Habits are what drive motivation and success in athletes
I was recently listening to a TED talk while running errands last week. The topic was on what motivates individuals to perform well. Like any good TED talk it had me rethinking some of the guidance, I give on the development of motivation. I have often heard and have readily believed that motivation isn’t something that is coached. “Either you are motivated or your not.”
After listening to this particular speaker I realized that while the latter has been a belief of mine it wasn’t what I was actually coaching.
Before we dive into the show I have some notes to share.
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So on the subject of motivation, I realized I was “backing” my athletes into a motivated state through other means such as embracing performance oriented goals over outcome-based goals and setting weekly and daily training objectives. I have always understood utilizing goal setting along with weekly and daily training objectives would lead to success and that success breed’s success. I just never thought of this as a way to coach motivation. When motivation is heightened we want to do more, become faster, stronger and to seek bigger goals to fulfill.
Show over right? You gave up the secrets? Not even close.
This past winter I started thinking about the holes in my own training, training nutrition, and race performances. The realization that I needed to rethink my position on motivation lead to some soul searching, thinking and lots of researching.
I often say that it is better to have many great questions than a single mediocre answer. The questions that I was beginning to form were centered on:
That if objectives are the foundation of SMARTER goals and the execution of SMARTER goals lead to success increasing motivation then:
What actions help athletes to complete daily and weekly training objectives?
- Why do goals go uncompleted?
- How can I better help athletes simplify the execution of goals?
- How can I enforce or show athletes that Outcome Based Goals are counterproductive and harmful to their motivation?
And many other questions….
All of these questions had me circling back to one thought, habits.
Aristotle quite aptly said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
So today we are going to dive into the development of supporting habits to improve your motivation and your performance!
Let’s talk about…
- What is a habit?
- What keeps you from establishing good habits?
- What is the simplest process to explain habit building?
- The 5 things you can do to build lasting performance boosting habits
- What habits do elite and pro athletes embrace?
What is a habit?
I find quite often when I begin a research project that some of the earliest results of a search will bring up results from Wikipedia. While I don’t always cite Wikipedia for fear of malformed and sometimes false information I did find the information on habits to be quite good.
“A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.
The American Journal of Psychology (1903) defines a “habit, from the standpoint of psychology, [as] a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.” Habitual behavior often goes unnoticed in persons exhibiting it, because a person does not need to engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. Habits are sometimes compulsory. New behaviors can become automatic through the process of habit formation. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioral patterns which humans repeat become imprinted in neural pathways, but it is possible to form new habits through repetition.”
What keeps you from establishing good habits?
- Is it Knowledge?
- Is it Will Power?
- Maybe there is a technical problem like Ego Depletion?
Ego Depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion. In particular, experiencing a state of ego depletion impairs the ability to control oneself later on.
What is the simplest process to explain habit building?
The 3 Rs of habit building are:
- Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
- Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
- Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)
Reminder: You receive a notice from your coach of training to be completed
Routine: You complete the prescribed training at the appropriate time and day
Reward: Performance and fitness begin to improve
Reminder: You step on the scale and you are X lbs. away from goal weight
Routine: You continue to commit to your weight loss program
Reward: Performance and fitness begin to improve
The 5 things you can do to build lasting performance boosting habits
Establishing Bright Line Rules before starting
A bright-line rule is a clearly defined rule or standard, composed of objective factors, which leaves little or no room for varying interpretation. The purpose of a bright-line rule is to produce predictable and consistent results in its application.
Let’s think about some example of some Micro Quotas that could benefit from establishing Bright Line Rules.
I want to be more consistent in my training
I want to quit eating unhealthy snacks
I want to race more
What do these statements really mean to you?
What do you mean by stating I want to train more consistently? Are you just going to try and hope it all works out? Will you try to get in most of your training or are you going to establish that you will do it all? Have you managed your calendar and time well enough to accomplish this? Do you recognize the common things that keep you from meeting this challenge? Are you prepared to remove these challenges?
What do you mean when you say I want to quit eating unhealthy snacks? What snacks do you consider unhealthy? How will you remove the temptation of eating these snacks? Is it as simple as not purchasing them any longer? Do you need to go to a different grocer that won’t stock unhealthy snacks? Do you need to stay away from the break room at work so you are not tempted?
What do you mean when talking to other about wanting to race more? How many more races is more 5, races, 10, races, 40 races? Are you going to preregister for all of the races at the beginning of the season and put them on a calendar that your whole household can see? Or are you going to wing it and only register day of the race in case of bad weather?
Setting Micro Quotas and Macro Goals
Establishing your dream situation or performance could be thought of as the big picture or your Macro Goals. Whereas the Micro Quotas are the minimum amount of work that must be done to reach your big picture goal.
Eliminate Excessive Options
Don’t try to do it all at once. Keeping things simple is the key to success when establishing good habits. There should be very little decision making involved. Your habits need to become automatic and unconscious events.
The big challenges or the easy challenges
When I think of challenges I think of the end in mind. What is it that I want to accomplish? Then I think when can I get it done? Is it going to take longer than 30 days? If no then I will ask the question does it support the bigger picture goals? Then I ask can I afford to meet the goal with the energy and finances I have at my disposal? If no then I may completely ignore the challenge or see if smaller challenges will get me to the bigger challenge. I look at my challenges from two perspectives, Low hanging fruit, and Return On Investment. If there is work that I can do that doesn’t take a great amount of energy that will improve performance and not cost and arm and a leg I will invest sweat into it. However, if there is a bigger challenge that requires a much larger investment in time, money or energy but the payoff is much greater then I may focus my attention on the bigger challenge.
Committing to a 30 day, daily challenge
Three to four weeks is often all the time you need to make a habit automatic. Researchers have stated that 20-45 days is what is often needed but 30days or a month will fit in most calendars easier.
What habits do elite and pro athletes embrace?
- Coaching Services
- Time Management Concerns
- Not making excuses
Music for show intro, outro, and mid-play break: “Jahzzar (betterwithmusic.com) CC BY-SA”
Intro and Outro music: Battle from the Crime Scene Album from Jahzzar
Mid-play break music: Please Listen Carefully from the Tumbling Dishes Like Old-Man’s Wishes Album