Motivation revisited

What is it – this regularly used word? I taught ‘motivation’ to both GCSE and A level students and the dictionary definitions include words such as; ‘will‘, ‘want‘ and ‘drive‘. But what does that actually mean to our daily lives?
Why is it that:

  • sometimes you jump out of bed and others you lie for ages wondering what day it is and thinking of reasons to get up.
  • Sometimes you can’t wait to lace up your trainers and complete a ten-mile run, when on other days you procrastinate, find little jobs to do in the house and give yourself endless reasons to cut the run short?
  • Some days a 45 minute turbo session can last a lifetime, when other days you can happily keep pedalling for 3 hours?

There are scientific reasons to explain some of these thoughts. A few examples are:

  • Personality
  • Environment
  • Female hormones – positive or negative or a combination
  • Genetics
    are just a few thinking points. But on a day to day basis why does life sometimes feel really hard and
    others you embrace the challenge – when fundamentally nothing has changed?

None of that really explains why some days life feels really hard, and others you embrace the challenge when on the face of it nothing has changed.

These thoughts have crept into my brain more and more over the last few weeks. I have witnessed first hand some amazing levels of motivation. Whilst participating in (and winning) the Corona to Kona challenge as part of a 30 strong team, I witnessed participants going more than the extra mile for Knutsford Tri Club.

  • Club members who usually only went on their turbo trainer for a few 45 minute sessions a week doing 8 hour sittings.
  • People walking round their garden in flip flops to continue to contribute with minor superficial discomfort after getting blisters from their trainers.
  • Day after day people were putting in longer and longer runs.

The challenge was to complete (as a combined effort) 2311KM of running (Manchester to Spain) and 13000 KM of cycling. (Spain to Kona). Following Government Guidelines this meant that the team had to spend a significant amount of time on an indoor bike trainer – usually a turbo. All this effort was at a very low intensity, but comments included;

  • I have never trained / exercised this much before – not for any ironman that I have done.
  • Loved every minute of the journey.
  • It pushed me to do more than I thought I could.
  • It has been an incredible experience that has kept me sane and healthy through such a strange time in our lives.
  • It has been incredible to be part of the team for the past 11 days which have had a bit of everything; elation, euphoria, anguish and above everything a bucketful of laughter.

But why did the team push themselves so hard for a virtual race? One comment from the group summed up some collective thoughts; “you do this for the team, but you don’t do it for
yourself!

We are all participating in a solo sport, yet we only start pushing ourselves when we are doing it for someone else. Were we focused on process or outcome goals? How specific did the goals become as the challenge evolved?

I first started thinking about motivation a bit more seriously at the end of last summer. Having read Jack Daniels’ book on running from cover to cover I decided to follow a plan and see if I could make any improvements in my running speed. Although I joked with myself that I may actually enter a race, deep down I knew this would not happen. But I was motivated to complete the 16-week training plan. The plan included 4 blocks of 4 weeks following the same training and then a progression. This is not the type of plan that appeals to me. I crave variety and I thought I would never stick to it. But I did. I actually really enjoyed having four weeks of the same as I noticed progress each week which was very easy to compare to previous sessions. Was I focused on a process or outcome goal? How defined was my goal?

Early Autumn is a time when triathletes all start talking about which races they are going to enter for the following year – and I had none. I truly believe that I enjoy the process of training far more than the race itself so I was happy to not have a specific goal. But this theory goes against any literature you read about motivation, training and goal setting.

So why was I so motivated to follow a running programme without a specific goal? Why were the team so motivated to get to Kona first in a virtual race?

I recently listened to a ‘Don’t tell me the score’ podcast with Simon Mundie interviewing Olympic Gold Medal winning Rower Ben Hunt-Davies. He talks about the importance of setting clearly defined goals. What really stood out of the interview for me was when he talks about goal setting in the work place. He said that only 2% of the work force really know what the company goals are. In the KTC race to Kona we all fully understood and were invested in our task to get to Kona first.


Having a clearly defined goal that both you and those supporting family members and friends are invested in must be one key learning point.

Is that it? What else do we need to ensure we stay motivated to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle and work towards other goals, when many races and group sessions may not take place for a while yet.

Like most thoughts in coaching, it comes down to having the athlete at the centre. Getting to know the individual and working together you can create personal, engaging and challenging goals which incorporate short, medium and long term, process and outcome elements – as most appropriate and accepted!

2 thoughts on “Motivation revisited”

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