korean, to be able to translate the Bible.  At least not for me.  And you shouldn’t be like my other work friend who I’m 98% sure is trying to learn for the sole purpose of picking up boys and nothing else.  The motivation has to be deeper than that.  Like perhaps, a need for understanding.

I had also been struggling trying to motivate myself to go to the gym.  Besides a soul-crushing ride up the elevator, being surrounded by stick-thin people, and having to go really early before work because it’s too crowded in the evening (I expect my post on Korean gym culture will be forthcoming), it’s hard to make myself go more than once or twice a week, if at all.  I’ve only improved in recent weeks thanks to the merciless teasing of my work friend.

Being an athlete for 16 years, it’s really hard to make yourself work out when it’s suddenly not “for” anything.  I’ve never had a time where I’m not training for something, however far it is in the future.  So I had an epiphany yesterday on the elliptical: if I give myself a finish line, a goal, then it won’t be as hard to push myself, like just signing up for a simple 5k was be enough to get me out of the house and onto the running trails in Han Gang like I did this morning.  It was pretty satisfying, even though I got plenty of weird stares for my outfit of wrestling shirt and running tights from the ahjummas.  I was pretty sweaty on the train back, after all.

Maybe motivation for staying fit and studying Korean will come from within, one day, but right now I need external sources.  The right kind, too.

We see this sort of thing with students all the time.  The students who are self-motivated or “intrinsically motivated” are the ones who do best in school.  The students who are driven by pleasing the teacher or their friends or their parents don’t do as well consistently.  Finally there are the kids who are only motivated by what is fun or interesting to them.  If a game or activity is fun or they deem it worth their time, they’ll participate, but otherwise they are either blissfully off in their own world or make class a living hell for everyone in the room, as their sole mission seems to be to destroy everything in sight.  (This is true for kindergarteners, at least.)  You’ve gotta praise the good ones and ignore the ill-behaved ones as best you can.  And everyone responds well to treats.

So, it’s all about finding the right motivation to do that thing, whatever it is.  Sometimes you need a little push, sometimes a big one, sometimes continued encouragement and sometimes merciless teasing.  Whatever works, really.

A toast to whatever makes you take that first step, since the first step is always the hardest.






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