Strategies for Increasing Motivation

Motivation is an integral part of the success formula in any sport and is a common topic in many sports periodicals. Interestingly, most of the articles I’ve seen on the subject get it all wrong! So what is motivation? And how can you increase your motivation when it begins to wane? This powerful information is outlined below, but let’s start off with what many people confuse with motivation.

Some Get It Wrong
Most articles on motivation focus on getting you “psyched” for training or competition. They may instruct you to surround yourself with aggressive people, play loud music, find new training facilities, read inspirational stories, look at dreamy photos, maybe even quaff some coffee.

But these things do NOT motivate! They are simply external stimuli that change your state. They may provide a quick fix to your low-energy level for a single workout, but they do not provide the consistent drive necessary for long-term dedication to training/climbing. Once you remove the stimuli, the intensity and enthusiasm quickly disappear.

All In Your Head
Unlike state changes brought about by external stimuli, motivation is a function of internal stimuli. Your level of motivation is a direct result of your thoughts and emotions.

Expectations and incentives drive persistent, intense workouts. Desire to achieve gets you out to try your “impossible” project at the crags. Unstoppable self-confidence lifts you when external things are getting you down. And your mental visions shape your future realities.

Getting Motivated
Below I touch on a few of the larger contributors to motivation. Although described separately, they are interrelated. Review your day-to-day thought processes to determine your use of them (or lack of use) in motivating yourself. Make notes on changes you should make immediately!

Expect success whether you’re climbing or training. The best on-sight climbers believe they’re going to on-sight the route. That expectation alone increases their chance of success!

In the gym both your expectation of how the “exercise” will change you physiologically and how that change will help you reach your goals, generate higher motivation. Simply put, you must believe there is a causal connection between your actions and the desired outcome. If you don’t, you’ll probably blow off the workout, not put your best effort into it, or grab a pizza and beer with your friends instead.

For example, you are more likely to do traverse training if you believe it will improve your technique and strength. What’s more, you are more likely to want to improve your technique and strength if you believe it will improve your overall performance at the crags.

For this reason I believe every serious climber should want to learn as much as possible about human performance. The greater your knowledge about training principles, avoiding injury, motor learning, mental control, nutrition and such, the more likely you are to act accordingly. This is critical to motivation–so visit regularly!

Motivation increases with greater incentive value. In the context of climbing competitions, you may be motivated by the possibility of placing in the cash. (Although this is probably a greater source of motivation for golfers!)

For most, the true incentives are the feelings experienced in cranking a hard climb, winning a comp, or as Jerry Moffatt says “just burning someone off.”

Incentive motivation gets stronger the closer you are to the event or your goal. Set lots of short-term goals, in addition to a couple long-term aims, to shoot for (and hopefully achieve) on a regular basis. Too long a delay between your actions and their payoff makes it more difficult to stay motivated.

This explains why an active “tick-list” (a detailed list of routes to do) is such a great motivator. If you are regularly sending routes on that list then it’ll be awfully easy to train between climbing trips. Oppositely, if your only goal is something broad or singular, such as to travel to Smith Rock or to climb a 5.11, your motivation will be consistently lower and you’ll probably get spanked once you get to Smith or head up that 5.11!

Confident, positive climbers are highly-motivated, successful climbers. Conversely, if you have a lack of confidence or are constantly negative about things, then your motivation is probably about 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Maybe more than any other trait, your degree of positiveness (in general) is something you learned as a child. Fortunately, a day-to-day effort to turn your negative thoughts around can have dramatic effects on your confidence and degree of motivation.

You must first become aware of your negative thoughts. Statements questioning the value of training or predictions of poor performances may be the most common among climbers. Learn to immediately counter these thoughts with something positive. Use self-talk and self-instruction such as “this will help me build strength,” “stick it,” or “I can do it.”

To stick to a serious training program or diet, you’re going to need some regular payoffs–maybe in the form of harder leads when at the crag. There are times, however, when you’ll need other kinds of rewards.

Becoming a great climber means lots of sacrifice. Regular training, dieting, and climbing often result in missing out in other areas. But an occasional reward for a job well done may be just what you need to stay motivated.

The best application of this rule is to allow yourself a day off from training, dieting, or whatever, after achieving one of your short-term goals.

Research seems to indicate that irregularly spaced rewards (like those received when reaching a goal) are more effective than regularly spaced rewards (like a weekly reward). Don’t forget, too many rewards in the form of food, drink or blowing off workouts will sabotage your performance. So resist the peer pressure to participate in the decadence, except on rare, well-deserved days.

Visualizing Success
The most powerful tool for increasing motivation may be visualization (a more detailed discussion later this chapter). Studies of peak performers in both business and sports have shown a common trait of being able to visualize the end result of labors long before they come to fruition. For example, athletes with long-term goals like winning an Olympic medal were consistently able to get motivated by visualizing themself standing on a podium receiving a medal.

To motivate for training and climbing, visualize yourself honed and buffed. Visualize yourself cranking through the routes on your tick-list. Most of all, visualize yourself clipping the anchors or standing on top of the crag!

Visualization is most effective when your pictures are bright, crisp, big, and overly detailed. The more you blow up and exaggerate the picture, the more motivated you’ll feel. This may sound strange, but it works!

High levels of motivation are necessary for fueling the consistent, comprehensive training and practice that are so critical for improved climbing performance. As your skill level increases, you’ll notice that the gains come more slowly and are less noticeable, so you’ll need even greater motivation and devotion to improve.

Clearly, everybody experiences periods when motivation wanes. True peak performers, however, are able to maintain, or create, high levels of motivation through thick and thin. So practice the preceding motivational techniques and always visualize success!

Copyright 2004 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.