In her first Fast10 blog of 2020 race walker Erika Kelly talks about the importance of motivation and gives her top advice on keeping that mental drive strong.

What is motivation?

It’s that little (or big) internal buzz that gives you the boost to get out of bed, go to work, accomplish goals and seek out specific emotions such as happiness and fulfilment. In the simplest form, it’s how much you want something.

It comes in waves – and that’s totally normal. Some days you want things more than you do others, and that can be down to a number of factors. Let’s be honest – the recent plight of UK storms aren’t helping!

As athletes, motivation can be seen as a key resource to success, and rightly so. To master specific skills, attain strength, achieve goals, go to bed on time and choose the right foods to eat in order to succeed at the highest level – requires vast quantities of motivation and the desire to seek change. It’s even more important when you’re faced with tiredness, fear, boredom, pain, STORMS and the needs/wants to do other things.

Staying motivated all day, every day?

The reality is – you can’t be highly motivated all the time. Life happens and consequently motivation fluctuates continuously due to many aspects – daily stressors, injury, illness, careers, education and support systems.

Sometimes, the drive to get up and go is motivated by nothing but enjoyment, and the opportunity to train with friends, whilst at other times it may be because our coaches are telling us what to do with minimal flexibility in the plan.

It may simply be that the working day has been so stressful that going for a run/exercising is the motivation necessary to alleviate the associated feelings. I for sure, find that as soon as University assignments are due, my motivation for training increases as a means of procrastination and escapism – likely resultant of anxiety or fear that I won’t produce a good enough piece of work.

However, this flips completely on its head as soon I realise I’ve got four hours to submit.

Additionally, it may be that we’re inspired by others and striving to achieve new PBs. When the PBs happen, this can lead to feelings of satisfaction and self-fulfilment – leading to enhanced motivation to relive that experience all over again.

However, there’s also the possibility that the times don’t happen; we don’t hit pace; or we’re unable to finish a race – this can lead to feelings of incompetency, frustration, fatigue and loneliness – all of which can have profound effects on how motivated we are. This links more with extrinsic motivation – you focus more on competing and results, as opposed to intrinsic motivations which may have been the reason for taking up the sport in the first place – enjoyment.

Self Determination

In order to give ourselves the best shot of being motivated towards all endeavours, ‘Self Determination Theory’ implies that we need to meet three needs:

1) Competence – e.g. having the fitness, strength and skills which give us confidence to complete our sport successfully.
2) Relatedness – e.g. surround yourself with positive and encouraging support systems – friends, family, coaches and teammates.
3) Autonomy – e.g. the ability to make independent decisions and choices.

[Editor – If you want to find out more then check out any of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s papers on their theory or some of the handy videos on Youtube on the subject like this one (although watch at at least 1.5x speed)].

How to improve motivation

• Know your ‘why’. WHY are you doing what you are doing?

• Set both short-term goals, and long-term goals and read over these when motivation is low.

• Train with people, friends, coaches – it helps with accountability and offers a support system. Moreover, recognising those who share similar goals can provide lots of encouragement. Jump on a training camp!

• Change your language = change your perception. If you perceive specific training sessions and/or races as a threat, motivation is likely to be lower, compared to perceiving these things as opportunities to challenge yourself, where you therefore feel motivated to strive high and do well.

On the days where motivation wavers, just know – you have to keep turning up for the results to happen. Remember your why, and exactly what it is that you’re striving to achieve.

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