Someone recently asked me how I stay motivated throughout the year. Pondering my answer, I realized that I very seldom feel demotivated, which got me digging deep into my psyche to figure out why this is the case. Also, speaking to many of my friends who are professional athletes, it seems like many of them struggle a fair amount with staying motivated throughout the season. So why is it that I do not feel demotivated much, and is it something that can be learned or is it just an intrinsic part of my psychological make up?
The answer was not immediately apparent to me, but upon some reflection I realized that there are several aspects to how I stay motivated, or looking at things another way, how do I not get demotivated?
- I don’t always expect to feel motivated. For example, once my most important race of the year (Ultraman World Champs) is done, I just enjoy Christmas and the New Year without even thinking much about any structured training. In fact, the only training I do is just whatever I feel like doing. I have no expectation to feel motivated, and I don’t need motivation in order to train. I just train if I want to, and if I don’t feel like it, I don’t train! So the thought of motivation never enters my mind. If I did feel compelled to train, that is when I might notice lack of motivation. But since there is no structure, there is actually no need to feel motivated.
- I have a big goal. My single goal of the entire year is to win the Ultraman World Championship. That is a big goal, that seems to motivate me when it really matters. When those days surface when I don’t even feel like getting out of bed, I just get up and do *something*. Once I start my workout, usually I feel much better about 30 minutes into it. At the back of my mind, I know if I can just execute day after day, I will have the edge on my rivals. Or at least they will have to also have extreme commitment in order to be consistent in their training and match me on race day. You can also have short term big goals, such as riding to the next state, or riding farther than you ever have before. I often throw in goals like that during the year as I think them up. For example, this year (in summer) I’m going to do a ride from Boulder all the way to Beaver Creek and then back the next day; a ride of 150+ miles each way with 25000 ft of elevation gain over the 2 days.
- I’m also flexible. The flip side of my previous point, is that if I still feel terrible 30 minutes into my workout, I’m going to just stop and take an easy day. There is no point drilling myself into the ground when I should be resting. So basically I listen to my body, but the 30 minute warmup is like the truth serum that helps my body be honest with me! Too many times I’ve felt terrible waking up and after 30 minutes of exercise I feel fantastic, even to the point of having some of my best workouts.
- I have rivals. Going into the 2018 Ultraman World Champs, there are some fantastic athletes turning up. Inaki De La Parra who beat me in 2016, Petr Vabrousek who has completed 190+ Ironman races, David Hainish who is an absolute beast on the bike. Maybe even Chrissie Wellington, since she’s heavily into the Ultra scene right now. All these guys (or girls) that could be turning up motivates me every single day. I was doing a 3 hour ride indoors today, with 4 x 20 min intervals around half ironman pace. That was just such a grind and I wanted to stop, but the thought of my rivals kept me in the saddle, suffering to the very end.
- Be accountable to someone. The other thing that got me through that workout today was the fact that my bike coach would be looking at my workout. It would be easier to just get the workout done than to make up an excuse or try and explain myself. Other ways of being accountable could be to be part of a training group (because people are expecting you to turn up), or even just arranging to meet with a training partner drives some level of accountability.
Those are just a few that I can think of; there are no doubt many more ways to stay motivated. The most important thing is that motivation comes from within yourself. If motivation comes from an external source, such as a motivational speaker, or watching an exciting event on TV, it will not last long. The trick is to use those external motivational sources to spark the flame, but then look within yourself to keep on putting wood on that fire!