Saturday, 15 January 2011

Motivation: The Snowball

Motivation for a task is like a giant ball of snow. When at rest for too long it becomes very difficult to get it moving again. A lot of force is required to overcome its inertia. Once it begins rolling however, it is self perpetuating. It grows larger and larger as it picks up more size and speed and its power will charge you.

So why do we fail once we've decided to learn, do or quit something? Surely anything is possible with a giant snowballing dose of motivation? Let's look at some of the reasons why we lose motivation and at what I believe are the three most important rules in avoiding such loss.

The Keys of Motivation

1) Gradual progression
2) Perceived advancement
3) Camaraderie

The concept of progression is one of the cornerstones of strength training. It is also important that the impetus of our motivation is directed in a controlled and disciplined way or else it will burn out.

Often people apply motivation with the wrong mentality. A sudden burst of motivation, derived from the coming of a new year for example, is often consumed too quickly as the person leaps into a new training regime or discipline at full pace. We've all been guilty of it whether it's deciding that we're going to run ten miles a day, or never going to eat a particular food again. The snowball never has time to pick up enough speed to overcome the inevitable difficulties of such strict and draining regimes before they begin to take their toll.

There is no good that can come of two to three weeks of intensive training or abstinence ending in a return to the norm. The prior puts us at risk of injury, fatigue and inefficiency in other areas of our lives. The latter often leads to the all too common "reward binge".

Instead we should start slowly in our training to allow our bodies to adapt to what is often a completely new field. Gradually phasing a food out of dominence in our diet is far more likely to be successful than going cold turkey from the start. Starting a training program slowly gives our bodies time to adjust to the new training and reduces the likelihood of injury. Never approach a new task at a sprint. The more worthwhile tasks are sizeable enough that such a sprint will only induce an all to early "I quit". Instead the progressive method will allow you to adapt to new challenges as the difficulties are incrementally increased.

Which leads me onto Perceived Advancement. If there's one thing that's true about motivation, it's that it will run dry if we don't perceive ourselves to be advancing in some way. Whether it's drummed into us through our social conditioning or already present in our genetic makeup, we need to continue to recognise some form of progress in order to justify the difficulties.

But what if we no longer experience progression? What if we stagnate? The answer to this is simple; when a training programme is no longer resulting in progression, it needs to be altered. Try new methods to achieve your targets instead of sticking with methods that don't yield any results. A warning however.. Individual training sessions will often fluctuate. Sometimes you will perform worse on a given day than on an average session weeks before. This is natural. Detach your self worth and your feelings of progress and achievement from the outcomes of a particular session, even several sessions. There are many variables which influence the way our body functions at any given time and these are mostly beyond our control.

One of the best ways to bolster the feeling of advancement is to set short term goals. My opinions on the best techniques for setting goals can be found here but I will summarise my three key points below. Goals should be:

1) Easily measured
2) Focused on building weaknesses
3) Achievable in a short timescale

If you can't measure a goal then you will have a hard time accurately measuring improvement. Your weaknesses will usually be faster to improve than your strengths and will often open up new possibilities in improveing elsewhere. If a goal takes too long to achieve, it's easy to lose motivation before the target is reached. Break bigger goals down into smaller chunks that can be achieved in a shorter timescale. Following these steps, you should find yourself passing milestone after milestone, each one augmenting your motivation and pushing you onward to further growth.

Camaraderie is perhaps the easiest for most of us to relate to. We've all worked in a job we hated but found ourselves feeling positive about the day ahead due to good working relationships. Having others whose company we enjoy enduring the work with us makes it easier to bear. Training with a partner generates a mutually motivating relationship in which recipricol support and good natured competition will encourage a more powerful drive for all involved. As mentioned earlier, camaraderie is not limited to training alone but to all tasks in which a lack of motivation could cause one to lose sight of the reasons for starting.

Whether we respond to gentle encouragement or tough love; the competitive edge or the comrade in arms; two people engaged in pursueing the same task are often more successful than one.

So grab a friend, set some goals and start taking the little steps towards whatever it is that inspires you. Don't quit at the first hurdle or even at the twentieth. You knew there would be many and without them your goals would lack value. Take your time and celebrate the small achievements as much as the large. With a steady and progressive approach, anything can be achieved.