Effective Training Strategies-Part 3: Motivation

Siurana, Spain-Beautiful climbing locations inspire and motivate climbers.

This is the last in my little series on  effective training strategies.  In this post I will look at perhaps my most favourite topic to discuss and think about-Motivation! In understanding motivation and what motivates you as an individual, you can then go about creating the optimal training and performance environment for learning, progression and enjoyment.

In the last post I discussed the concept of a challenge vs a threat, if as an athlete a situation is viewed as a challenge, one is much more likely to feel fired up, ready to perform and become involved in  positive way.

Leading on from this, through looking at and analysing your motivations or reasons for participating in climbing or sport, one can then begin to understand and cultivate situations where you feel most motivated and can direct your energy in a positive manner.

Energy to Burn!

This is a fascinating idea, in The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle refers to the idea that we all as individuals have masses of energy waiting to be unleashed.  The idea is that with a little cue (known as primal cues), the spark can be ignited and your energy will burn.  It is not the case that person A has so much more energy than person B, which is often perceived.  It is that person A has received or been given a cue that enables them to say I want to get involved, I am motivated and have masses of energy to burn.

Primal Cues

So what are primal cues? They are those tiny moments in time, a little word from someone, a subconscious perception of a situation or environment, a look, a physical experience...the list goes on.  They are like the atm card to an account full of endless amounts of money, once you put the card in the machine, bingo!!!

In the beginning, when you first started climbing, there was something there, something happened that made you pick climbing, made you invest time, money and energy into it.  Some primal cue enabled you to subconsciously tap into your funds and keep on paying!  It didn't work for perhaps team sports, or music or the arts but climbing got you fired up.

There could be a number of reasons for this and that is for you to understand.  It could have been the fact you made friends or that the movement felt fun or that the travelling and time in the outdoors appealed.  The point is that when you look at a number of reasons as to why you became motivated in the first place and maybe how that is changing over time, you can begin to understand what makes you tick as such.

On any climbing occasion since you have started, there are days that seem to go perfectly, days were all your motivations feel ignited.  We have all felt this at some point, a point in your climbing where you suddenly felt super motivated, super enthusiastic and with a tonne of energy became involved and perhaps achieved a goal.  Its those magic days at the crag or training sessions that you didn't want to end.

It is like me

In the book with Winning in Mind, one of the fundamental ideas Lanny Bassham discusses is the fact that when you perceive in a situation that it is like you to win, get to the top, complete a move, then you are more likely to feel fired up to engage yourself in the specific task and achieve your goal.

The most fundamental Primal Cue derived from this theory then would be something that makes you believe it is like you.  

With any activity one becomes involved in, the idea that it is like you to participate is key-eg I now want to do this because it feels like me, it feels like me to be like these other people involved and it feels like me to enjoy this activity.

Considering this fact, primal cues then in many situations will be those that allow you to believe 'it is like me to do this', maybe that is seeing someone like you do it, hearing about successful achievements by your peers, feeling through your movements the sense that it is possible, getting approval or encouragement from someone you respect.  Whatever the cue, behind it is the idea that you suddenly believe it is like you to achieve your goal.

Chillax in Glendalough, a boulder problem that I had tried on a number of occasions over about 3 years! I never thought I could do it, I had zero motivation for doing it, until last year, I saw a couple of friends try and do it and something just changed in my mind, I just knew I could do it and it was like me to be able to do it.  No major physical changes and taken place but my attitude was completely different.  I was suddenly motivated and wanted to try it with conviction and I did it.  

Testosterone-The Motivational Hormone

Another interesting aspect of Motivation is hormone production.  When you experience in your body a boost in Testosterone, you feel motivation to perform or become actively engaged.  Testosterone is usually driven by completing or performing something you care about or perceive you will receive approval for from your peers.  It is the hormone driven by a desire for social belonging.  It is often mis perceived as the hormone of aggression or alpha male syndrome! but this is not the case, regardless of gender, individuals who are about to become engaged in a task they want to do well in in order to belong to a certain group or to receive approval will get a boost in testosterone.

So in training or performing, testosterone levels will increase where you feel in a group that you wish to seek approval from or acknowledgement- e.g. winning a trophy, being called the best, getting your mates pat on the back or your partners praise.  Your levels of Testosterone will increase when you care about the outcome.

In the Talent Code, Coyle writes that we are fundamentally socially driven beings and are motivated by a sense of belonging.  We will complete tasks and activities that we feel give us a sense of belonging or acceptance from our peers, our friends, our co-workers. So what I feel is important here is again go back to asking yourself why you climb, why are you climbing now, what motivates you? what do you wish to achieve? and if you surround yourself with others of a similar mindset you are again much more likely to feel motivated, due to the concept of a shared experience and also the sense of valuing belonging to that group.

