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As athletes, we often get caught up in the pursuit of external achievements and measurable metrics. Winning races, setting personal records, and standing on podiums can be incredibly fulfilling, but running coach Mario Fraioli and I discussed a topic we are both deeply passionate about: doing an activity for its own sake.

In a conversation on the Sonya Looney Show, we discussed how the process, the dedication, the commitment can bring deep satisfaction, regardless of the outcome. It’s a powerful shift in perspective, recognizing that the journey can be just as fulfilling as the destination.

Mario’s experiences in sport

Mario is a running coach and the mastermind behind the morning shakeout newsletter and podcast. He’s also a former newspaper and magazine editor and writer. In our conversation, Mario shares his insights on dealing with plateaus, navigating the delicate balance of when to pivot or quit, and the importance of consistency, even when the path becomes less enjoyable. We also tackle subjects close to our hearts, such as identity, aging, and how to live by our values in various aspects of life.

As a Bay Area-based running coach, Mario’s expertise spans from everyday age-group runners to world-class elites, helping them achieve extraordinary feats in the running world. His guidance has led athletes to personal bests, national records, and even the Olympic Games.

Apart from his coaching prowess, Mario is the man behind the morning shakeout, a weekly newsletter that explores the world of running and beyond, and the host of its eponymous podcast. With a background that includes work at Competitor magazine and contributions to publications like Outside, ESPN, and more, Mario brings a wealth of experience to our conversation.

Lessons Learned Off the Podium

I’ve faced several pivotal moments in my athletic career, from switching disciplines to adapting to changing circumstances. Each time, it required a deep reflection on my values and purpose, aligning my decisions with what truly mattered to me.

True happiness and contentment can be found in the relationships we cultivate and the lifestyle we create. While goals and achievements are essential, they should be complemented by the joy of the journey and the richness of our connections with others.

This insight resonated deeply with me, as I’ve found that my most rewarding experiences have often been the result of strong relationships and a balanced, fulfilling lifestyle. These elements have a way of infusing our pursuits with meaning and depth.

In our quest for self-improvement, it’s easy to focus solely on measurable progress—faster times, more significant achievements, and tangible results. However, Mario emphasized that growth extends beyond these external markers. It can be internal, personal, and deeply meaningful. Sometimes, it’s the lessons we learn, the resilience we develop, and the wisdom we gain that truly define our journey. As athletes and individuals, embracing this broader perspective allows us to appreciate the full spectrum of growth.

Mario’s wisdom has left a lasting impact on me, and I hope it resonates with you too.

Here are our key takeaways:

  • The work itself can be the reward, not just external achievements or metrics.
  • Growth doesn’t always mean measurable progress – it can be internal too.
  • Consistency comes from commitment to your values and goals.
  • It’s important to find fulfillment from relationships and lifestyle, not just outcomes.
  • Pivoting requires honesty about what still serves your values and purpose.

Listen to Mario’s episode

If you found today’s episode enlightening and want to hear more, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Be sure to share this episode with athletes and goal-setters alike!


Episode Chapters

  • Running, coaching, and writing (0:02)
  • Running coaching and personalized training. (2:26)
  • Finding joy and meaning in running beyond numerical goals. (6:44)
  • Fulfillment through running and relationships. (10:52)
  • Motivation and fulfillment in athletic pursuits. (15:26)
  • Aging and performance in sports. (19:43)
  • Growth plateaus and finding meaning beyond external validation. (23:53)
  • Finding enoughness in creative pursuits. (28:38)
  • Personal growth, values, and decision-making. (33:37)
  • Values, consistency, and commitment in various aspects of life. (38:13)
  • Overcoming procrastination and building discipline through small steps. (42:16)
  • Overcoming self-doubt and finding motivation in creative writing. (45:25)



Sonya Looney 0:02
Mario, welcome to the show.

Mario Fraioli 0:04
Thank you so much for having me.

Sonya Looney 0:06
I’ve been wanting to have you on the podcast for a long time as I’ve been a listener of yours and a reader of your newsletter. And you’ve been doing both of those things for a really long time. And you are a successful runner and running coach. So can you give us kind of a background about yourself, and then we can start picking up some of the pieces from there.

Mario Fraioli 0:24
I mean, that was a great introduction right there. I’ll take that 10 out of 10 times. But yeah, I’m Mario Fraley. I do a lot of things. I spend most of my working time coaching runners of all levels for all different disciplines. I’ve been doing that to varying degrees since 2004. But it is how I spend most of my working time now. In a previous life, I worked as a newspaper and magazine editor and a writer for a bunch of different publications. Most people who are familiar with my my work know me from competitive magazine, and, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore, but I was there for six years. So I have a lot of stuff that is still on the internet from my time there. But in 2015, I started my newsletter called The Morning Shakeout. And that was while I was still on staff at competitor. And it was really just a creative itch that I wanted to scratch.

But I was on Twitter at the time it put out a tweet one day and said, I’m doing this thing. It’s coming out next week, if you want to get it sign up for it right here. And as of this conversation today, just this morning, I put out issue number 407. So it’s been 407 straight weeks of the morning shakeout email newsletter. And since that first issue went out a little over a year later, I started taking on partnerships sponsorships from different brands. And that is how I spend a decent chunk of of my working time now. And little over a year after I launched the newsletter, I came up with a podcast of the same name. And I am 200. And as of this morning, 27 episodes into the podcast, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with athletes, coaches, activist writers, behind the scenes, folks, mostly mostly in running but people that I’ve just wanted to go deeper into conversation with learn a little bit more about and share their story with a wider audience.

