Motivation: You Have a Choice

Another deload week has rolled around for me. Just as it is for many a lifter, I definitely can’t say I’m excited. You’re lifting lighter weights for fewer sets and reps while spending considerably less time under the bar if programmed properly. You’d think after weeks of hammering yourself to exhaustion that this would be a welcome change of pace. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I don’t enjoy the process of the deload, they’re still absolutely necessary for recovery, and thus, adaptation (read: gains) to occur. You’d think that, as a coach, knowing this, I’d be a little bit more enthusiastic about the whole process. Well, I’m not. I’m a stubborn bastard (sorry, mom, I use the term figuratively), just as emotionally frenetic as any other athlete, and dammit, I want to train! As such, even though I’m doing the work, I sure as shit don’t feel any particular motivation to do it. With that in mind, then, I see no better opportunity to talk about another aspect to the concept of motivation.

As I’ve stated in the past, motivation is the key to attaining everything. It’s the most important item in your training toolbox, more relevant than any exercise or training program you can think of. Now, previously, I’ve deconstructed the concept of motivation, discussed what motivation might mean to you or how to find and define the most profound reasons to do what you do. Today, however, I want to leave you with a little exposition of sorts. You see, I recently had an epiphany, and I want to share it with you in the hope that it can do for you what it’s done for me. What I’m about to tell you can be applied to all training, but is especially pertinent to doing what you don’t want to do, but know you ought to be doing.

I just want to preface what I’m about to say with this: I’m getting amazingly tired of writing about my injuries. I’m sure you’re just as tired of reading about them. But really, they do define my training right now, and if I’m going to stick to the mandate I initially set for myself about discussing my personal process of getting back under the bar as it may apply to your experiences, well, I have to mention them because they’re the constraint that currently defines how I train. But, being the opportunist that I am, I’m trying very hard to stay productive. Notice that I didn’t say the word “positive.” There’s nothing about this that I’m particularly happy about, and no, I won’t attempt to trick myself into being “positive” even if that’s what your run-of-the-mill self-help guide says I should do. There’s no amount of imagining or visualizing that’s going to somehow defy the known principles of quantum mechanics, and magically attract my shoulders back into their joint spaces. If you know me personally, then, you know that I can be an intense person, occasionally (who am I kidding, often) motivated by anger or what I see as something that ought to be corrected. Let me tell you, it’s very hard to feel satisfied when you can’t do one something you love the way you’d like to. Being injured is an intensely demotivating experience, and no, I won’t pretend to attach a silver lining to it (even though, in some cases, I’ve tried to).

My training for the last two weeks has included a vast array of corrective, rehabilitative, and preventative exercises that I really, really, don’t like doing. For one, they hurt. Two, they’re boring, and I’m not very good at them nor am I particularly interested in being good at them. Three, you have to do a lot of mental abstraction to convince yourself of their relevance. But, like I asked last week, what’s the most important part in your quest to Snatch big weights? Well, being able to do the damn lift! And, right now, I can’t. I guess, then, shoulder, hip, and thoracic mobility drills are pretty relevant, even if I really don’t want them to be. That still doesn’t address points one and two, however. Sitting in a 90-90 position, trying to stay upright because your left hip won’t rotate, while relevant to Snatching well, is still very distant, conceptually, from the Snatch. So, as I contorted myself the other day, braced against a box, straining to do the drill correctly, I realized something. Motivation doesn’t have to be based on some grand realization or a narrative you’ve created for yourself about who you want to be or why you do what you do. It can be as simple as making a choice.

Yes, your choice should be based on all that other stuff related to what you desire in life, but actively thinking about that in this kind of situation can be really demotivating, and not to mention, extraneous. When you’re hunkered down doing something you don’t like introspection will likely only serve to frustrate you more. My little epiphany was simple: I could choose to be emotional, invested, and analytic about my situation or I could simply choose to do it, full stop. No extra thinking, no pondering, just focus on what I am physically doing, not what I think about it or whether I like it. Although a simple statement, it’s not the easiest thing to do. Although I’d say meaning making is an inescapable part of the human experience, sometimes, though, to be the person you want to be you have to actively stop synthesizing information. I could have sat next to my box, legs in some deranged pretzel formation, thinking about all the reasons I was doing it for, all the good that would come if I stayed the course, and all that I’d miss out on if I didn’t do it. In fact, I did do that, and all it reminded me off was how injured I am, and what I’m missing out on. What am I going to do? Manipulate myself into liking something I clearly don’t in order to enjoy the training experience? I’ve attempted that before, and it definitely didn’t work nor help! So, instead, this time around I shut all that thought out. I accepted my fate, and just zoned out until the work was done.

Admittedly, this is a lot easier to write about than it is to do. As I’m sure you’re well aware, your mind isn’t like a television that you can just switch off with the press of a button. No, no matter what you do, you have to occupy it with something. So occupy it with something that not only defies your inner-monologue, but has nothing to do with it. Just breathe. Between sets of sitting awkwardly using a box to stave off falling over, I just focused on inhaling and exhaling, counting my breaths. During I just counted reps, and thought about my positions. I found a rhythm, and let myself get lost in it. In short, I basically mediated. I’m not a religionist by any means, but there’s something to be said about the Buddhist notion that desire is the root of all suffering. Sometimes that desire is what you need to keep you pushing, but sometimes pushing is the problem. A corrective exercise isn’t something to expend all that energy on. When all I did to force myself into completing my rehab exercises was to focus on why I was doing them, what they would lead me to, I was filled with frustration, and even despair. All it did was remind me that I’m injured, and that I wasn’t doing what I wanted, and that was the whole problem. Even though I knew what I was doing would lead me to where I wanted to be, what I wanted was stressing me out to the point where I didn’t want to train, where I had to force discipline, finding numerous ways to convince myself that I was doing what I needed to be doing. If that’s what’s going through my head, then, I have my doubts about the quality of the work I’m putting inbecause my mind is divorced from what I’m actually doing. Instead, when I perform these exercises, I focus now on my breath, my movement, and its quality. I zone out.

You can be entirely aware of the value of why you’re doing what you’re doing, but often, such a mindset still does nothing to quell the immediate dissatisfaction you might be feeling. Enduring suffering for the sake of a greater goal might make you disciplined at some level, but it doesn’t negate the fact that you’re still suffering. Think of this active indifference as a way around the whole problem of motivation itself, harkening back to that concept of performing as though you’ve already failed/died I wrote about weeks ago.

More than a few of you are currently doing programs you’re not particularly happy about. Some of it is due to injury that, like me, has to be addressed before you go forward. For others, we’re attempting to fix significant deficits that will only become worse the longer we ignore them. What we need to remind ourselves of at times is that, while training can be a fun, envigorating process, it won’t always be, even if that’s your primary reason for lifting. This goes double for you if you have competitive goals because champions are those who focus on rectifying their weaknesses, and more often than not, working on our weaknesses is not an enjoyable experience. Despite presenting the central concept of Buddhist philosophy above as an example, I firmly believe desire is central to the human condition, and must be embraced, athlete or not. I just think that the statement happens to be correct, even if it does seem disappointing. What matters is that we reconcile what our immediate desires are with our future desires, tempering ourselves in order to do so. Even more importantly, that we don’t place attachment on any single means, method, experience, or condition for doing so. I won’t claim to have any definitive answers about what this means beyond what I’ve said above, in part because I don’t really know; I’m probably just as confused as you might be about this. I do know this, however. Life is full of paradoxical events, realities, and in some cases, truths. This might be one of them: sometimes, in order to get what you desire you have to ignore what you want.