I’ve been training for a while now.
Some evenings I really don’t want to get in the car and drive in the dark through the pouring rain and carry the kit bags to the venue. It’s cold, it’s wet, I’m tired.
Of course, I have to go. Others depend on me. Once I’m there I’m glad I went. The mental and physical challenges of training release a welcome amount of dopamine. I am motivated by the engagement and achievements of others. I know that what I’m doing is good for me and good for those training with me.
- enthusiasm for doing something
- the need or reason for doing something
- willingness to do something, or something that causes such willingness
- training that makes people more willing to obey or more able to control themselves, often in the form of rules, and punishments if these are broken, or the behaviour produced by this training
- the ability to control yourself or other people, even in difficult situations
- something you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing you are doing it
It is often observed that motivation may get you training to begin with, but it can be difficult to sustain. We are often told that we need discipline, the self control to continue to train, even when it is not the easiest course of action.
Discipline is important, but it requires motivation to be fostered in the first place.
Motivation is driven by reward and results; enjoying the activity, feeling stronger, seeing improvements in co-ordination or flexibility or mobility, experiencing any desired (and worked for) changes in physical appearance. There are many overlapping reasons that might motivate a person to start a martial art. Our motivations may change over time.
I believe that motivation does not require discipline, whereas discipline always requires motivation both for its creation and to be sustained. Discipline will carry you on occasions that you lack short-term motivation, but it requires the longer term motives of reward or punishment to be sustained in the long term. You may lack the short-term motivation to attend one particular training session at one time, but the discipline that drives you to do it anyway comes from longer term motivation and force of habit.
The best ways to motivate yourself in training are:
1. to enjoy it, and
2. to gain rewards (physical satisfaction, mental satisfaction, social needs, goal achievements) and to recognise them.
By feeding motivation you create incentives for repetitive behaviours which become habits. The more habitual your training, the more you are likely to gain from it, especially as it will bring incremental and observable progress. The more habitual your training, the more routine it is, the less conscious willpower is required. Training becomes swimming with the current rather than against it.
Regular activities become habits. Things that you do, often without any conscious mental effort. To get to the stage of doing something habitually I either need to want to do it (I’m motivated) or I need to make myself do it even when I don’t want to (I’m disciplined). This may seem like semantics but I would suggest that once something is a habit, it is not a discipline.
So how to stay motivated?
From a coaching perspective, training needs to be a positive experience, even when it is hard. Good effort and good techniques need to be praised. Improvements noted. Students should feel welcome and valued. Feedback on lower quality performance should be focused on why and how to adjust. Effort and ability should be rewarded with activities that enable personal expression (just because something may be a game does not mean it cannot develop and refine integral attributes and skillsets) and are both challenging and enjoyable.
From a personal perspective motivation comes from enjoying the activity (which could be either the activity, the company or both) and/or seeing desired results from the activity. For the latter regularly setting SMART goals can help.
We can set SMART goals ourselves, or in coordination with other students or coaches. It is better to have multiple concurrently running and overlapping small step SMART goals rather than a single distant goal. Regular recognised success increases the likelihood of leaning into effort which in turn increases the likelihood of future success. Too often we overreach on our targets; just choose to increase a bodyweight exercise by one rep a week, or choose to do one kata a day – after a month the change will be noticeable and you can adjust the goalposts. Small changes to routines are also easier to accommodate, leading to their becoming habitual behaviours.
In the last year I have made more progress recovering from training injuries than in previous years because I have been less ambitious in my goals and set SMARTer targets. The smaller increments have allowed more continuous forward movement than the bigger leaps that in the past have exposed me to further injury. I have strength targets for different exercises, aerobic targets for rowing and bagwork sets, flexibility targets and balancing targets. The measurable progress I have made has rewarded the effort invested and increased my motivation to keep stretching my limits.
I have always made a habit of daily training. On some days that is a fixed workout in a designated location, but once again starting small can build the habits to springboard to greater results. I do kata sporadically throughout the day. Tekki / Naihanchi and my own kata Initiative and Escape require small footwork areas to enable opportunistic practice. On some days my bodyweight workouts are spread out with sets as and when I have a moment to do them. I’ll do abdominal exercises or stretches whenever I have a free moment to lie down at home. I’ll stand on one leg while catching the weather forecast or waiting for the kettle to boil. Micro-workouts enable multiple reps and can keep the metabolic rate high throughout the day. Once you stop thinking that an exercise has to make you sweat or requires a change of clothes or at least an hour it becomes a lot easier to sustain more training away from the gym or the dojo. This form of training can either be a pathway to begin more intense set workouts or a performance enhancing supplement to them.
Identify your motivating factors. What is it you like? What is it you want? It’s okay to have ‘big’ motivations, but don’t neglect to recognise the SMART smaller ones that will keep you going.
Identify your training time opportunities. Recognise moments you can steal for training (and learning), moments you can fix for training, and maximise and enjoy moments you set aside for rest and relaxation.
Continuously set SMART goals to achieve and acknowledge those achievements.