Wednesday, 22 February 2012


This isn't going to be a 'humorous take on...' post, nor is it penned with the intent of providing entertainment. No. Tonight I feel moved to write about something that lies at the very heart of not only sport, but life itself. 

Motivation is one of those concepts that is banded around a lot in so many different contexts, 'oh wow he must be motivated to be doing that many hours this time of year!', 'you need to have clear motivation to be successful on this course' etc. It is something that is at the very core of just about everything we do; be it motivation for sporting success, career progression, academic achievement or just getting up in the morning and making your spouse/child a packed lunch. 

For many, sporting success is often the simplest to quantify. Once you reach a certain level in any sport, those without the strongest motivation fade away and for those that remain whatever keeps them there and keeps them progressing is often invisible. 

It is said that there are two types of motivation: Intrinsic and Extrinsic. Intrinsic is defined by something internal, something personal to you that you can draw on to keep going, often at it's simplest pleasure taken from the task itself. Extrinsic however (as the name would suggest) is characterised by an outside stimulus or a desire to succeed that comes from elsewhere. An intrinsically motivated individual will need no goals or targets to perform at their best whereas someone extrinsically motivated will need an attainable goal to drive for. 

Specific to cycling, WiseMan say that Intrinsic motivation has to be your staple diet (if you will, bear with me) throughout the long winter months and harsh interval sessions but that when it comes to competition for an individual to be successful they must be able to switch completely and 'snack' on Extrinsic goals/desires/sadism as this is what truly allows the 'killer' instinct to shine through. How does Mark Cavendish motivate himself through winter? Constantly thinking ahead to what each pedal revolution is preparing for. He won't be thinking specifically how he's going to make that final effort to stay with the lead group in the closing stages of Milan San Remo as he knows that when the time comes all he will need is the will to win, the desire to beat everyone else and be the best-and he knows that will be there regardless of what he does in winter. No, all he has to worry about is whether his body will be in the condition that will allow him to satisfy his desires. To refer back to the food analogy, if your staple diet is the 'snack' Extrinsic motivation then sooner or later it will lose it's effect as you become used to it. That is why if the balance is in favour of Intrinsic motivation, Extrinsic means can be employed as a short term 'super motivator'.

Cycling is a cruel sport in this sense, as anyone competing must come to terms with supposed 'failure' far more often than 'success'. The motivation and desire to succeed must be so firmly rooted that it can be quickly refreshed after missing the vital break or just running out of speed in the final sprint allowing yourself to go through the same motions over and over again until finally everything works out right and success is achieved.

I have had a lot of time this winter to consider the concept of motivation, and indeed question just where mine comes from and whether it is sufficient to back up my desires. I have come to the conclusion that it is important to have an idea, a sensation, an image or all of the previous to call on as active motivation when times get tough. Personally, I take myself back to the final climbs of some of the road races from last year when all fatigue suddenly evaporates as adrenaline and the simple 'I want to win. I am faster than everyone else' takes over, replacing whatever 'Oh I'll just see how I go today' with a sharp focus centered on the finishing line; and I use that as a mould, I tell myself I want to feel like that again, so I do the training. Of course, as mentioned before the 'win' isn't always the outcome (in fact, for me never in that situation!) but I hold on to that sensation, that memory  and that belief and use it to rationalise what I am putting myself through. I have also realised that I have a very deep set desire to be the best I can be; and that lies at the heart of everything I do-not influenced by racing seasons, individual events, successes or failures-just always there. This is purely Intrinsic, and will not go away I fear until I satisfy myself that I have reached my Ceiling. Luckily for me, from this I can distil this down into mini-Extrinsic goals such as the ones I have for this season. So long as I perform to my best in everything-exams, races or whatever then I am happy.  

I expected to perhaps better define and identify what makes me tick through writing this, but I find that isn't the case-more that I am now more acutely aware of what I am doing and why I am doing it. 

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this topic, and indeed where you get your motivation from/what motivates you. 

Thanks for reading.

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