What motivates you?
Cheering fans or the fire in your own belly?
It’s been interesting working with professional athletes over the past 10 years. I’ve noticed that in general I have been able to put most of these people into two buckets: those that are internally motivated and those that are externally motivated. Most of us fit into one of these two categories when it comes to athletic, or any other type of, performance. It’s important to distinguish between these two types of motivation and learn how it can affect your training.
Here’s how I see this play out in the gym: Person A goes to the whiteboard alone during the warm-up and reads the results of those who did the workout earlier. Person A stands up a little straighter and walks away from the board with her game face on. Person B goes to the whiteboard when the coach calls the group over and reluctantly looks at the workout of the day. He folds his arms across his chest and looks worried. He looks around at the group to see how everyone else is reacting.
I want to talk about motivation because I think it affects all of us directly, and I want to shed some light on how we can use some of the motivational tools we have at Fit to make the workouts more effective. First it’s important to understand the difference between internal and external motivation. Consider the “whiteboard scenario” I described above, and also imagine this: you had a long day and didn’t have time to eat lunch. Your workday is over and you’re starving, so you decide to meet some people at a restaurant. The server comes to your table to take the order. The first person orders a small salad, the next person just has water, and the next person orders a small appetizer, and so on until it gets to you. All you can think about is ordering the 14-oz. steak with an extra serving of broccoli, and to start with the bacon wrapped dates along with a glass of red wine. Are you the type of person who orders what you want, or are you motivated to do what everyone else is doing and order a glass of water and some salt, knowing you’ll go home and eat an entire box of cereal? If you’re Person A with the game face, and you’ll order what you want in the restaurant, regardless of what the group does, you are most likely internally motivated. If you’re Person B who looks for the group reaction and can’t imagine making everyone else wait while you finish your three-course meal, then you may be more externally motivated.
Believe it or not, most of the professional athletes I’ve worked with are externally motivated. Most of them have strong outside or external factors that motivate them: coaches telling them if they are good or not good, fans cheering or booing for them, evaluations and testing letting them know if they are fast enough, strong enough, or capable enough. There’s access to a lot of external motivation in the professional athlete’s world. It’s not uncommon for athletes to have really high highs and extremely low lows. Imagine playing a great match or game in front of thousands of people, all of them cheering for you. Your coaches praise you, you see yourself on ESPN and in the paper -- all very positive. Then, imagine what happens when you mess up and lose the game or match because you made a mistake or played poorly. I won’t even describe the aftermath, but it’s easy to get caught up in that cycle of high and low you are also motivated, at least somewhat, internally. The bestprofessional athletes are the ones who are internally motivated – the ones that have learned that they’re still good even when they’re bad. The best athletes are the ones who believe they can work hard enough to achieve a higher level of performance, and that they can keep improving and stay ahead of their competitors. There are a lot of talented athletes whose talent only takes them so far because they depend on a lot of external motivational factors to inspire them. The Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, describes a similar concept in her book, Mindset. Dr. Dweck explains that praising intelligence and talent in children can actually jeopardize success, as children begin to view their talent in light of how they stack up to everyone around them. Once they realize there are others who are equally, or more, talented, they haven’t developed the tools to enable them to improve with hard work and drive – internal motivators.
Well, in the studio, we have a few external factors upon which we can rely too heavily. Back to the whiteboard: what happens if you look at the whiteboard as something that defines how your workout goes. You might become frustrated if you don’t perform at or near the top, especially if it happens repeatedly. However, if you’re able to use the whiteboard as a guide, as an array of data points, then it can be a fantastic tool for motivation. The sense of community and the energy we feel when working out in a group is fantastic, but only if we all understand that we’re pursuing our own personal objectives. But the great thing is we can use the energy and accomplishments of those around us as motivational factors that should enhance, but not define our experience.
We should practice using these motivational tools and be aware of how we feel while we’re doing it. In other words, it’s OK to look at the whiteboard and not have the best time. So what! Practice using the faster times as goals. Go for it and see what happens if you fall short. Keep chipping away a little at a time and get as close to your goal as possible and then push yourself just a little bit more. I promise you that your coaches will support you, and the others in your group will still cheer you on, even when you’re the last one to finish the workout. On the other hand, if you are one who never compares yourself to others or to the whiteboard scores, give it a try and see if you can find ways to make it work for you. Chase someone else during the workout and see if you can keep up. They don’t even have to know you’re doing it. (Someone else may be chasing you!) Remember, in any case, this has to be about you and your journey, not about the person next to you and how you stack up.
See you in the gym!