As a new training season begins, I’m reminded of a time of my life where I would cry every night for two weeks straight in September. A time where I was torn by a love and passion for a sport, and suffocating fear and dread of training for that sport. Swimming under the surface of the water while holding your breath past the point of seeing spots. Workouts that had you throwing up halfway through. Flexibility training that pushed you past the point of tears. In a “team” environment where you are secluded by the water, you are isolated in your thoughts until the next bathroom break. This is what I was giving up my high school experience for. Those first two weeks of training were the hardest weeks of the entire season, because they were my exit window. Every practice in those two weeks was a conscious decision to put aside everything else, to commit to another season in this sport. The mental game of choice is the one of the hardest battles we face as human beings. To choose priorities means choosing sacrifice as well. We know that willpower is a limited resource within the day. This is why we all have a breaking point, why eating healthy is so much harder at night, why we end relationships, careers, and other commitments. Because willpower is simply the sheer will of forcing yourself to carry on, without logic or reasoning. However, motivation is something that we can continually feed, and developing a clear connection to what motivates you is like tapping into a solar energy source, only instead of having to wait for the sun to come out, that solar power comes from within you. Willpower gets you into the car, to the pool. Motivation is what pushes you 1 more meter in your under, and 1 more inch of height in your eggbeater. So how do we find the path to motivation? Figure out your WHAT and your WHY.
The WHAT- This is the specific, detailed vision that you see for yourself. This is not a picture of someone you look up to, doing something they do well. This is your face, your body, your life, your practice and your goals (getting flat in splits, getting first in your competition, going to the Olympics, etc). This is the picture you create in your mind and hold on to when you are thinking of giving up.
The WHY- The vision you have for yourself as a human being, and the life you want to live. This moves past the what, into who do you want to be (the type of person who gives everything they have to what they love, someone who is mentally strong, who can overcome challenges, etc.)
When an athlete figures out how to tap into the resource of their motivation, the entire perspective of training changes. A tough workout switches from torture, to an opportunity to get stronger and faster. Figure training becomes much more interesting because every repetition offers a chance to learn something about the technique, and to be one step closer to your specific goal. The challenging moments (and by challenging I mean: I think I’m going to die…literally) in routine turn into the steps that you take towards embodying your why. It’s those moments that you transform into more than an athlete, but the person you want to be.
I remember the nights where I came home in shambles, wanting to run away but being terrified of what it meant to be the person who ran away. And I remember the turning point where I found my fire, my passion, my vision of who I wanted to be. That is the turning point where I moved from the bottom of the team to the top. The point where I looked forward to every moment in practice as an opportunity to be better, where I stopped running away from fear and starting running towards the person I wanted to be.
It doesn’t matter if you want to go to the Olympics, or if you just want to have another good season. Willpower fades, but motivation will only continue to grow as you feed it, and that will carry on with you into ANYTHING you do for the rest of your life.