It’s funny, I was a freelance writer, and I wrote for a competitor a number of times back in the day. That’s such a great magazine. Yeah, I mean, it started as this like regional multi sport magazine in California, and then they gobbled up a bunch of other regional publications. And when I started there in 2010, I was the the web editor and competitor was making a shift to being a running magazine. And it had an interesting distribution model that was available at gyms, PT offices, Jamba Juice’s, it was free, you could just pick it up off a newsstand but had like a glossy cover to it. And Brian Metzler, who was the editor in chief, he and I really steered the ship and in that direction, and until the company changed ownership and 2016. It was a thing. And sadly, it’s it’s no longer thing, it became podium runner, and now it’s outside run. But a lot of the stuff that we did, during that 2010 to 2016 time period still lives online. So I’m glad that it’s not totally gone.

Sonya Looney 3:22
So something that I think about a lot when people do lots of different things. And this is a problem that I myself have trouble with is like when someone asks you what you do, you don’t want to give them like a five minute answer of what I just did. Yeah, well, I mean, like, on the podcasts, we want to do that. But you know, if you’re like at a coffee shop, and you meet someone for the first time, and they asked you what you do, like how do you answer that question concisely? Yeah,

Mario Fraioli 3:45
I. Now this is so that’s a great question. My answer has changed over the years. And now for the purpose of precision. I just say that I coach runners, which in itself is an interesting conversation starter, because the first follow up question someone will throw up me is do you mean Olympians and I’ll say, Well, I’ve I’ve coached an Olympian, but most of the people that I coach are just everyday people like you and I who have jobs and families and don’t do this professionally don’t get paid. And it’s a big part of their life. And that’s always, for people who aren’t in this world is usually very interesting to them, that average people would have a coach. So I just for simplicity’s sake, I just go with that. And then depending on where that conversation goes, I may tell someone about my newsletter or my my podcast, but I mean, I do spend from an hour standpoint, most of my working time coaching runners, so I just I just go with that because it’s the easiest, easiest way to answer that question.

Sonya Looney 4:48
When it comes to coaching runners who’ve been doing it, you said in some capacity since 2004, that’s almost 20 years. How do you find joy and interest in it after two Seeing it for that long.

Mario Fraioli 5:03
On a very basic level, every runner is different. Every person’s entry into the sport is different, what they’re focusing on from a competitive standpoint is different. Their backgrounds are different, how they respond to training is different. So, I mean, I look at every athlete as a unique puzzle. So that in itself keeps it very interesting to me. The other thing, and I’m fairly unique in this regard, but I’m certainly not the only person who does this. I coach runners from the mile to like, over 100 mile ultra marathons, and everything. And anything in between, from cross country to marathons, half marathons, which is sort of my sweet spot, more traditional, like trail Ultras, that sort of thing.

So, I mean, that keeps it interesting, too. So if I was just coaching, say, sub three hour marathoners, I mean, it does get a little bit formulaic at that point. And you see a lot of the same things. And, you know, I still have some of that just given the breadth of athletes, that I coach, but the fact that you know, in any given day I’m talking to I mean, I just got a phone with one of my athletes a little while ago, who’s getting ready for a multi day race. And I had an athlete over the weekend, who raced a marathon and broke three hours for the first time. And just a couple weeks ago, I had someone else who broke 515 in the mile for the first time, right. So I mean, just having that type of diversity, for me, is sort of like a built in way of keeping things interesting. It keeps me on my toes to just from a coaching perspective,

Sonya Looney 6:32
there’s something that I think is really interesting, especially about road running is that people will run for a time, whereas with trail running, or like even like mountain biking, you’re not necessarily going for a specific mile time. So how do you help people that are really focused on an outcome part, like, oh, it needs to be sub three hours? Or it needs to be sub 515? Like, how do you help them stay focused and find joy in what they’re doing?

Mario Fraioli 6:54
Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s challenging, I mean, I’ll just be upfront about that. It’s, it’s challenging to do to, I hate to say break someone from that mindset. But to shift them from that mindset, because there is there is a time and a place for that, especially if they are trying to do something that is, you know, very concrete break three hours for the marathon hit a Boston qualifying time, it’s like though, you know, those, it’s pretty black and white, you either hit the mark, or you don’t, but it can’t be all about that. Because more often than not, you’re just going to feel like you’re butting your head against the wall, and you’re continually frustrated.

So it’s getting them to take a more process oriented approach to not only our training, but just this lifestyle of being a runner, being an endurance athlete, in general, if your happiness is tied up in numbers, whether that’s a personal best, where you place on the podium, I mean, you know, this is as an elite athlete, yourself, like, it’s not going to be very fulfilling, right. So it’s like trying to find meaning beyond those things. And I think those things can be important and they can be guideposts for us, certainly when we are formulating the the training necessary to do the thing. But I think beyond that, it’s like getting people, especially the average, everyday age group, or to realize like this is this is a lifestyle, and hopefully it’s something that you can do, you know, for a long time, and you take so much more away from it, then winning the age group, setting the personal best qualifying for Boston, whatever it may be for you. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 8:18
like the lifestyle piece also makes me think a little bit about identity. Because, you know, those two are intertwined. And also, when somebody is training for something, whether they’re training five hours a week, or 25 hours a week, they have to think about how they want to spend their time and they have to be intentional about that so that it’s not super myopic. So how do you help people with that type of? I don’t want to call it balance. I usually call it intentional imbalance.

Mario Fraioli 8:44
Yeah, I like intentional imbalance. I know exactly what you mean, when you say that. I think a lot of I’ll speak specifically about runners because that’s who I coach, they’ll say, I’m a marathoner. I’m an ultra runner, I like Well, that’s part of who you are. But you’re so much more than that. And some of it’s obvious, right? It’s like, well, I’m also a partner, I’m also a parent, I’m also in some cases, a coach, I’m a friend, I’m a brother. And it’s like, yeah, that’s obvious. But you need to remind people of that sometimes, because I think when people are so fixated on a goal, something that is very important to them, they do get this very like narrow field of vision, they do become myopic in their thinking, like, I’m just this thing. And it’s like, that’s part of who you are. But whether you do the thing or not, when it’s over, you know, then what are you? Is that all you are? No, you’re all these other things as well. And I mean, I think those reminders are important, after someone achieved something really special, as well as if they fall short and disappoint themselves. Because that’s, that’s often step it and they’re like, look, you know, it stinks that you came up short of your goal.

