Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
Great results are wonderful. Especially if we have worked hard for something. There is something so satisfying about gritting it out, building something from the ground up, pulling off a good performance, whether it’s in sport or some other area of our life.
Do we do something because we want to work hard? Do we follow a path because we desire a great result? Do we only work really hard at the things that we have passion for? Do we build what we are good at? What comes first, the motivation to succeed, or the outcomes that motivate us to keep trying?
I’ll put this in the context of a race goal. Using the wise words of Thomas Merton, if you only focus on the outcome (whatever result you are hoping to achieve) you may work really hard and be sorely disappointed in a poor showing. This will cause you to be blind to all the cool moments that happen along the way. Or you may have a positive result but then look at your medal and wonder if it really matters, in the large scheme of things. Or want a bigger medal.
As I started my path along a high performance career I had one thing that I craved more than anything. I wanted to go to the Olympics. I wanted to call myself an Olympian and become an Ambassador in Canadian Sport. I dreamed about going to the Olympics and racing for Canada, and I set all my early goals with that end in mind: national Championships, qualifying events, time standards, 12 training sessions, 2 physio, and 1 massage appointment a week.
I changed my habits to support this dream. My life became a 24/7 cycle of eating, training, sleeping, travelling and racing. The more I changed my habits to support my goal, the closer I could see that I was getting. I gave up a lot of things that other 22 year olds were doing, but it didn’t feel like sacrifice. I climbed the rankings, my times got better, I developed my fitness and I worked on my mental skills. It was hard: I had injuries and setbacks, money was tight, I wondered what the hell I was doing at times, but I never stopped because something in me needed to pursue this goal, and I was making enough progress to reward all the hard work.
I tried for Atlanta 1996, in the 5000m and failed, but I kept trying. In 2000, I failed again (well, I was pregnant and had a baby, so that doesn’t really count as a failure unless you want to count failure to plan), and finally for Athens 2004 I failed to make the Olympics for the final time. Interestingly, by the time 2004 came around, I had learned so much, had broadened my career, to include road running and duathlon and triathlon and I was so in love with the process of training, with being an athlete and with trying to be the best and fastest I could be, that while not making the Olympics was a disappointment, I had gained so much more about the truth of hard work and being an athlete, that it didn’t crush me.
In the end, it was all about the desire to strive for excellence. Where I was, at the height of my career, excellence was both what I was doing and the result. There were many races, where it was possible to win, where I believed I could win: and in those races, I wanted to win. My friends said they would see competitiveness written on my face. However, my motivation wasn’t ever to be better than anyone else. I just wanted to be the best that I could be and winning a race seemed like the logical thing to strive for. The only thing to strive for. But in that striving was a very clear intention. I wanted to see what I was capable of. I wanted to see how fast I could get, how tough I could be, how much I could suffer, and how well I could execute a race.
As I matured and started coaching, I wanted to pass this knowledge on and mentor younger athletes, help them past the obstacles I had already run into. And then I started to see inspiration all around me - could see that this was true for all athletes and why people keep signing up over and over again for competitions.
Goals are important, and I’ve always coached people to choose their goals carefully. But goals won’t motivate us, if our intentions don’t support our soul. I also think it’s really hard for anybody to feel inspired, be motivated or take action if the goal is chosen for the wrong reason.
When our intention is to train with respect and care for ourselves, to support the others around us and see how far we can go, we are carving a positive pathway for ourselves. If our motivation is rooted in needing to prove ourselves worthy, or to dominate, then fear and negative patterns become our training partners.
If you are one of the many thousands of people who choose to set a goal for yourself – whether it is to start walking, complete your first 5k or challenge Ironman Triathlon – don’t except inspiration every day, or to be massively motivated for every training session. Inspiration and motivation ebb and flow, and when they come it is beautiful, and like a sign post, they show us we are on the right path. What will keep you going, is having the right intention (and this is wildly personal), and most of all, developing good habits that support exactly what you intend to do.
Eat well, sleep well, take care of logistics and be kind to yourself.
Run For Joy
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.