What motivates top athletes?
The Olympic motto is ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ – meaning ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’. But how do top athletes like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps or Dorothy Hamill motivate themselves through long hours of intense training to get in top shape and fulfill the Olympic motto? And how can we adopt their techniques, supercharge our own workout routine and boost our lives with an extra dose of motivation?
David Epstein has explored this and many other questions in his book The Sports Gene, where he interviewed top athletes about their motivation techniques. Here are his top tips:
Set actionable, specific goals:
A common pattern observed in top athletes when training is that they set actionable, specific goals. These goals are not vague, such as ‘I want to run faster’ – instead, they set extremely specific goals such as ‘Today at mile three, I will push myself extra hard and achieve a six-minute mile.’ Focusing on specific activities will help you concentrate on the present moment, taking your mind off the overwhelming challenges of your larger goal.
Trick your brain: Talk yourself through challenges
When Olympic athletes undergo gruelling training, their bodies are pushed to the brink of exhaustion. At this point, their body will try to conserve resources. Top athletes must constantly tell themselves that they will make it, even when their body feels like it’s going to fail, essentially tricking their minds to continue functioning. Training is very much a biological exploration of the mind, according to Epstein. By simply repeating a few words of encouragement to ourselves, such as ‘Today, I am going to swim 30 laps without a break and I’m going to be okay’ – you can mentally prepare your body to achieve more.
Self-improvement over winning
Although Olympic athletes are the champions of their sport, none of them win every single race or every game. Winning may play an important role in their motivation, but Epstein suggests that what’s more important is that top athletes are addicted to self-improvement. Knowing that they can surpass their own record helps them keep motivated to do more every time they train. Setting personal milestones for yourself and recording your achievements can help fuel your fitness routine.
Have a training partner
It’s hard to stay motivated all the time on your own, and research has shown that obligation to another can serve as a strong source of motivation. When you have someone there alongside you, pushing you, you will automatically work harder. The person can be a trainer, friend or parent – what’s important is that you have a regular training partner who is about the same level of ability and who shares similar training goals to you. Knowing that someone is counting on you to show up will get you out of bed and on the way to the gym!
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