What motivates you to train on a day-to-day basis? What is it that drives you to lace up and head out, no matter what life throws at you?
We used to think of motivation as an inner strength, meaning that if you weren’t motivated, then you were experiencing weakness. Now that we know so much more about the psychology of success, and we are discovering that some of the best ways to stay motivated have less to do with what we want to get and more to do with how we want to feel.
What? What do feelings have to do with becoming a better athlete?
Motivation is a funny thing. If you are not emotionally connected to what motivates you, then you will lose motivation at some point. For example, if you only want to exercise to lose weight, then if you hit a plateau or don’t like what you are eating, your motivation isn’t going to last for long. However, if your motivation is to feel healthy and good about your choices, then your motivation will stick around longer, because each healthy choice you make becomes its own reward.
Understanding the drive behind your personal motivation to become a better athlete will not only strengthen your motivation, it will help you reach your goals even faster. One of the key aspects of understanding motivation is to first discover if you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. This will help you understand why you are an XTERRA athlete and how you can improve your self-talk on days you might find your motivation faltering.
If you enjoy working out, then you are an intrinsically-motivated athlete. This means you enjoy the physical experience of exercise most of the time, whether it’s the sensation of movement, feeling your muscles work, or the post-workout high. The exhilaration and sense of accomplishment that come from running longer or faster, gaining proficiency in the pool, and producing power on the bike are also examples of an intrinsic motivation to exercise.
The mental aspects of working out stem from intrinsic motivation too. Exercise reduces stress, decreases depression and improves concentration and confidence. If you are intrinsically motivated, you don’t usually lack the motivation to get to work. In fact, a lack of motivation in an intrinsically-motivated athlete may signal over-training or the need for a break.
Extrinsic motivation for exercise is much more complicated. It is usually based on an imaginary or better life. For example, you may be working out to lose weight, achieve a certain body competition, or get in shape for a race. Someone may think that he or she can get faster to reach bigger race goals or may be more eligible for a promotion if they become as fit as a colleague that competes in the corporate races. Alternatively, someone else may feel that he or she will be more desirable if they lose weight or can compete in races at a higher level.
Coaches, instructors and personal trainers often become the object of someone's extrinsic motivation. For example, a client will work out harder as a means of trying to impress his or her coach. For some, the extrinsic motivator is to be a good example for their children. Others train and race only for the adoration of others. They push and push solely for the accolades and praise others place on them for doing well or winning.
The Middle Way
Like most aspects of training, there is never just one way up the mountain. While it may seem that extrinsic motivation is a recipe for failure, it can be invigorating and rewarding to train for a particular race or event. Additionally, having a goal to gain muscle or lose fat is a way to reassure your results and fuel your motivation to keep going.
The key is that you are also connected to how the process of achieving your goals makes you feel. Below are 10 tips to stay motivated when the going gets tough.
- Remember how great you feel after a good workout. Let that natural high be its own reward.
- Take time for yourself and remember that the more you can take care of yourself, the better you will be able to take care of others. Don’t let guilt sabotage your motivation.
- Visualize your success. Whether it’s fitting into a new kit or crossing the line first, visualize what your success will look like. Be specific and focus on how great it’s going to be.
- Remember that your workout is also a work-in. On days you feel too stressed out to train, don’t forget that exercise will make you happy. Even doing part of your workout is better than not doing any.
- Get a workout partner. Not only will you be accountable, you will have another person to talk about your feelings with.
- Find a coach or trainer. Unlike a training partner, you are paying this person to help you achieve your goals.
- Keep a workout log. Just try it for a week. Writing down your workouts is both rewarding and effective.
- Take a before photo. Pictures will document the progress you may not be noticing.
- Remember how yucky it feels to not exercise. Remind yourself of that when you don’t want to exercise.
- Share on social media. Whether or not you want to advertise your PR on Facebook or just keep your workouts posted on Strava, having a global community is a great form of accountability.
The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by Sheri Anne Little and five-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance. Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA. Check out their upcoming training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona set for April 26-29 at https://nextlevelendurance.net/camps or email them at info [at] nextlevelendurance.net.