This article aims to look at what motivates athletes to participate in extreme sports whether they be gruelling, dangerous, arduous or just plain challenging.
So Why Do People Participate in Extreme Sports?
- Money: perhaps in some cases. Yet only a few chosen ones will ever make a decent living out of their chosen sport. In triathlons for example the majority of participants are amateurs, who for some non-financial reason have taken time out of their frantic work days and busy personal or family schedule to train for hours and hours, and weeks and weeks on end to swim, bike and run for the limited duration of a race.
- Fame: again maybe, but most people have never heard of Ross Clarke Jones (big wave surfer) or Chrissie Wellington (an undefeated triathlon world champion who defeats most of the top men). Fame is a fickle, fleeting thing. Unless you’re extremely talented, media savvy, a good role model and great at your chosen sport, it will only take a generation and then your forgotten and hardly anyone will remember who you were.
- Ego: I think you can tell in an athlete’s persona when this is the case. Fortunately if your ego is bloated enough and the sport you are doing is extreme enough there is only one thing that will happen. Your ego will get crushed. Or someone better comes along.
- Challenging yourself: Competition with others and with yourself brings out the best . This is the definitive reason or motivation I will participate in any sport. Self-improvement is the main reason people want to challenge themselves.
Striving for Self-Improvement and Reaching Personal Goals
In the 3100 mile race, every moment, every step was taking me closer and closer towards finishing. The feeling I got from improving myself, surpassing miles way beyond my previous personal best, far transcended the physical pain and mental hurdles I faced. The first time I did it, I was basically in agony the entire time, but I was incredibly happy because I was challenging myself.
Self-improvement takes us beyond our present capacities and achievements. It involves staying focused and competing only with ourselves. “If I can improve myself, if I can go beyond my previous achievements, then that is my goal. My own previous record is always what I am competing with” said Sri Chinmoy, founder of the longest ultra-marathon, the 3100 mile race, in reference to his own fitness goals. Many climbers echo the same sentiments “My own previous record is always what I am competing with. I am always looking for goals that are challenging me,” mentioned Ueli Steck, one of the world’s best climbers, “I am not just climbing…I really want to reach my goal.”
Track athletes are no different. 9 time Olympic track and field gold medallist Carl Lewis said:
“The joy that comes from ‘going beyond’ is the most incredible feeling in the world. I have felt it many times. And I have enjoyed watching others experience it.”
It doesn’t really depend on where you are or what you have, if you are short of inspiration you have to seek and find it and it is only going to come from yourself. Challenging yourself in a fitness setting or extreme sport can do this. Self-improvement is the key to life’s journey. Many of us remain stagnant for most of our lives. We get caught by chains of financial and moral responsibilities, stuck in a rut, unable to free ourselves from the monotonous life we are in. The scales get tipped too far and we forget to nourish ourselves and stay positive and happy. It doesn’t take much to turn the situation around, only a desire to extend or better yourself. For some people this might be jogging ten kilometres, studying a new language or taking up a new hobby. For others it might be summiting a peak or riding a hundred foot wave.
Self-improvement involves getting out of your comfort zone but it allows us to smash out of the jail cell or box we feel trapped in. It is going that bit further or taking an extra step or trying that much harder to achieve something, to live our dreams and to become something. If we have faith in ourselves, we can accomplish anything. And with achievement, happiness automatically comes.
Failing and Trying Again
Occasionally we do fail but that is part of it. If do something with one hundred per cent effort, if we put all our patience, devotion and dedication into something without expectation, then we can be happy even if we stumble. We learn from this experience and try again. “It’s not about any records,” mentioned 6 time ironman winner and 2 time duathlon world champion Olivier Bernhard, “As long as I reached my full potential I would be happy at the finish…it’s not about winning, it’s not about the money, it’s about making constant progress and becoming a better person on the lasting journey.” On a personal level, in my four 3100 mile races I have bettered my time every year. My 2012 finish was a week faster than my debut. I won it one year, but the satisfaction from going beyond my personal best was far greater than standing on the podium. Someday I won’t improve and this will be something I will have to deal with in a positive manner.
Everyone wants to progress. Working as a business speaker, I see this thirst for progress all the time. It is very noticeable with ambitious, career-driven people. Someone who achieves a lot in the business world often has focus, concentration, drive and dedication in boundless measure. Athletes are the same, they are just directing and focusing their energies to another area and perhaps gaining a more rewarding experience.
(Video) The Mind Of A 3100 Mile Ultra Runner
Feature Image courtesy of Vincent Thian
How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals
Time is the raw material of our lives. How we choose to spend it, shapes our life accordingly. So having the motivation to spend it on achieving goals is crucial to creating a life we want.