In Competition

In competition the theory of testosterone is the same.  You will have an increase in testosterone levels when you care about the outcome.  The same would apply for red points, onsight attempts etc.  When you do not care about the outcome, testosterone will not respond.  Remembering though that caring about the outcome does not mean in the event thinking about it too much to your detriment.  Once in a performance situation the focus should be entirely on your performance and immersing yourself in the zone.  In this way you will have prepared yourself knowing that you care about the outcome but on the day you are primed and ready for pure execution.  

When one takes their focus off their performance and suddenly cares less about the outcome, testosterone levels will not increase and performance motivation will suffer.  Studies (quoted from research in Top Dog)  have shown for example in dog handling competitive events where females and males compete alongside each other, females did not experience an increase in testosterone levels, why? Because they made friends with the other female competitors and became less concerned with the outcome in the event.  This may not be a bad thing if you want to go to an event to make friends, but if you wish to perform, focusing on your performance and caring about the outcome will help to boost testosterone levels helping to motivate you to become engaged.

Climbing is a really socially dependant sport, it may seem often that it is an individual activity but without the support and encouragement of those around me, I would not be motivated.  

Task vs Ego 

Another interesting concept to throw into the motivation discussion is the idea of your orientation.  There are two predominant types of orientation towards competition/performance.  

Task orientation is where an individual is focused on the completion of a task and is motivated towards that goal.  Task orientation will involve analysis of a specific task/goal and how to achieve it and whether it is possible.  If it is perceived possible then one is obviously more motivated to do it.  Ego orientated individuals on the other hand are focused on their performance in relation to others.  There will be an analysis of how others are performing and how one would rank in comparison.  If the perception is favourable in terms of performing better than another, there is an increase in motivation and if not there is a decrease.

So this is interesting, along with the above idea of asking yourself why you chose climbing, or why you train or why you continue to climb.  You can now ask yourself, I am picking this project, this activity to work towards a task/a movement/an experience, or did I pick this to perform better than somebody else, or win, or be the best, complete a climb first etc.

There is no right or wrong here, what is important is that you understand you as an individual and what you want to gear your energy towards, because if it is being the best, then create the situation preferential to achieving that, look at how the best are training, what they are eating, how long they train etc and then do better! If you are focused on a task then get to know everything there is to know about the task win question and how you can achieve it!

'It's important to have goals and drive but also to stop yourself and ask 'why'? Why is it so important that I achieve a certain pose? I ask myself this on a regular basis. Often my honest answer is, "because I saw someone else do it and I need to be able to do it just as well. . .aka EGO." Other times it's because I'll feel empowered, or present, or connected or even magical. Regardless, it's important to ask yourself why. You may find after you answer the pose it is of no importance or it may very well rock your world. The key is to stay honest. Be open to modification, practice and dedication.' Kathryn Budig

The Yogic Perspective

In Yoga, your sense of motivation or enthusiasm is known as Tapas, your burning enthusiasm, your self discipline on the journey to enlightenment.  It is regarded as a flame that once lit is very hard to extinguish and once the fire is roaring it is very easy to sustain.  It is the energy that carries forward, that prevents against lethargy or doubt or disbelief.  It enables us to have energy to practice with dedication, to train, to eat well, to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle, to pursue goals, to challenge oneself, to struggle, to grow and to learn.  Against the odds, your tapas will enable you to stay true to your beliefs and your values.  It is recommended that in times of doubt or if your fire is fading to seek inspiration from others and surround yourself with others who are enthusiastic.

In Yoga, one must constantly practice turning inwards, meaning withdrawing the awareness from the external world- others around us, thoughts, actions, words of others and developing a close connection to your inner wisdom and knowledge.  In doing this, all of your actions in this world are driven by a deep understanding of your reasoning and ultimately all endeavours are for a greater good for you and those around you.

In anything physical that we endeavour to complete, it is undoubtedly challenging our mental strength, our ability to push through our pre conceived ideas of what is capable, our ability to feel physical hardship and effort and to embrace it, our ability to believe in the value of our endeavours and appreciate any obstacle as a new lesson, a new opportunity for growth.

External life is a life of ups and downs, and for a weak person it sometimes becomes tiring and even exhausting. But for a strong person, every ascent is a joy and every descent is a game. - Swami Satyananda

Motivation and your Training/Performance

So the key here is that we have tonnes of energy, we ignite that energy by receiving Primal Cues that enable us to believe it is like me to do this. How do we find out what they are for us?

To do that I think it is important to go back to why you are doing your activity, for example with climbing, why do you go to the climbing wall, why do you go outdoors, why do you pick the projects you do? When you have your answers you can understand how to create situations to embrace them.  Say for example you want to train to become stronger for a project, the project you have picked is for the reason that its in a nice location, its a new grade, it has nice moves, whatever.  What you can do then is climb with another person who has the same target, someone who shares your ideas and goals.  You could also watch videos of your project being completed by others like you for inspiration.  You could stick pictures up in your house.  You could climb or train with someone stronger who will encourage or guide you towards your goal.  

When you know what motivates you and what gets your energy burning you then make sure to create those situations as much as possible, if not every time to create success.

It may not always be climbing in itself that keeps you motivated and inspired to go on trips, having fun is a huge element to continued participation!