Conveniently - thinking about motivation today mine is certainly being tested - the sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day and I mostly just want to sit outside against the south facing wall of my house and bask...however I also know, somewhere deep down, that this routine I have built for myself during the lockdown, up at 6am Monday - Friday, still only having fancy weekend breakfasts at the weekends, zoom calls at specific times etc. is probably the main thing that is keeping me going, anxiety levels are fluctuating but the thought that someone, somewhere might be finding what I’m musing about useful and/or interesting is enough to keep me going at the moment. (hey, if that’s not true, let me know in the comments and I’ll just spend some time researching puppies).
There are lots of different reasons for people being driven to do things, although in reality motivation can be split into a couple of different categories; intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, occasionally things are both, but in that case you hopefully don’t need this article.
Intrinsic motivation is that you are motivated by something from within, whether that is just a love of the thing you do, or that you know it will impact your health and happiness or something like that. Extrinsic motivation is that you are motivated by an external factor - ‘if I get good grades in these subjects I’ll be able to go to that university’ or ‘Mum said if I do the washing up today I’ll get extra pudding’.
Interestingly too much extrinsic motivation, I assume here in the form of offered rewards, can actually reduce intrinsic motivation - extrinsic motivation can be used initially to fuel intrinsic motivation, to get someone to have a shot at something but works best when the rewards aren’t too lavish and as soon as intrinsic motivation kicks in the rewards should be phased out...also especially useful to help people finish as task that is necessary, like homework or cleaning, but the person dislikes for one reason or another. People who are reward focussed/driven however are less likely to continue to do something long term because they aren’t motivated by the love of the thing itself but the reward afterwards so as soon as that stops then the motivation is likely to disappear and therefore they are likely to struggle to find the motivation to carry on.
In terms of sport, you’ll find top level athletes who are extrinsically motivated to do their sport but more often the top level athletes will be intrinsically motivated. This tends to be down to the amount of effort required to get to world class level and in order to be willing to put that effort in the reward either has to be REALLY awesome, or you just have to really love what you are doing.
Knowing what motivates you to do something makes it easier for you to ‘hack’ when you don’t feel like doing it.
I know that exercise, in general, for me is a very personal thing and I’m motivated by knowing that if I try hard I’ll improve and along the way I’ll probably feel better and have fun, maybe even be a bit sociable. Knowing this means that Oliver can usually persuade me out running even when it’s hammering it down and blowing a gale because he knows I’ll feel better afterwards and he can remind me of this. I’m not motivated by needing to prove a point, win any competitions or to fit in with a group of people - but having said that other people are motivated by those things and that’s cool too because it means that they are still exercising.
Although knowing why you are motivated helps to keep you going even if you’re not entirely sure you want to get wet and cold today it’s important to not abuse that knowledge - if you really don’t want to do something forcing it can ruin your reasons and therefore your motivation. Adding pressure to perform and/or forgetting the ‘why’ of what it is that you are doing can lead to anxiety issues and ultimately you not carrying on with the thing you used to love - which can be a shame.
Motivation can take a bit of a beating when you have a prolonged break from doing an activity (climbing for example) and when you go back to it you can remember how much better you were and if you struggle to accept that you’re where you are now and that’s ok then it can be pretty tricky to pick something back up but if you have managed to figure out the ‘why’ of you doing the thing then it’s easier to keep with it long term. I still haven’t fully figured out my ‘why’ for climbing as it’s always just clicked and I’ve been engaged in the sport (not always actively but still seen myself as a climber) for the last 20 or so years, whereas ballet, or horse riding (both also physically and mentally challenging) fell by the wayside to make room for climbing. So when you’re next struggling to feel psyched, ask yourself why? Why, when it’s good, is it so good? Why would you rather do it over something else? Can you imagine yourself still doing this in 20 years time?
This article from our friends at GMB talks slightly more in depth about strategies for improving and keeping hold of your motivation.