The fireworks have exploded, gym memberships have been purchased (and promptly forgotten about by half the population), it’s raining, its cold, it’s still dark at 4.30pm (at least it is in the UK), and progress towards your virtuous, vodka-fuelled New Year resolutions maybe experiencing a slight winter wobble. Of all the questions I am asked, the most common has to be ‘how do you stay motivated?’ People tend to assume that pros are blessed with unwavering and limitless drive, determination and vitality; that we never feel lethargic or lazy, and that the thought of donning the passion-killing ‘onesie’ and performing a sofa-slump never crosses our minds. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I, like the rest of the human race, suffer from motivational ebbs and flows. The key is that we learn to prevent or else recognize, manage and mitigate mojo-malaise – preventing it from totally derailing us from the pursuit of our goals.
So how do we solve the case of the missing mojo, put a Chariots of Fire’work up our onesie wearing backsides and quash the voice that says “Put your feet up. Have a doughnut?” Here are some of the strategies that all can use, in sport and in life, to ensure we don’t let a slump become a total standstill.
1. “Everybody’s Gotta Have a Dream. What’s Your Dream?’ Lounging in a jakuzzi with Richard Gere is an admirable aspiration, but you may want to think slightly less Pretty Woman and more Iron Man. Ask yourself ‘What IS my dream?!’ This goal should be clear, realistic yet slightly ambitious too. Focus on it. Don’t spread yourself thinner than Marmite on toast by trying to do too much. Make the goal real: stick a note on your front door, make it your screensaver, go public on Twitter or the ‘book of face’, get a pre-emptive M-Dot tattoo. Know, and repeatedly remind yourself, what stars you are shooting for. Make sure you also set smaller tasks or stepping-stone goals, such as ‘B’ races, to make the journey less overwhelming or protracted.
2. Take a moment to remember ‘WHY’ you set the goal in the first place. Dangly orange vegetables include: achieving a new challenge, adding 20 years to your life expectancy; finding a boyfriend, girlfriend or friend with lycra benefits; honouring a loved one’s memory; having an excuse to wear tight compression garments in public, getting a finishers t-shirt/bike rag, or filling charitable coffers. And also recall the stick of the status quo (not the rock band with a penchant for using only three chords and having dodgy barnets). When you’re overcome with inertia use these carrots and sticks to propel you to action.
3. A daily, weekly and monthly strategy and plan provides direction and structure, and gives you milestones en route to your goal. It must be tailored to you and your life – otherwise the chances of you actually being able to tick the boxes are about as high as Graham Norton’s vocal chords. And easy access is key, so make training as convenient as possible. Do sessions in your lunch hour, bike/run/swim the Thames to work to get bang for commuting buck, split the sessions in half to be more time efficient, head to the pool/gym straight from the office. Going to bed in your training gear is probably one step too far.
4. Remain consistent, yet flexible. It may sound oxymoronic, but motivational malaise can strike when the regimen becomes too … regimented. An occasional vindaloo injection of session spice will prevent mental and physical staleness. If you are sidetracked because of forces beyond your control – eg work, family, illness or injury – be adaptable; focus on what you CAN do; and remember that perspective is paramount: perfection is doing the best you can in the context of YOUR life.
5. De-friend naysayers, pessimists, braggers and whiners, and instead surround yourself with those who offer good guidance, support and encouragement – a training partner, a dog that needs walking, a coach who holds you accountable, a local sports club/group, and upbeat friends who have their drinks bottles half full.
6. Starting is often the hardest part. So, do just that. Start. If you have 10x3three minute run efforts focus on competing only one. Then as endorphins flow, begin No 2, then 3… and, bingo! You’ve done 10. Or play mind games. Tell yourself you can stop after 2 intervals. You’ll do those 2, and then the mind games can start again, “just get to 5, then you can stop”. I bet you make it to 10!
6. Chart your progress in a log, ensuring you bank feelings of euphoria to draw on in future. Be buoyed by memories of times when you completed sessions that you didn’t want to do. And a little bit of bribery never hurts, so occasionally reward yourself with flowers, a night out at the theatre, a manicure, a new aerodynamic bike toy, a doughnut or some beer (non alcoholic of course!).
7. Create a playlist with tunes that are guaranteed to light your fire. Queen produced a couple of corkers. Status Quo haven’t. I carry a book of motivational quotes and Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’. Podcasts can be good (although I haven’t found BBCRadio4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ to be particularly useful). Mr Motivator was quite inspiring, not least for his ability to look mighty fine in tight-fighting iridescent lycra. The 2012 Olympic DVD is nicely uplifting. Ditto goes for standing at the sidelines of the London Marathon. Be inspired by words. Be inspired by others. If they can, YOU can.
8. Last, but by no means least – banish negativity! Replace energy sapping thoughts of ‘I’m knackered; I want to sit down and eat a doughnut; its raining and wet and my new shoes will get muddy’ with positive affirmations, images of sunshine and smiles or your personal mantra. Close your eyes and picture yourself as being strong, confident, and successful – standing at the finish line with your loved one in one hand and a post race doughnut in the other. Do it – close your eyes – visualise! You are only as powerful as your mind!
We ALL suffer from motivational ebbs and flows. It’s normal, it’s natural, but it is also under YOUR control. You CAN crack the case. Now, with those images and words ringing in your ears and your motivational fire fully stoked, make today something really special. Be the very best that you can be!
This was first published in 220 Magazine, February 2013