That’s life. It happens sometimes, but you still have this great family that thinks the world of you, they’re super supportive. You still have this community, you know that you’re going to show up and meet with on Wednesday night at the track to you know, to do your workout like it does can fundamentally change everything. And we all need, you know those, you know those reminders. I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Brad Stolberg, who has a book coming out called Master of change. And we talked a bit about identity. And the analogy or metaphor that he uses is that of a house, he’s like, You need to be more than a studio apartment or a one room house, you need to have all of these, these rooms in your house so that if one room is full, you just need to get out of it. Because it’s too hot, or whatever the reason may be you have these other rooms to go to, and I really liked that. I mean, I think that’s a good way to think about it. I mean, if if we’re going to be, you know, if we’re just gonna be like this one room house and something happens, and what are you left with? Right? So it’s like you gotta have, you gotta have some other places to go and other ways to identify, identify yourself and just find meaning, not only in whatever your chosen pursuit is, but just your life in general. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 10:52
Brad is such a great writer and speaker, he’s been on the show a few times. And we’re actually doing an interview pretty soon about that book, which I thought was absolutely phenomenal. And, like, I think about fulfillment a lot. And you and I have both kind of talked about this before. But you know, when you’ve achieved a lot of things, you tend to think, Well, when I achieve a certain number of things, and I’ll be fulfilled and satisfied in my life, but fulfillment isn’t always about achievement. fulfillment is achievement as part of what that what that is. So like, how do you think about fulfillment now, you’ve been doing lots of things successfully for a long time, and you’ve worked with a lot of successful people. Yeah,

Mario Fraioli 11:28
my, my thoughts on it have shifted a lot over the last 20 years. And achievement is like a very, like tiny, miniscule. Part of what brings me fulfillment. So if I rewind to when I got out of college in 2004, I was a pretty good college runner, I was an all American, I had done some pretty good things on the competitive side of the sport, I really wanted to go pro, but it wasn’t like that good, where companies were going to offer me a contract coming out of college, but I thought that I could do it. And I thought that that’s who I was, who I was meant to be. And that was going to make me, you know, super happy. And I mean, that could be a two hour podcast, and itself, just going through all of that. But to fast forward through, through all of it. That didn’t happen.

I ended up literally breaking myself in places that a healthy male in his early 20s should not be breaking himself. I isolated myself from a lot of people who were important in my life, and thankfully, still are today. But I mean, I lived a very, like closed off, you know, type of lifestyle, and I was miserable. And I had a terrible relationship with the sport of running generally, but also just just myself. And it took hitting rock bottom for me, a few years after college to really step away, and I did, I stepped away from sport for the better part of a year, almost almost exactly a year. And some of that was even after the injury that I had healed, because I realized, like, I don’t have a good relationship with this. And if I can’t improve that relationship, then I need to get out of it. And so, you know, really the last, I’d say, since 2008, so almost 15 years now have been this, you know, continual process of re building my relationship with running and reexamining what it is that brings me fulfillment, I still love to compete, I love to train hard, you know, but those things occupy a much healthier place in my life now than they did in my early 20s.

Because, you know, if I come short of my goal, you know, say hitting a particular time in the marathon, like, Yeah, I’ll be a little disappointed. I think that’s, that’s normal, but it doesn’t ruin my day, you know, I can have that perspective, now that, you know, nothing fundamentally changed. And like, I’m still gonna be the same person tomorrow, and I’m still gonna go meet with the guys next week to run and it’s like, those are the things that bring me fulfillment, it wasn’t about the outcome or the achievement it is about, like I was talking about earlier that, that lifestyle, and all the other wonderful things that it’s brought into my life, especially the people, I mean, I’d say, most of the most meaningful people in my life outside of my family, directly or indirectly have come through have come through sport, and they haven’t been, you know, it wasn’t people that I beat and graces, or, in some cases, yeah, it did compete against them. But our relationship went much deeper than that. And really, for me, like, that’s what it’s about. It’s finding fulfillment in those places, and the people that I get to share these things with in the experiences that I have, and the lessons that they that they teach me, to me, like that’s, you know, that’s fulfilling. I mean, as I said, a little while ago, I still love to train hard, and I still have to compete. But I also realized, for me, bringing it back to the lifestyle side of things, it’s it’s so much more than that. I mean, running oftentimes might be the only time that I get out of the house every day. So it’s an opportunity to get out in nature. It’s a way to explore especially if I’m visiting a new city. You know, at my age I I’m a little over 40 years old, many of my my peers have busy lives.

To You know, they’re working, they have kids, I mean, you know how this is on, it’s like, you’ve tried to find those opportunities to get together, oftentimes it’s on a run, you know, and that’s to me like to have that time to spend an hour with someone that I care about is, you know, very, very fulfilling. And I’ll take that, you know, 11 out of 10 times over lining up for a race now, and I still love to do that. But I mean, if you if you kind of like put me up against the wall and said, you can never race again, I’d be like, that’s fine. That it’s, it’s not about that. And I mean, I had a taste of that in 2020. And that was just like another, I think, just speaking for myself personally like learning moment, there were no, there were no races. So I couldn’t find fulfillment in that very type of like tangible achievement. And I in for a while I couldn’t even like, at least I didn’t run with people for a few months. And thankfully, like we transitioned out of that relatively quickly, but I mean, I was able to find so much more fulfillment, just in the in the pursuit that had nothing to do with the workouts nothing to do with the race has nothing to do with the results.

