Motivation 101

Similar to beliefs/attitudes, motivation is very important because it is a root cause of actions and outcomes. Motivation is the fuel to your behavior. Everything you do has a motive, or reason behind it. You eat because you want to end your hunger. You sleep because you feel tired. There are many different kinds of motives for playing sports. Some motives provide more “fuel” than others. Some motives have negative side effects. There is an art and a science to motivating yourself. As an athlete, you need to not only know how to motivate yourself, but also know which kinds of motives are best for the situation at hand.

Most people are reactive when it comes to motivation. They think motivation is something you can't control. They think that you are just lucky when you get it, and unlucky if you don’t get it. Some even think people are born motivated and some are not. The truth is, anyone who has a mind can control their motivation to a certain extent. The best athletes actively motivate themselves. They are successful because they work hard. They work hard because they are highly motivated. They are highly motivated because they know how to actively motivate themselves, and they don’t just wait for motivation to find them.

How to motivate yourself:
Step one: Choose a goal.
Step two: Think about motives, or reasons for working toward that goal. Think about the good things that will happen if you succeed. Think about the bad things that could happen if you fail.
Step three: Cultivate confidence. Think about all the reasons why you can succeed and why it is possible.
Step 4: Start putting in effort toward you goal. As you start, you will become more motivated because the motives will become clearer, your confidence will rise, and the work sometimes gets easier once you get going.

That’s basically it. It’s not rocket science. It seems simple, but not everyone can do it well. Some people think motivation should make things effortless. In most cases, work/effort/preparation is hard. Motivation rarely makes work feel easy. A lot of the time, you have to force yourself to do things. Go through steps 1-4 and force yourself to put in effort. It sucks sometimes, but it is your job to think of motives that make the end result worth it.

There are a couple exceptions that make the effort feel easy. Not every successful person grinds their teeth and forces themselves to work hard. Some of their behavior is controlled by habits, which may feel effortless. For example, a person may motivate themselves to wake up early every day. At first this may take a lot of motivation, but eventually, it becomes a habit. They begin waking up early every day without using any willpower. This is relieving, knowing that habits make life easier. However, habits don’t control every behavior. Simple behavior like waking up can become a habit, but more complex behavior cannot be controlled by habits. No matter how many times you do it, your daily workout will still need a sufficient amount of willpower/motivation.

The other exception are emotionally powerful motives. Some motives provide more “fuel” than others. Simply thinking “I want to workout because it will help me win next year's tournament” can provide some “fuel” but not a lot. However, if you can draw more emotion from your motives, they can provide more fuel. For example, if you think about how you felt when you lost last year’s tournament, you may get more emotional and motivated. Here is another example that can provide even more fuel: imagine your teammate died. This may get you very emotional. You may play your next game in the honor of your dead teammate. You would most likely play very hard to make your teammate proud. You shouldn’t hope your teammates dies just to draw motivation from it. I’m just saying that emotionally charged events can be powerful motivators. The thing is, emotionally charged events don’t happen often, and you can’t always force yourself to become emotional. Most of the time, you must rely on forcing yourself to do things by going through steps 1-4. However, if emotional events happen, use them to your advantage and draw motivation from them.

Motivation is an important topic to learn about. This post just explains the basics of motivation. In the future, I will write about specific kinds and theories of motivation and their consequences.