Book Review: How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald

How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald is one of the best sport psychology books that I've read in a long time. In this book, Fitzgerald teaches about the psycho-biological model of endurance performance. This is basically a theory that explains how to improve your performance in sports by becoming mentally tougher. Even though the book focuses on endurance sports such as running, this model can be applied to every sport, because every sport requires mental toughness to cope and endure through stress.

The psycho-biological model of endurance performance states that performance (in endurance sports) is influenced almost entirely by your mind’s relationship with perception of effort. Since it is the perception of effort (the thoughts and feelings of giving effort) that causes you to slow down and quit in competitions, if you improve your relationship with perception of effort, you will improve your performance and reach closer to your physical limits. You can improve your relationship with perception of effort in two ways. One way is by increasing motivation, which allows you to tolerate more perceived effort. When your perceived effort is high, it is a high level of motivation that allows you to endure. If you’re not as motivated, you will give up once your perception of effort gets intolerable.

Another way to improve your relationship with perception of effort is by getting the best performance out of the motivation that you have. In other words, getting the best performance out of any given amount of effort. This is done by making your performance feel as easy as possible. The harder your sport feels, the less you’ll get out of your motivational fuel. The easier your sport feels, the more you’ll get out of your motivational fuel. 

You can achieve this by using inhibitory control, which means to focus on relevant stimuli rather than distracting stimuli that increases perception of effort. There are things that increase perception of effort, such as negative thoughts, self-consciousness, and overly fatigued muscles. If you can prevent these things from entering your mind by staying focused and positive, you will increase your performance by keeping your perception of effort lower. 

There are other ways to lower perception of effort. Such things include pain-numbing endorphins that you get when in a state of “flow.” Most notably, the best way to lower perception of effort is by increasing you physical limits by training. The more you train, the fitter you become. The fitter you become, the easier your sport feels. Dieting has the same effect. The unhealthier you eat, the more sluggish you will feel, which makes you use more of your motivation and the less you’ll be able to get out of your best effort.

Fitzgerald defines “mental fitness” as the ability to use coping skills to improve your relationship with perception of effort. Any cognitive, emotional, or behavioral regulation that improves your mental fitness is a good coping strategy. Fitzgerald goes on to teach a wide variety of coping skills that improve mental fitness. Here is a summary of them:
  • Bracing yourself for a tough competition helps you tolerate more effort, and therefore helps you give more effort.
  • Proper goal setting helps pacing, which helps you give your most amount of effort without “hitting the wall” before crossing the finish line.
  • “Letting go,” and reducing pressure and self-consciousness helps reduce perception of effort. You can do this by entering a “flow” state, which is a total immersion in an activity.
  • Motivation can come from physical setbacks. If you know you need to compensate for physical limitations, you will be more motivated to give your best effort.
  • Great motivation can come from being fed up with failure, and resolving to succeed once and for all.
  • Working hard alongside your teammates can produce a  “group effect,” which helps reduce perception of effort (by increasing endorphins in your brain).
  • Being in the spotlight with many spectators and fans encouraging you can help raise motivation and confidence while also lowers perception of effort.
  • Passion and a positive personality helps you age slower as an athlete (an aging body increases perception of effort).
  • Believing that your reasons for training/performing are WORTH it helps cement and deepen motivation.
Lastly, I want to explain how this book applies not only to all sports, but to life in general. A mentally tougher athlete that is able to draw more motivation and find ways to reduce their perception of effort is going to perform better in any sport. A mentally tougher student that is able to study for longer and get the best mental performance out of their motivation is going to get better grades. An entrepreneur that is more willing to work long hours and not get burned out is going to be successful. By understanding the psycho-biological model and how motivation and inhibitory control affects your perception of effort and performance, you will be able to improve in almost any aspect of your life.

The only downside of this book is that it gives way too many examples, which can be boring and unnecessary at times. I wish it would just get to the point. However, the principles that you learn in this book make it all worth it! I highly suggest this book to any athlete or coach.