Sonya Looney 15:57
I think that’s a really important perspective that doing an activity for the sake of the activity itself. And then all of the positive lifestyle benefits that you gain from something is really important. And you’re right, like the pandemic was a great example of that. And some people really struggle with not having that carrot in front of them to chase for whatever, whatever that reason was that you need the carrot. And, you know, all of us have different relationships with the validation of achievement. And something that I’ve thought about a lot, and I’ve done some research on is extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. So people can be intrinsically driven initially to do something. But once they start getting this external validation, or these extrinsic motivators, it actually screws up their intrinsic motivation, because they forget why they do it in the first place. So how do you help some of the people you coach deal with that when they start achieving things?

Mario Fraioli 16:45
Yeah, it’s, it’s a great question. And that’s something I’ve struggled with myself personally to it in my own life, with sport, but even outside of it, and we could definitely get into that if, if you’d like to, but I often remind my athletes to reflect on why they got into the sport in the first place. And for some of them, like myself, it was in high school. And it was an opportunity to be a part of a team to do something with your friends after school to, you know, to try something new. I mean, it was very, like, you know, innocent type of beginnings, it wasn’t, at least in my life, it wasn’t their parent pushed them to try and be a national champion or something like that, at 12 years old.

And that’s all that’s all they ever knew. So it can be as simple as that. Sometimes, it’s like remembering why you got into this in the first place, because it’s an easy thing to lose sight of, especially the further that you are away from that in terms of time, but also in terms of like achievements, because most people don’t see that instant success. I mean, that will that will come over time. And I do think success can change your relationship to the thing. And that’s maybe where you cross that threshold from being, like, intrinsically, intrinsically motivated to do the thing for the thing itself, and the ways that it fulfills you versus to get some external reward hit, you know, the qualifying time, you know, have an article written about you in the newspaper, whatever it is that you know, people are, you know, people are chasing. So I think it’s, it’s constantly reminding yourself, like, why you got into this thing in the first place. And I think, for me, from a coaching standpoint, I tried to be very intentional about how I write out someone’s training, because there are, you know, workouts that are important that you need to hit, if you want to do the thing that you want to do.

But I think you have to have other days, where you’re just doing it for the love, like it’s kind of a love, love for the game type of thing. I mean, I often like to say that I play track, right? I mean, I, I just love the feeling of going to the track. And like being on the oval and ripping off some fast, two hundreds. I mean, even if it’s like, there’s no race happening, like I just I love the feeling of doing that, when I’m doing that. It’s, it’s called playing track for me. And I tried to have my athletes do that as well. I mean, for a lot of my trail runners, especially if they start seeing some success. And, you know, they’re qualifying for the UTMB or western states, or whatever it happens to be. And they’re like, I gotta take myself more seriously. Now I’m in this in this thing, and it’s fairly select company. And so yet you do have to be like dialed in about certain things, those races will chew you up if you’re not careful. But let’s not lose sight of why you started trail running in the first place. And you have days when you go out and it’s like, You’re not obligated to hit X time, or x miles or X amount of Vert, like you’re just going to play in the trails. And I think it’s important to have that and you have to be intentional about it. Because if not, it’s easy to get caught up in the inertia of success and you know, wanting to continually just like build and build and build upon that and that’s just not sustainable. I don’t care who you are. Now,

Sonya Looney 19:45
we’re definitely gonna get into that outside of sport, but I wanted to start with sport because it’s a really great like microcosm, to another place I wanted to go was, you know, you mentioned you’re over 40 I just turned 40 A few days ago. A lot of people listening belated birthday. Thank you. And I like to proudly say that I turned 40. Because aging is something that I am passionate about talking about, because a lot of people are ashamed of their age and the way that our culture views aging is actually quite negative. But a lot of people ask me about aging, a lot of the talks that I’ve given about, you know, the mental side of sport. And people ask, Well, how do I deal with comparison to myself, not to other people, but comparison to myself, and expectations of myself and what I’m capable of as I’m getting older? And as I have different priorities, like how do you wrestle with that?

Mario Fraioli 20:29
Yeah, I think it’s accepting that it’s always changing in and you can’t really think whether it’s sport or other areas of your life be longing for how things used to be, because things will never be how they used to be, they are how they are now. And they’re probably going to be different, you know, a few months from now. So I think a lot of that comes just down to presence. And, you know, being in the context of sport, like being honest with yourself about, like, what how old you are, maybe how long you’ve been doing the sport changes that may or may not be happening in your body, and how that’s going to affect your ability to do something in the way that you used to do it. In my sport, especially on the roads or on the track, it is very time based and it is black and white. And and that can be to people’s detriment sometimes, because they’re always comparing, you know, themselves.

And I’m certainly guilty of this myself to to what you did five years ago, you know, and I was very intentional about saying what you did five years ago, because some people say who you were five years ago, it’s like what you did five years ago, what you did 10 years ago. And and that’s a an easy trap to fall into. But I think you have to, like actively work to make sure that you don’t get too deep into it. Because for myself, I look at the times that I ran when I was 20, I’m just I’m not going to hit those, I’m at a very different point of my life. You know, I’ve had a lot of life experience that’s happened between now and then my responsibilities are different. The demands on my time are different, I have to remind myself when you did that, at the age of 20, you were a college student, you probably weren’t taking your classes as seriously as you needed to. I mean, you could sleep nine to 10 hours in a nap every afternoon. And I mean, you were essentially like, able to focus on on athletics, and everything else was was not that important. And now it’s like, yeah, I can still take my pursuit seriously. But it’s probably like the fifth thing on the priority list, I have a lot of other things that, you know, take precedence over my competitive goals. And I just have to be honest with myself about that. And that can be hard.

