Today’s article is about something every individual dedicating themselves to learning something difficult must possess: motivation. More accurately, were going to pick the concept apart and think about what motivation should be in the context of what it means to be “good.” Motivation isn’t just about feeling compelled to do or be something. Motivation should go further than being an urge; it should should provide you with a deep understanding of who you are, why you want to do what it is you’re motivated towards, and leave you with a map of getting there.

I’ve heard countless educators, be they teachers or coaches, implore their students to be motivated. As a child, I was your classic unmotivated student in school. “Greg, you’ve gotta be more motivated! You’ve got to care! Why aren’t you motivated to do better” Umm… I dunno? Care to tell me what you actually want me to do? Motivation is one of those words that’s so base in meaning yet thoroughly rooted in our everyday language that I think we take it at face value, leaving it as more of a sense than an actual concept we can define. In fact, in writing this article I consulted a a few dictionaries, and one of the given definitions defined motivation as the act of being motivated. Helpful, right?I’m going to go ahead and just define motivation as being incited or insentivized towards a given end. Simple, no? In my case, I really, really, want to be good at the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. The next step to make this a more meaningful endeavor is answer the most obvious question: why? Let’s start with my incentives.

My incentives are many: I co-own the only dedicated Weightlifting gym in Ottawa, I’m Head Coach and direct the training of numerous competitive athletes in the sport of Weightlifting. Finally, the most obvious reason: I love to lift; that’s why I got into the business in the first place! What compels me to train hard, then, are both internal and external factors. On the external side, I want to set the standard for our community as to what it means to persevere, to train with both effort and intelligence. Lastly, I want those who’ve put time into coaching and organizing my training to feel that I was worth the time and care they put in. Internally, my motives are much simpler: I just want to be good. It’s on that thought where I feel as though we all share the same motivation. We might not have the same reasons, we might not all want it as badly as one another, but at some level we all want to perform well, and lift confidently. Is that what it means to be “good?” Sort of.

When we think of good lifting we often think of the giants of the sport that we can readily observe on the web. Everyone into lifting here knows Lu Xiaojun has an amazing Snatch, and that Squat Jerk? Whoa damn. We’ve all marvelled at the monster Illya Illin is. You’ve probably even seen some of the training hall footage from one of the recent World Championships. Good lifting, at least as far as what I think we all share in our conception of it, is modeled after the level of mastery these kinds of lifters display because, in our minds, they define our notion of perfection. They do so very simply: they lift more than anyone else in the world, and do so with technical precision that stuns us. I’d wager that, at one point in these athletes lives, they, too, had athletes that they were in awe of, and aspired to be like. Were these people that the current champions aspired to be necessarily the best in the world? Maybe not.

Being good doesn’t mean you have to mirror the elite. That wouldn’t be wise if just because most of us actually can’t be that good for whatever reason. No, the critical import of the example above is that it provides us with ideas as to the path we need to take. I myself have no aspiration to be the best. I just want to be the best that I can be. What does that mean? I’m not sure. But, I’ve seen lifts and lifters where I say: “I think I can do that.” I won’t name any names, but I’ve had a handful of people who train here actually ask how they can be more like some of our high-level athletes. It’s simple: you have to empathize with the people whose abilities you want to emulate.

Step one: find out why they do what they do, how they do it, and finally, then, look at the habits that you think make them successful. Step two: integrate some of them into your mindset and approach to what you do. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) all of them. I regularly watch interviews, lectures, or documentary clips of coaches and athletes I respect because I want to, at some level, integrate into my own thoughts and performances what I think they do well. Often times what I find is someone with similar thoughts or abilities to me that provide me with a potential trajectory to follow. In other words, they show me what possibilities are tenable in my own life. Not all of these people that inspire me at some level are all elite, either. I won’t name names, but some of these people that I attempt to emulate call this gym their home! Regardless, when I get the chance, I try to find the meaning behind why someones a coach or why they’re a lifter.

Should you do this, too, what you’ll find is that there are things you’ll immediately notice are compatible with who you are, some that might be, and some that simply aren’t. For instance, I just can’t train as much as the greats of our sport have. Admittedly, I also don’t have the same drive required to be an athlete of that level (and that’s okay). My primary ambition is to build a successful community and a successful team. Training just happens to be a part of that. What’s key here is that thinking this way forces me to be reflexive, constantly analyzing and re-examining who I am, what my motivations are, and why they ought or ought not to be things I strive for. In reality, the level of competence I wish to achieve (right now anyway) is already displayed at this club, and in the local competition circuit.

This is the crux of the matter: You have to select people to emulate that harbor the characteristics that most closely match what “good” ought to be for you. For me, I just want to be able to hang with the best in the club. Not because I want to compete with them, but because, mostly, I just want to be able to understand the training process as long as I can. I feel if I’m to lead the pack, then, I damn well better know what I’m expecting of people! One of the reasons I originally decided that I had to get back under the bar was because it would make me a better coach. As you all know, when the weights get heavier, little things can change. As you get better and more efficient with your lifting, new tricks, and technical subtleties become not just possible, but necessary. If I don’t master them how will I ever teach them effectively?

What I’d like everyone to take away from this is an understanding of how to derive, describe, and understand their motivations. To reiterate, examine what your incentives are, why they drive you, and towards what end. Following that, take a look at the examples of what you think your end should be. Look at how others accomplished the ends you desire, and let that define what your concept of “good” should be. That’ll automatically define what you’re means of getting there should be. Because of their dynamic and challenging nature, the Olympic lifts can provide numerous reasons for doing them. Maybe you just want to get good at something hard to impress you and your friends? Maybe it’s just a fun, and challenging way to get your exercise in? Or perhaps one day you want to be the next Canadian great? What’s important to understand is that your motivations define how you arrive at your destination. When I think about what works for me, I tend to think about it in the context of what it teaches me as far as empathizing with my athletes. If you’re doing this for fun that means don’t beat yourself up too much along the way, but at the same time don’t neglect pushing yourself either because missing lifts over a lackadaisical attitude is definitely not fun. In the end, all that matters is that your ambitions remain coherent with what you’re actually doing to reach them.