So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…
As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.
Over the next six months, I’ll be finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.
The right motivation
I’ve trained for big goals before but I don’t think I’ve always got the motivation right. I’ll get excited by a big challenge I’ve heard about, set an arbitrary performance target, then then just do what I can to reach it.
This works pretty well in terms of hitting the target, but it has problems too – the training becomes focused on avoiding failure and, if I do reach my goal, It doesn’t always feel very fulfilling. Finding an exciting challenge is important, but how can we improve the overall mindset?
What’s my motivation?
Perhaps we need to look at the underlying motivation. Sports psychologists often split this into Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation:1
Extrinsic, motivated by:
- External rewards
- Recognition & praise
- Pleasing others
Intrinsic, motivated by:
- Knowledge: learning new skills
- Accomplishment: gaining mastery
- Stimulation: interest and excitement from the activity itself
It’s easy to see how Strava presses all our Extrinsic Motivation buttons, but Intrinsic Motivation sounds a lot more fulfilling in the long run – so how can it be encouraged?
Well, who are you doing this for anyway?
Self-Determination Theory states that the more autonomy you have (the more you choose your goal for yourself), the more intrinsic your motivation will be.2 This seems to make sense.
The right mindset
Another interesting angle is the concept of Mindset. In her popular book, Carol Dweck describes two different ways of approaching challenges, which she calls a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset.3
A person with a Fixed Mindset believes their ability remains stable (ie fixed), whereas a Growth Mindset means their ability is something that can be developed. Her team studied this in American schoolkids, finding big differences in their ability to improve their school grades.
More importantly for what I want to do, encouraging a Growth Mindset might foster healthier, more intrinsic motivation. The point in taking on my challenge wouldn’t be to prove anything to others. It would be to develop my knowledge and ability while rising to the challenge.
My take-home messages:
In summary then…
- Choose something that interests and excites you
- Build intrinsic motivation with learning, continuous improvement and interesting experiences
- Use the challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than to prove what you can already do
1. Deci, E.L., and Ryan, R.M., ‘Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and wellbeing’, American Psychologist, vol. 55 (2000), pp. 68–78]
2. Vallerand, R. J., & Losier, G. F. (1999). An integrative analysis of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 11(1), 142–169. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413209908402956
3. Dweck, C.S., Mindset (New York: Random House, 2006)