But I also think approaching it from the lens of curiosity moreso than comparison makes a big difference. And for me, when I turned 40, that was really a very deliberate shift that I made was to approach it with curiosity. I was like, Okay, I’m in a new decade here. What can I do in these events that I’ve been doing for 20 plus years, now that I’m 40, and at this different point of my life, and, and I’ve surprised myself pleasantly a couple times with that. And I mean, it’s on paper, it’s not nearly as fast as it was 20 years ago. But I’m like, wow, I didn’t think that I could do that just kind of given my lifestyle now how much I’m able to train the other demands on my time. And that’s a fun feeling. Like that’s a really cool feeling. And I try to impart that upon my athletes, I do coach a lot of masters, age athletes who are in their 40s in their 50s. And, and beyond. And they’re trying to find, you know, that joy, that fulfillment in in sport, while also wrestling with the reality that on paper, the times are slowing down. And sometimes that’s actually helpful forcing function and realizing, well, there’s not really much I can do about that. I mean, you can do a degree, but at some point, as you age, when when it relates to sport, like you’re going to slow down. I mean, that’s just, you know, biology will catch up to you. But, you know, I think it can be it can be something people struggle with, but I also think it can be helpful if you frame it in the right way. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 23:52
that curiosity kind of like releases the pressure valve because you’re not now looking and judging and expecting you’re more open in your approach to it. But I also think that it’s hard for people Trent to transition from being quote special, because if you’re the fast guy on the group ride or the Fast, fast woman in town, you know, who’s like knocking off all the Strava segments or whatever. And now all of a sudden, you’re not and you’re not, quote, special anymore. That’s really hard for people to cope with. Because now, if you put all of your self worth on that specialness, then now you don’t feel good anymore.

Mario Fraioli 24:26
Yeah, I think that’s also an opportunity to one just look yourself in the mirror and see yourself for much more than that, you know, you’ve got to be more than just the fast guy in the group ride or, you know, the fast girl on the long run, whatever, whatever it happens to be. And, and that doesn’t happen overnight. I think that takes just a lot of personal work, but it does force you to find, you know, a wider identity for yourself than just than just that. And I do think that generally from an identity standpoint, if it is very The narrow, the longer that goes on, the tougher that’s going to be for you to break from. So the earlier that you can find different ways to identify, but also just different sources of meaning and whatever it is that you’re doing, whether it’s sport, whether it’s your profession, your family, etc. I mean, it just gives you more tools in your box to work through those times when, you know, it gets tough or you are challenged, or you’re not sure exactly where to go or what to do.

Sonya Looney 25:28
So I reached out to you as a couple months ago, because I heard you on another podcast and some of the things that you were saying, it was like you were reading my mind and then saying some of the things out loud that I was almost afraid to say out loud, like, Well, what happens whenever you know, your podcast, downloads plateau, or you know, just everything, all the work that you’re doing is plateauing and not growing anymore. Because a lot of the time when we set goals, even if we’re setting a process goal, we’ll think in terms of growth, maybe not in terms of outcome, but I need to be seeing a trajectory that is upward, even if it’s not like linear, I still want to see an upward trajectory. And at some point that’s actually going to level off for and I thought that maybe it was just me, but it sounds like it’s not just me that this is actually quite common. So you and I had a phone call, we’re like, Okay, well, you know, what do you do whenever those things are leveling off? And how do you make sure that you’re still excited and motivated when you’re not seeing the growth that you initially were?

Mario Fraioli 26:21
Yeah, I mean, I’m glad that we’re talking about this. It’s such a it’s such a deep, nuanced topic. I mean, think about just something that’s out in the world. That’s like having a growth mindset, right? And that just implies like, oh, well, you’re always you’re always looking to grow. It’s like, well, infinite growth is just, I don’t care if it’s sport, if it’s business, if it’s, I mean, just look to nature, it’s it’s just, it’s not realistic, it’s not possible. You know, at some point, things need to stabilize, and, and plateau. And I don’t know if this is a Western thing, more so than, than anything else, but we’re fed this, like in our popular media, and throughout our culture, it’s like, if you’re, you know, if you’re not growing your debt, and it’s like, no, that’s, that’s not actually true. At some point, things need to stabilize, and it’s healthy to, you know, to do that, and, you know, not all progress is, is linear.

And I think, inherently, a lot of us know that. But we have a hard time accepting it. And I certainly have to, I mean, to go back to something we were talking about a few minutes ago, when I started my, my newsletter, I had zero professional ambitions behind it, it was just a creative itch that I wanted to scratch, I didn’t think 20 People were gonna sign up for it. And I think the first issue went out to, you know, 200 people, which, you know, sort of floored me. But I wasn’t enough sponsors or partners that I, you know, that I had to report to, it’s just something that I did, and, you know, again, fast forward, like a little over a year later, I bring sponsors on board, and it is a way that, you know, making income, it does change the relationship to it. And for a while I was thinking, Oh, I’ve got to keep growing this thing. You know, I’ve got to show those numbers to my partners that, that Yeah, look, this thing’s growing like 40% year over year, and it did for for a few years. And, and that’s exciting when it happens. And then it leveled off. And at first I’m like, panicked. Oh, no, this isn’t good. I’m not gonna be able to bring sponsors on next year.

And then you realize, at least in this particular situation, that at some point, this was this was inevitable. There’s not like a big drop off, because I haven’t said or done anything that just like push people away. But, you know, it’s had the same number of subscribers now, you know, there is normal churn that happens for for a while, and the people who really enjoy getting it every week, they really enjoy getting it every week. And I think, and I think that’s a good thing. You know, I think it’s good that I’ve kind of like landed it at that place, and doesn’t mean that that I won’t jump another level and have you know, some growth but I’m not chasing it, you know, I’m more thinking about now. I’m like, you know, what, I want to make something that feels right to me, but also the people who are here to, you know, enjoy it are doing so, you know, rather than just chasing numbers, because I think that happens, like whether it’s, you know, in a professional context, like a newsletter or podcast, where you just you’re just chasing numbers chasing downloads, you just want to see that hockey stick continuing to go up. Or, you know, I see this in my coaching practice with my athletes. I mean, at some point, you’re gonna apply till like, you just can’t infinitely keep taking time off of the marathon or, I mean more often than not what happens is you take off huge chunks of time, and that’s super exciting.

