Blog · Feb 1, 2016

A Search to Find out why Some Lucky People are so Damn Motivated

To begin with a confession. I am deeply in awe of world class sportsmen, admire begrudgingly FTSE 100 type CEO’s (especially Helena Morrissey) always wondered quite how Mother Theresa did it. The ability to not only be very good at something but to keep on doing it, day after day, week after week, each time at a level better than the last, is deeply impressive. The motivation involved, always felt to me like a blessing only a certain lucky few had received. How did these people bounce out of bed every day, trip the light fandango and then retire to bed 19 hours later having achieved all they wanted to do? A brief nap and then they are happily doing it all over again the next day.

And so it was something of a shock when reading Will It Make the Boat Go Faster? that I discovered Ben had to work damn hard at remaining motivated all of the time. Yes, it was easier to achieve that motivation when a Gold medal opportunity was looming large, but the rest of the time he and his team needed a number of methods and triggers to keep them fully at it, day in day out.

So they weren’t invincible after all. They had strategies which kept them going from one day until the next, and then the next and so on. That was in truth a bit of a light bulb moment to my naïve mind, it certainly came as something of relief. The magic formula, the secret gene, wasn’t missing after all!  Instead, like every other element of their successful performance plan, they had a clear method and approach as to how to maintain their motivation.

So is that commonplace? I’m not sure it is. I wonder how many of us set out in January with a clear goal – weight loss, no booze, healthy eating, more exercise- only to fall short along the way and bemoan our lack of motivation and slip back into old habits. We then feel guilt and disappointment, for a while, but in all honestly it’s no surprise this is often the outcome if there is nothing underpinning these hopes or dreams. If there isn’t anything to fall back, nothing to support our desire for improvement, then it should be no shock when after a long day the sofa or sauvignon wins over the treadmill and tofu. The same of course is the case in our day to day working lives, especially when the goal is far away, or the treadmill feels all too familiar.

So how did a gold medal winning team, manage their own motivations? The team had eight strategies which apply just as really to work or home life as they did on the Olympic waters of Sydney in 2000:

Believe – if you doubt your goal or are in two minds about how worthwhile it is then quitting will come much quicker when the going gets tough and other ‘priorities’ compete.

Make The Journey Entertaining – most goals aren’t enjoyable enough on their own so what can you create around the goal or for the goal itself that makes you want to do it more.

Get Competitive – who or what is important to you that will spur you on?

Make Yourself Hungry – make a commitment or action that makes it difficult not to follow through, that ties you in.

Daydream – about your goal. Make it so vivid that it already feels real. It strengthens your desire and belief; it connects your brain emotionally as well as rationally to your goal.

Flick the Switch – not just to get up when the morning alarm clock goes! Create the time, the clear triggers that will mean at that precise moment you will focus everything on achieving that part of your goal, putting the extraneous stuff out of your mind.

Create measurable milestones and rewards – what are your ‘motorway junctions’ you can count down to in the calendar or schedule. Especially key when the goal is a long way off.

Use the 10-minute rule – a tried and tested management rule to allow you to get over the often difficult starting phase. Set the goal of doing something for just 10 minutes and you will probably do longer.

There is of course a raft of precise detail that can sit beneath each of these areas, so that motivation strategies are tailored to you as an individual and the goal you want to achieve. But under these categories gold medal winning motivation was achieved. It wasn’t inherited, the gene pool wasn’t unique, they just worked out how to best motivate themselves in order to make the boat go faster.

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