What is Motivation?
The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the desire or willingness to do something – our drive to take action.
Scientifically, motivation has its roots in the dopamine pathways of our brains. When we do something that feels good, that’s dopamine kicking in. Our actions are driven by the desire for that reward (the good feeling).
Author Steven Pressfield describes motivation more practically. He says we hit a point where the pain of not doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it. He sees motivation as crossing the threshold where it’s easier to take action than it is to be idle. Like choosing to feel awkward while making sales calls over feeling disappointed about a diminishing bank account.
However you choose to think about it, we all want to harness motivation to achieve our goals.
How to Get Motivated
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that most people misunderstand motivation. They think that motivation is what gets us to take action. In reality, motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Once we start a task, it’s easier to continue making progress. Like Isaac Newton’s first law: objects in motion stay in motion.
This means most of the resistance when working on your goals comes right before we start. Since motivation naturally occurs after we start, we need to focus on making starting easier.
4 Ways to Make Starting Easier
1. Schedule it
One reason people can’t get started on things is that they haven’t planned when to do it.
When things aren’t scheduled it’s easier for them to fall by the wayside. You’ll end up hoping motivation falls in your lap or hoping that you’ll muster enough willpower to get it done.
An article in the Guardian said, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”
2. Measure something
It’s easy to feel uninspired when you don’t know if you’re making progress or what you’re even working towards. That’s why you need to make your success measurable in some way. Starting is easy when you know exactly how much closer your current actions will bring you to achieving your goal.
3. Extrinsic motivation
This type of motivation is from external factors. It can be either positive or negative. Positive motivation consists of incentives like money, prizes, and grades. Negative motivation consists of deterrents like being fired, having a fight, or being fined. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work effectively long-term, but it can work well in the short term to get you started on something.
4. Make it public
Keep yourself accountable by telling friends and family your goals, or even sharing them on social media. This makes it easier to start something because you’re pressured to not let others down.
How to Stay Motivated Long Term
When we say we want to feel motivated to do something, we don’t want to be pushed or guilted into doing a task. We want to be so attracted and drawn to the idea that we can’t resist not taking action. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation that will set you up for consistency.
These are 5 techniques that will help you do just that:
1. Stay in your goldilocks zone
The goldilocks zone is when a task is the perfect level of difficulty—not too hard and not too easy. In this zone, we reach peak motivation and focus.
For example, let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against a 4-year-old. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become bored and not want to play. Now let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against Serena Williams. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become demotivated because the match is too challenging.
The Goldilocks zone is in the middle of that spectrum. You want to face someone with equal skill as you. That way you have a chance to win, but you have to focus and try for it. Adjusting your workload and goals over time to stay within your Goldilocks zone keeps you engaged and motivated long-term.
2. Pursue intrinsically motivated goals
Being intrinsically motivated to achieve a goal is when you want to achieve it for what it is. There are no external factors like a reward or the risk of being fired. The drive behind your actions is coming from within.
For most intrinsic goals we pursue them because they will enrich our lives or bring us closer to fulfillment. That makes these goals extremely sustainable long-term because they directly affect our quality of life and the things we care about.
3. Use “chunking”
Chunking is the technique of breaking down a goal into smaller short-term targets. By doing this you achieve multiple successes in your pursuit of the main goal. This triggers the brain’s reward system and drives you to keep going.
Traditionally, you may set a goal that you expect to achieve in one year. That’s a long time to commit without seeing any results along the way. By chunking your goals into monthly or quarterly targets, you get the consistent positive reinforcement you need to stay motivated long-term.
For example, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds in one year, try to lose 4 pounds every month for 12 months.
4. Be flexible
We’re all victims of circumstance. Things happen along our journey that we can either adjust to or quit because of. That’s why it’s important to have leeway and flexibility when you’re pursuing a goal. If you expect everything to go perfectly, the inevitable failure can make you disengaged and desireless. When you plan for things to go wrong, you make sure you can keep up for the long haul.
5. Pursue your goals in a sustainable fashion
Don’t lose hope when you’re not an overnight success. Overnight successes are the 1%—for the most part, they don’t exist. What we see as an “overnight success” is actually countless hours of work behind the scenes finally hitting a tipping point. Pursuing goals is a story of patience, persistence, and unseen effort.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is a recipe for a drop in self-confidence and satisfaction. It also cultivates a mindset where you think you haven’t done enough. As a result, you may raise your expectations and put more pressure on yourself.
This is pointless because things worth achieving take time. So we obviously won’t compare to the things around us when starting.
Mastering motivation is a superpower. With that ability at your fingertips, you can accomplish your goals and shape a life you want to live in.
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