And then those chunks get smaller and smaller as you get faster and then it’s like, you know, it was hours and then it was minutes and now it’s like seconds. And you know, that can be hard at some point you plateau and that’s okay. You know, if you’re consistently like performing at what is a good level for you, like you should take some confidence from that and and not let it beat you down, because you’re not, it’s just not going to be realistic to keep getting faster, keep getting more, more, more more. But I do think like that is what we’re fed a lot societally. And for better or worse, we can’t really get ourselves out of that, out of that mindset. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 30:16
and then there comes a dissatisfaction when you don’t see more, and then you start trying to, like you said, you want to get more downloads, you want to get, you know, more followers, whatever it is, and then the quality of the work that you put out suffers. Exactly. And the reason why you’re doing it in the first place is no longer that reason, kind of what we were talking about earlier about now you have these like extrinsic markers, like number of followers, or money or things like that, and that can pollute your meaning and purpose behind why you are doing it.

Mario Fraioli 30:42
Yeah, especially in this day and age with social media, and we know what everyone else is doing all the time. I mean, you know, thinking about it in sport, I mean, if you’re following someone on Strava, or on Instagram, someone’s going to PR every week, it’s going to happen. And you always will feel like the person who didn’t PR that week, same thing. In our world with podcasts or newsletters, someone’s going to brag about hitting 400,000 subscribers or 5 million downloads. I mean, that’s someone’s gonna hit that every day. But you always feel like, ah, that’s, that’s just not me. And then when you do have wins, you fail to recognize them too.

And I think that’s where, you know, speaking from my own experience, again, like people can get into trouble, you feel failed to realize, like, Oh, I did get to this, you know, good level, but I’m constantly comparing myself to what I didn’t do or what the other person did. And, you know, as Brad Stolberg likes to say, the goalpost is always 10 yards down the field. And I think that’s, that’s trapped in a very dangerous one that many of us get caught in from time to time.

Sonya Looney 31:37
Yeah, so I guess the question that we’re trying to answer is what’s enough? And what does that mean? Like, it doesn’t mean you have to be complacent and stop trying, but like, what’s enough so that you can quote, feel like you’ve done enough?

Mario Fraioli 31:48
Yeah, and that’s, that’s completely subjective. And it’s going to differ, depending on the person and the context. But I think being able to figure out what that is for you. I mean, that’s an exercise that I’ve done, personally, over the last few years is really try and look at my life as a whole, and all these different areas that that make it up and understand, like I have, I have enough, I don’t need to chase, you know, more money or more followers, or more than I mean, sometimes you do for very, like practical reasons. But you know, it does force you to, like, do some accounting and be like, Well, what do I want? Like, what do I really need?

What do I really want and just being like, super clear about that, what’s it going to take to, to get there and then recognizing when you do get there and realizing, okay, I don’t have to, like do that plus five, or that plus 10, like this, this is enough. And people like it sounds crazy. But people get uncomfortable. And they get there when they have enough because we always feel like we should have or want a little bit more, because that’s what everyone around us is doing, or at least what we’re paying attention to whether it’s on social media or over the Internet. It’s what society is telling us like, No, you should want the bigger house, you should want more followers, you should want to go faster, you should want to grow your business type of thing.

And I mean, speaking for myself, I’ve just gotten to a point last few years where I am comfortable with the idea of enough. And it took a while to get comfortable with that. But then once you get there, I mean, it’s not easy, but it’s freeing, you just you realize, you know, what’s actually important, and what’s going to bring you back to what we’re talking about earlier fulfillment, you know, and it’s not going to be the numbers. It’s not Yeah, just since it’s I mean, the numbers, oftentimes, it’s numbers, whether it’s money, or followers or times or whatever it happens to be. That’s not going to bring you the fulfillment. It’s much deeper than that.

Sonya Looney 33:36
I think, you know, not to sound cliche, but really understanding what your values are, can help drive your your process because processes and always mean progress. Yes. And also the acceptance of it’s almost like a human condition, at least in our culture of nothing’s ever going to feel like enough, like, you’ll get quote there. And then it’s just not going to feel like it’s enough. So being really careful when you’re setting goals. Am I trying to set a goal so that I can feel a certain way? Because when I get there, I’ll feel a certain way knowing, you know, having the wisdom to know, okay, well, I’m gonna get quote there. And I’m still not going to feel the way that I think I’m going to feel when I get there, because I’m going to be different.

Mario Fraioli 34:11
Exactly. And I think those core values are, are key. They’re foundational. And, you know, what is the foundation? Do it hold you down? So without those core values, you don’t have something holding you down. And then what are you going to do, you’re just going to be, you’re just going to be chasing whatever is happening around you, because it all looks enticing. It all looks, it all looks good. They’re all things that you feel like you need, but if you have that foundation in place, and you’re constantly checking in on it and making sure like yep, I got these key things in place, like I’m not going anywhere. I’m good. The more you do that, the more comfortable you’re going to feel with that situation, the less likely you are to just be chasing things for the sake of chasing.

Sonya Looney 34:52
Yeah, like through this sort of choppy water of chasing. I came to a concise phrase. The work is the award, because, to me, that means that it doesn’t matter, you know if it’s going uphill or downhill or what the extrinsic parts of it are, and it’s okay to want those things. But really, at the end of the day, the things that you’re doing on a daily basis is that rewarding in and of itself, because that is where you’re going to feel satisfied and fulfilled. It doesn’t mean you’re in a vacuum. But something to consider is that that work part is the reward.

