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Where do you fit into the motivational and goal setting landscape?

Where do you fit into the motivational and goal setting landscape?


Motivation gets you started; Habit keeps you going. One of the many inspirational quotes you are likely to come across as you start, or return to, training, and for many people it is a truism. Motivation can be fleeting, or focussed toward unrealistic expectations, especially where new year is concerned. Motivation alone is no guarantee of success, and loss of motivation starts that slippery slide towards failure. So what can be done to help keep you on track? Firstly, set an exercise schedule that you think you can achieve. Don’t be overly ambitious to start, you need to have early successes to help you along, and as you improve you can ramp up the schedule. The most important point here is to have a schedule and keep to it until it becomes habit. This will become easier as your mind and body become adjusted to your exercise timing and will pay dividends in the long run. Another very true quote that is related to those days when it is difficult to get out there, ‘the pain of disappointment is far worse than the pain of discipline’. One way to think of this is that failing to achieve the goal that motivated you hurts more than the effort to train when you don’t feel like it!  

There will be times when motivation fades and it all seems too difficult. This happens most often when your goal starts to appear unachievable or is too vague. My goal for 2021 is to get fitter. Is this a useful goal? Probably not unless you are going to ‘get fitter’ for some special reason that requires you to be fitter! Open ended goals like this are difficult to chase, difficult to measure progress, and make it difficult to track and recognise achievements. To assist you to set achievable goals, understand how to keep motivation going, and ultimately complete your personal challenge we have developed a simple flow chart for you to refer to if motivation fades. In the flow chart you will find ideas to direct, or redirect, your progress so you can improve your chances of success.

Developing motivation

The things that drive us to exercise/train can be vastly different from person to person. However, it is widely debated that there are four models that capture a majority of the population (Section 1 of flow chart). Many of you are likely to see yourselves as fitting more than one model over time because you will certainly have different pressures that stimulate you to exercise at different times in your life. Although this article is directed towards exercise, it is equally applicable to any purpose that requires dedication to achieve. Where do you fit in this motivational landscape?

Whichever you perceive as best describing your current motivational pathway/s, all pathways have many commonalities; it is largely the order in which you think they influence your decisions that differs. The key ingredient is the goal. Without a goal motivation will fade and exercise will no longer be fun. Whether initially derived through motivation or through a desire, your goal is central to success. Luckily it is almost inevitable that you will arrive at a goal; desire is the longing to gain/achieve something. Therefore that ‘something’ represents your goal. Similarly, motivation is also about wanting to achieve, so your goal also becomes abundantly clear. Exercise without a goal still remains beneficial to your health but does make it harder to improve your performance and get the best from your body. Even with a goal, motivation can/will fade over time if you cannot see improvements that will get you to your goal. Consequently, it is important to set achievable goals for yourself.

Maintaining motivation

Motivation inevitably fades, either because you cannot see yourself achieving your goal, or because you have already reached your goal. Both situations are repairable; the former is more complex but achievable (Section 2 of flow chart) and the latter is easy to fix, start looking for the next goal and get moving again, let your success drive you forward and remember one of the key ideas for success is to make your exercise schedule a habit.

If you are not confident that you will reach your goal, there could be two reasons for your drop in motivation. First, perhaps your goal was a bit ambitious for your fitness levels when you started, or second, you are not really applauding and valuing your small ‘wins’ along the way. If your goal seems unattainable, and you fail to re-adjust your thoughts, you are heading towards disappointment; not just about missing your goal, but about the time ‘wasted’ in trying to get there. There is a way forward from here and it is not difficult, it just requires some re-adjustments on your part to get you back onto a more productive pathway.

When motivation fades it is probably time to change your goal, it is as simple as that. You may need to be more realistic when setting an ‘intermediate’ goal, or two, or more, but the experience you have gained in getting this far should help. Set goals that you are confident you can achieve in a reasonable timeframe. They do not need to be big steps, they can be quite small, so long as you take pride in each goal achieved and allow those small successes to drive you forward. Each one gets you closer to that larger goal you have your eyes on. Be patient, if you set realistic goals along the way, and recognise the small wins, you will achieve. Once you start understanding the importance of small achievements, being proud of those small steps, and recognise the motivation they provide, you are already on a winning path (Section 3 of flow chart).

At this point you can see a positive way forward, are able to understand your fitness level and what a reasonable next goal might be. What we are really asking of you here is to reflect on where you have come from and use that knowledge to develop a pathway to your next, and any subsequent, goals. In reflection you should not dwell on times you felt you were not performing particularly well, we all have ‘down’ periods no matter how fit and healthy we are. Rather focus on the improvements, no matter how small, because positivity will bring motivation along for the ride and motivation will get you to the next goal. Above all else, allow yourself to be proud of each, and every, achievement no matter how small. You know better than anybody else just how hard you worked to reach each of those achievements.