A conversation I have had with almost all the athletes that I have coached, from very young swimmers to older athletes trying to finish their first 5k up to an Ironman, or qualify for prestigious races, the topic of motivation comes up. It is a topic I asked Olympic swim coach and head of University of Texas Men’s swimming Eddie Reese of how he keeps his athletes motivated. My time as a contractor with the Navy you could often hear comments about hard workers of “they are really motivated” or those who did not meet a minimum standard that they were “not motivated enough.” As a younger athlete I would at times struggle with what I though was my motivation.
Over time I learned something, that motivation comes and goes for everyone. It is true, at times we are highly motivated, and we feel like we can do any race or any workout. But motivation is fleeting, it can feel like it is there one moment and instantly gone the next. We can feel motivated for weeks or months at a time, but it can also come and go within a day or a single workout. Motivation is really tied to our energy levels. We only have so much. It is hard to be motivated when you are exhausted, stressed, or overworked. The idea that motivation is the secret to success, to achieve amazing heights, is, a myth. One only needs just enough motivation to get up off your butt. To do the rest, what you need to be is committed or engaged.
What does it mean to be committed or engaged? The best example I can think of that almost everyone can relate to in one way or another was when my first child was born. When he first came into the world I was full of excitement and emotion. There was this amazing mix of constant happiness and worry. One could say that I was extremely motivated to make sure he was taken care of with making sure diapers were changed and him being fed. The nurses found it funny how much detail I would go into when I recorded how feeding went and how much he filled his diapers. The lack of sleep did not bother me, I was motivated to care for my son. Eventually, as all parents find out, the lack of sleep starts to catch up with you and any feelings of motivation disappears. On the surface, this may sound terrible, how can one not be motivated to care for their child. But it was not motivation that kept me wanting to change my son’s diapers or help feed him in the middle of the night. Motivation went out the window with the lack of sleep. It was my wife’s and I’s commitment to him. It was and is being engaged in his wellbeing.
I coach my son’s t-ball team and it is, as anyone who has coached a 3-4-year-old t-ball team can relate, a challenge. After a long day of work and lack of sleep if my daughter does not sleep through the night, I may have used up all my motivation. What gets me there, even when exhaustion feels overwhelming, is being committed to helping him and his teammates learn not only the sport of baseball, but also the values it teaches them. To be honest, I have not always been at my best. I have left many practices, from T-Ball, to swimming, to track workouts, to clinics, feeling like I could have done more. And my commitment to wanting to be better, wanting to help others is what makes me vow to be better next time. The only real motivation I need is just enough to get up off my butt. After that, then it’s a matter of being engaged to get done what needs to be done.
Now, what do we do when we don’t have that small little bit of motivation to just get off our butt or out of bed. Let me start this by saying, if you have a hard time getting out of bed, doing day to day activities such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of yourself, you find yourself skipping work, or anything that is detrimental to your wellbeing, please seek professional help. There maybe more going on that you will need assistance with. I can name many amazing individuals who have looked for and found professional help and they are the better for it.
Start small. Look for your number one obstacle that you can identify that is keeping you from finding that little bit of motivation it takes to then be engaged. It could be something as simple as not getting enough sleep or not eating healthy. It maybe more complicated such as your job or a relationship. It maybe that you need to take a step back from the sport for a while. Athletes that I have coached have done this, taking anywhere from a eek off to several months to a year. I have done this. I needed a break. Racing professionally, I took almost a full year off racing. I stayed in shape, trained, but without a race on my calendar and lots of flexibility in my day to day training. My first race back was the fastest I have ever gone in an Olympic race. Later I completed my first half Ironman and Ironman. Whatever it is, identify what changes you can make and start to make those changes.
Make it a habit. To make it a habit, start with one day. It can be hard to balance work, family, and training along with everything that life throws at you. It is easier if what you do is a habit, or part of your routine. How does one make it a habit or part of their routine? By going by the old cliché of taking it one day at a time. It really is true. All you need to do is find enough motivation to get up and get the day started. Then the day after that, do the same. By taking it one day at a time, it will eventually become a habit or part of your routine. It may take a week, it could take a month, but by taking it one day at a time, it is much easier to manage.
Find or create a challenge. To help a couple athletes try to get through a slump, I suggested a 100-day challenge. It was 30 minutes of activity a day. If there was a workout but they could not do it, then they were to do a 30-minute walk, yoga class, or any physical activity that was 30 minutes. I joined in, did it as 30 minutes of running every day and it helped my lay a good foundation for when I would start my Boston Marathon training. The goal, if you do something similar, is to get in around 20 days straight. After that, you don’t want to break the streak, so you find ways to get in what you need to get done. Some of my runs I did at 9 at night because that is when I could get it in. It’s a lot easier to do when you are 60 days in and you don’t want to break the streak. The streak kept going because of the simple desire not to break it. During this time I found new challenges, such as seeing how many miles I could get in a week (78 miles for those who are curious with the longest single run being 12 miles). The streak finally ended at 175 days after a half marathon and the birth of my daughter. I did not think it would go over well if I told my wife I had to leave her in the hospital while I went to run to keep my streak going. What made it successful is that it gave me a daily goal. That daily goal kept me engaged and then it became a habit.
We all faces challenges, we all have times where we lack motivation, loose our commitment and are no longer are engaged. But do not worry, you can get it back, reach out to your coach, make sure they know what you are going through and find a plan that works for you.
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