Mario Fraioli 35:23
Yeah, I love that it actually reminds me of a T shirt that I have, which I bought from semi read Brendan Leonard, and he calls it the zen of running. And it’s just, it’s just words, but it’s in this infinite circle, and it says, put in the miles and then has an arrow, it says, it says, put in the miles. So you can put in the miles so you can put in the miles. So and it’s like, same thing, the work is the reward, it’s like, you know, you’re not putting in the miles to achieve the result you’re putting in the miles, you can continue to put in the miles because by doing that, you know, you’re gonna find that, that fulfillment, that moment of Zen, at least the way that he titled The the t shirt, at least, that’s how I interpreted it. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 36:04
and I think that there’s this sort of polarizing thinking that if you enjoy the work, or you quote, feel like that’s enough, that will now you’re not going to be growing anymore. And that growth and an upward progress are analogous, or that they have to be together. But whenever you’re growing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be progressing in an external way you can be growing, even if you’re not as fast, even if you don’t have as many followers or downloads or money or whatever those things are.

Mario Fraioli 36:36
Yeah, I I’m glad you said that. I think a lot of people equate growth with something that you can measure, and all the things that we talked about, you know, times money, follower accounts, that’s it, you can measure all of those things, like it’s very easy to understand and wrap your head around when there’s actual growth. But I think when you reach this point where you feel like you have enough where you know, that you have enough, it doesn’t mean the growth stops, it just the growth isn’t going to be something that is so obvious to you, or something that is going to be easily measurable. It’s often, you know, internal, you know, very intrinsic type of thing.

Sonya Looney 37:16
So how do you decide when to pivot, because we’ve talked about this a little bit as well. And when you’re doing something for a really long time, you know, our personality types? It’s like your gritty, you can you’re consistent you stick to things for a long time, like how do you decide when it’s time to make some changes?

Mario Fraioli 37:31
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that. Because there are times when you do have to see something through and just continue pushing it, it may not work out, but you’ve just got to give yourself the the shot and be okay with that, like, alright, this isn’t gonna work out and you know that there’s, there’s an endpoint to it. I think there are other areas where it’s a little messier and not as obvious that there’s, you know, an off ramp or an endpoint and you’ve just got to be honest with yourself and ask yourself, Is this serving me? Is this giving me fulfillment? Is there a path forward? And if it’s no, no, no, you’ve got to be okay. With quitting. I mean, there’s, there’s something to be said for being gritty and pushing through. But I think it takes just as much if not more courage to quit sometimes, too. And I think, again, societally, I don’t know if this has just been pushed upon us from every which angle, but I think there’s, I think there’s a lot of courage in quitting.

And it’s, it’s tricky, because I don’t think you can just like, be the gritty person who pushes through everything, or be the person who just quits everything, I think it’s, I think it’s a lot more nuanced than that. And I think like, there’s got to be a healthy balance of, you know, of those two things. But I think, either way, it comes back down to your, your core values, you know, and just being, you know, being honest about how solid your foundation is, and realizing if, you know, if whatever pursuit it is that, you know that you’re on if if it’s continuing to serve you, you know, and if not being okay with, with walking away, which which can be scary, it is scary to, to be able to do that. And realizing that if something failed, that doesn’t mean that you’re a failure, either.

I think people have a hard time with that. I think that’s why people stay in situations that they probably should have left. Whether it’s a job, whether it’s a relationship. You know, whether it’s with a sport sometimes, too. I’ve seen I’ve seen all of those instances happen where if they knew what it was that gave them meaning and fulfillment, and they could just be honest with that. It might be hard to make a break, but ultimately they’d be they’d be better off because, you know, they’re being true to themselves in that situation.

Sonya Looney 39:50
Something else that I recently learned, like I’ve had a couple psychologists on the podcast, and I actually think I learned about act from Brad Stulberg in the practice of groundedness when he wrote that book It’s something they talk about a lot and act as values and how values can be practiced in multiple domains. So like family isn’t necessarily a value. Family is a domain where your values are practiced. So whenever you need to make transitions in your life, you need to walk away from something, worrying that you’re not going to feel like yourself, if you can find ways to practice those values in a different domain that can actually be really fulfilling. Yeah, I would agree with that. Do you have any disagreements with that?

Mario Fraioli 40:30
No, not off the top of my head? I don’t think so.

Sonya Looney 40:34
Yeah, so something else I wanted to ask you about, and I meant to ask a lot earlier was about consistency. Because I think that that could be something that can be incredibly challenging for people to stay consistent when it comes to running, or podcasting or writing a newsletter. How do you stay consistent, especially when it’s not always fun? And it’s more mundane to do that work?

Mario Fraioli 40:53
Yeah, I mean, for me, consistency is one of my core values. And that applies to many different areas of my life. But generally, if I’m going to commit to something, because it’s meaningful to me, I’m, you know, I want to be consistent in my pursuit of that, whatever that means, you know, in the case of my newsletter, that’s putting it out on a weekly cadence in terms of training, that means getting out more often than not, and even the days, I don’t feel like it just realizing that I don’t really have an excuse not to, I mean, sometimes you do, if you’re, you know, if you’re hurt, or you’re sick, like, yes, you’ve got to take the day off and just be smart. I think that just comes down to, you know, to common sense. But realizing like, you know, mood, like mood is going to follow action. I mean, I’ve had plenty of mornings where I woke up, and I didn’t feel like doing a lot of different things. And I feel like training and it feels like writing my newsletter that day. But I but I made that commitment.

I think consistency comes from commitment. So if you’re gonna commit to something, like whether it’s going to be to train for a marathon, whether it’s going to be to write a newsletter, whether it’s going to be just to, like, show up in your relationship, you know, I mean, I think if you’re gonna make a commitment to something, there’s, like, consistency is inherent in that what form it takes is going to be different depending on the pursuit, but I mean, I just look myself and say, No, you committed to this, like, you’re, you’re going to do it. And I think it’s just like, being as honest is that because if I gave into those feelings, when it just didn’t feel like doing something, I mean, nothing would ever get done. I mean, nothing, nothing would ever get done. And usually, it’s, you know, just taking that that first step can usually be the spark that just kind of gets the wheels in motion. And, you know, again, that mood starts to improve once you’ve taken action. So I just try not to try not to let it paralyze me. And I feel like when I’m in that situation, I know that I just, I need to do something like I need to just find the low hanging fruit, you know, pick it off, and that’s going to just get the momentum going in, in the right direction for me.

