What Motivates You?
Ever wonder why some people seem to be driven to excel while others are content to live at a much slower pace? Success is subjective so whatever your definition, being successful doesn’t boil down to luck. Circumstances provide you with opportunities, it’s how you choose to respond to those opportunities that will make the difference.
As a triathlon and strength coach, I work with hundreds of people who have a myriad of barriers to achieving their fitness goals. Whether you’re trying to drag yourself off the couch for a half-mile walk or attempting your first Ironman triathlon, getting started is often the greatest hurdle. Fortunately, when it comes to motivation, there are strategies we can all adopt in sport and life to get moving and achieve our dreams.
SMART goal setting
The most commonly accepted strategy for goal setting is the SMART principle, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Attainable, Realistic and Time based goals. What are the key themes behind SMART and how can you make it work for you?
Find your purpose
Whether we recognize it or not everything we do in life is about setting and accomplishing goals. When you thought about breakfast this morning your goal may have been to subdue hunger, delay onset of hunger, get specific nutrients, fuel a workout or meet with a friend. Goals are great but whether you’re training for a marathon or climbing the career ladder you need to understand your purpose. Ask yourself, ‘why do I want to do it?’
For example, from a training perspective, your goal might be weight loss but do you want to look better? Or perhaps improve your health? For my weight loss clients whose purpose is to look better we look at reducing size, not weight. Where their motivation is health, we focus on weight, cholesterol, and the macro and micronutrient content of their food choices. Once you understand your motivation, then you can tailor your actions or training to meet your objectives and then have a much greater chance of achieving exactly what you want.
Motivation and emotion
The motivation to pursue what we want is largely an issue of perspective. We all choose how we view and engage ourselves in situations and motivation is just an emotional response to your perception of an event. The great news is that so called ‘bad’ events when viewed differently are actually excellent opportunities for self-improvement. So the next time you’re confronted with a challenge, listen to your thoughts when you evaluate the situation. Can you reframe it as an opportunity for growth?
Whatever your aim is in sport or life we all have emotional reasons behind setting our goals, progressing towards them and eventually achieving them. The most important thing is to make sure you’re doing it for you. Certainly, in competition, it’s encouraging to have people cheering you on, it’s a great confidence booster, and external gratification isn’t sustainable and as a motivator it’s short lived. By getting to grips with what your internal drivers are, you’ll be able to manage yourself more effectively, and set purposeful goals rather than arbitrary benchmarks.
Be wary of tunnel vision
Focus on your end goal is invaluable and results rarely happen overnight so don’t forget to enjoy the ride! When you’re working towards a large goal it’s easy to lose sight of all of the steps to get there. It’s the little improvements added together that will take you where you want to go, and it’s important to recognize that. Those training details, understanding why and how you should do things, are where so much of the learning and enjoyment happens. The moment you start considering the process as a whole, the sooner your focus widens to include all the small successes you achieve along the way, building self-esteem as you go.
Focus on the process
Confidence comes from taking bite size steps, not giant leaps into the unknown. So, once you’ve identified your emotional driver, embrace it. For example, if weight loss is the goal, develop realistic lifestyle changes that will steadily move you towards making better choices, including eliminating poor nutrition and exercise habits and replacing them with good ones.
Once you’ve completed one goal, have another benchmark in sight. When you’ve finished a marathon, think recovery. Work out how to get back into training and how to set another goal, whether that takes the form of recovering well or planning the next season. Always have something to look at to keep training in the forefront of your mind.
And when it comes to measuring your progress, ensure your goals are quantifiable and qualitative. Both are equally beneficial. After all, don’t you enjoy looking better, having more energy, experiencing greater movement, or working out for longer? If your driver is emotional, keep a mood or energy chart to gauge fluctuations.
Change the way you think
Ultimately, you’ll enjoy the biggest gains in motivation when you learn how to own each success as a step forward and each ‘failure’ as a chance for improvement. No one is unique in the challenges we face but those who learn to deal with adversity are more likely to come out on top. So when things get particularly bad, think about how much stronger you will become just by getting through it, and remember that the people who never experience these challenges are far less prepared.
Inevitably, you’ll experience setbacks. Don’t beat yourself up over them, just determine what went wrong and then steer your way back to the process. Perseverance and dedication is the key to success so remember, there’s no such thing as failure – just keep learning from your mistakes and forge ahead stronger than before.