At the New Year, we experience an influx of motivation in our gyms—we set New Year’s resolutions where we promise ourselves and our loved ones all the ways that we are going to become better humans this year. And as we all know, most of these resolutions are abandoned by February.
Those familiar with my work at The Forged Life know that I distrust motivation. Motivation is like a chemical high, unsustainable and fleeting. When we learn to rely on that high in order to reach goals, our progress is the same: unsustainable and fleeting. We gain the weight back. We discontinue our gym membership. We start eating sugar or drinking soda again.
When Love Turns to Dread
But what happens to the person who once loved to train and now dreads going to the gym? I have known so many athletes who become lost as they lose the motivation to train. They feel alone, isolated, and they often don’t understand why they feel the way they do. They fight as hard as they can to regain that love, but their mindset remains uninvested in training. It has turned what was once a joy into a burden.
Conversely, some athletes experience periods of extreme motivation, followed by periods of little to no motivation. This up-and down-swing takes its toll on our progress: one week, we’re PRing and hitting our workouts hard, and the next week we’re feeling weak and tired and we’re back to dreading WODs and are self-sabotaging our efforts.
How do we break these cycles, where our mental state is dictating the quality of our training and our progress on our goals? How do we break our addiction to motivation?
Whether you are an athlete who hasn’t felt motivated to train in years or an athlete who switches from super-motivated to completely unmotivated, the one thing we need to address is mindset.
The Goals of Mindset Work
It is first critical to understand what the goals behind mindset work are. Many may be surprised to learn that our goal is not to become thrilled to train every single day, but to maintain perspective over the natural dips that occur in training. Regardless of whether we are a brand new athlete just learning to squat for the first time, an athlete who’s been training for years to maintain health, or a competitive athlete striving to reach the CrossFit Games, optimum results from our training come from a mindset that is process-based versus results-based, focused on the self rather than on others, and a mindset that embraces adversity. These components of a great mindset, perspective, process-orientation, self-orientation, and seeking out adversity lead us to maximize our potential.
Because of our culture’s addiction to motivation, we have built an idea around how we are supposed to feel about training: amped up all the time, super happy and focused, and always, always making progress. This is an unrealistic expectation of anyone, from a competitor to a grandfather who’s working to walk without a cane. Sometimes we’re sick, we have work, or we have family stresses that are distracting us. Sometimes we’re experiencing self-doubt. As any coach will tell you, no one constantly makes progress. Every single athlete experiences setbacks and plateaus, even the ones who do everything “perfectly.” One of our goals through mindset work is to maintain perspective over these temporary emotional perturbations so that we can rely on the habits of training we’ve built to withstand them.
Being a process-oriented athlete translates to remaining motivated to train. Accepting ourselves as a work in progress, and therefore currently imperfect but capable of limitless improvement, is critical. A process-oriented athlete can view setbacks as opportunities to grow and can emotionally withstand the inevitable plateaus that come with long-term training. Embracing the process allows us to sustain our motivation.
The Self-Oriented Athlete
A self-oriented athlete knows why they are training within the broader context of their life. So often, our training reflects what we see on social media or what the best athletes in our gym are doing or what our peers are focusing on—in other words, what everyone else’s goals for their training are. A self-oriented athlete knows why they are striving for competitive greatness, if that’s what they’re doing, or they know how their training supports the hobbies they enjoy outside of the gym. Everything they do at the CrossFit box has a purpose, and that purpose is self-directed, uninfluenced by whatever is in fashion at the time.
The final piece to building great mindset, a critical component of maximizing our potential, is to embrace adversity—sometimes even seeking it out intentionally. If we think about how and why we give up on the goals that are deeply important to us but that we can’t pull the trigger on or sustain long enough to see results, it is often when we experience adversity that we give up. Adversity triggers a protective set of behaviors (self-sabotage) that are intended to return us to a state of comfort. We self-sabotage by eating what we said we wouldn’t eat, by skipping workouts, or by allowing ourselves to become distracted from our goal. Maximizing our potential requires that we break free of that need for comfort.
It is easy to see how we maintain the motivation to train when our mindset is constantly directing us to maximize our potential. Motivation is no longer a high, but a state of doing what needs to be done each day to make progress on our goals. When we recognize a weakness in our training, it no longer defeats us but provides us with an opportunity to grow, a challenge that we can rise to. Should we sustain an injury, we can see how the rehabilitation provides us with an opportunity to focus on weaknesses. When life throws us the inevitable curveball that affects our ability to train, we can maintain perspective and find creative solutions, rather than allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed. When we step out of our comfort zones, we rise to the challenge rather than returning to old behaviors that no longer serve our goals. With great mindset, we can maximize our potential. Without great mindset, we will always get in our own way.
Building self-awareness is the first step in maximizing our potential. In order to move forward, we must intimately understand what has been holding us back—ourselves. To begin this process, ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I training?
- What purpose does training fulfill in my life?
- What are the goals that are most important to me?
- Why are those goals important to me?
- How do my goals fit into who I want to be as a person?
- How do my goals fit into the purpose that my training serves?
- When am I having the most fun training?
- What makes me feel the most like myself when I train?
- How do I respond to discomfort when I train?
- Am I avoiding discomfort? If so, why?
Mindset for a Lifetime
Much like nutrition, mindset work is not a short-term project; it is a lifelong practice. The habits we build through mindset work require as much dedication as weighing and measuring food. As we know in nutrition, the more consistent we are, and the more committed we are to maximizing our potential, the better our results will be.