Sonya Looney 42:55
Yeah, that was something that really helped me during pregnancies, like I rode my bike through, well, completely through both pregnancies. There was lots of days, I didn’t want to get out the door. And I kind of thought about that mood follows action that I heard, I think it was ritual that said that. And then I thought, well, more specifically, like motivation follows action. So I would tell myself, I’m gonna do five minutes. And if I don’t want to do this anymore, after five minutes, I can turn around and go home. And there were days, I did turn around and go home after five minutes. But more often than not, I actually continued after five minutes, because it’s just the idea of having to get started. That is what holds us back.

Mario Fraioli 43:26
Yeah, I tell runners all the time, I call it the 10 Minute Rule, like give yourself 10 minutes, you know. So basically, that means you have to know decisions get made before you’re 10 minutes into the run, and then 10 minutes into the run, if you’re not feeling better, or more into it or feel like carrying on, turn around and go back. Because in that case, you’ve at least gotten in 20 minutes, you’ve done, you’ve done something and more often than not something is going to be better than nothing. There’s a place for rest days, and all of that we’re not going to go like that deep into the weeds.

But you know, that 10 minute roll. I mean, much like you just described, I mean, sometimes someone to run for 20 minutes, usually they’ll go like 30 to 60 if not longer, they just needed to, they just needed to, like get through that first 10 minutes. I mean, same thing with with writing. I mean, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stared at a blank screens, not happening to him, like just get a word down. You know, just write a sentence, you know, type of thing. I think, you know, the what’s the funny quote, it’s like, what’s the best way to eat an elephant? It’s like one bite at a time.

And I think about that, you know, whether it’s running a race, whether it’s writing my newsletter every week, whatever it happens to be, it’s like just find the smallest chunk. Just find the smallest chunk and do that. And then find another small chunk, and those chunks are going to add up. But I think oftentimes, I mean, with big, scary things. We paralyze yourself because they’re big, scary things, and we try to tackle it all at once in your eyes. No, I mean, for almost anything. That’s not how that’s not how it goes. I mean, they’re just little steps along the way. And I think that’s back to what we’re talking about earlier. Just being like very process oriented and in everything that we do. Last thing I’ll add about consistency, I just think it takes discipline, I think you need to build that discipline and the more consistent you are with something over time, the more discipline you build, around that practice, whatever, whatever it happens to be. But I mean, you’ve got to start stringing those days together a string, and those words together, string those miles together first, before you can actually get there and realize it.

Sonya Looney 45:24
But then that kind of popped in my mind when he talks about writing was the self critical voice that pops up and for me, like, it doesn’t really pop up as much with my sports. I mean, sometimes it does. But it really is loud, when I’m trying to write something creative. And sometimes that that voice in our heads, that tells us that we suck that this is no good that nobody’s gonna read this, read this, that we’re slow that we’re never gonna amount to anything. Sometimes that voice is loud enough to stop people from doing more than their 10 minutes or writing more than one sentence. So when someone has actually started something, and then that voice gets really loud, how do you overcome that? And I know that it’s not a simple answer. But I just want to ask you, it’s

Mario Fraioli 46:03
not a simple answer. But I think it comes down to drowning out the noise, and we’ve created that noise, whatever it is, I mean, just hearing you describe that. It’s what does someone else going to think about this, when they when they read it, or when they take a look at it, or they see me upload this run to Strava, whatever it happens to be, and it’s like, drown out all of that noise as best you can. And just focus on yourself and why it’s important and meaningful to you. And try not to think about the fact that do this writing, writing all the time that you’re doing it for yourself, like I write primarily for myself. And if I can satisfy that audience, I mean, I think it’d be crass with me to say like, I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it, but then I, I’m comfortable enough with them, like this is good enough for me. You know, I can’t really control what other people are going to think about it. But if I’m happy with what it is that I’m putting out, then I’m good with that. But it comes from drowning out the noise. And I think just staying like very focused on yourself and what it is that you need to do to get the job done.

Sonya Looney 47:05
So where can people sign up for your newsletter, so they can read all of this great writing, the

Mario Fraioli 47:10
easiest place to do that is the morning There’s a signup form, right on the homepage, and the morning will take you to a nother signup form, they both work all the same. But I mean, the morning is probably the easiest place to do that. Is

Sonya Looney 47:27
there anything else on your mind that we talked about or otherwise that you want to bring up?

Mario Fraioli 47:34
Give me a second to think about that.

think the biggest thing is that these patterns of thinking these patterns of behavior, as we’ve talked about throughout this conversation, they usually cross a bunch of different disciplines and domains. I mean, we’ve talked about it from like a sporting perspective, a business perspective, I think interpersonal relationship perspective, I mean, while the specifics might be different, I think, you know, a lot of the things that people are wrestling with, with identity with, you know, growth with this feeling of enoughness, they take they take different forms, but they’re there in all of these these different ways. So in my experience, if you can really pay attention to those patterns of behavior and find maybe what has worked for you and in sport and try to apply a similar framework to how you think about your work or how you think about, you know, your relationships or structure or other areas of of your life, you start to see those parallels and those similarities. I’m a big fan of like analogies, I mean, they’re just kind of analogous to, you know, to each other. So I think I would, you know, I would pay attention to that because oftentimes those those same patterns of behavior will pop up from one place to you know, another but if you can really get the ship going in the right direction, and in one way you can oftentimes, you know, apply those same those same lessons to something else and help you to get to a better place with it all.

Sonya Looney 49:08
Mario, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. It was great getting to talk at length about a lot of these different topics that are personally meaningful and I know meaningful to the listeners.

Mario Fraioli 49:18
Yeah, thank you so much for having me and inviting me on the show.

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