leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Pull of Motivation

Most have considered their personal notion of great human achievements. And I am certain there are clusters of agreement around specific events. Depending on interests and culture, groups can sit around the circle and recall with wide-eyed wonder the greatness of an experience or event. Today I would like to offer one for consideration: Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite.

In June of 2017, Honnold made the nearly 3000-foot ascent in just under 4 hours—without a rope. No safety nets, just him and what climbers consider the most daunting face of granite on earth. This feat, captured in the documentary, Free Solo, is something to behold. Just hearing about it is not enough. To see some aspect of the climb makes the jaw drop and the inevitable “Why?” sighs from an open mouth.

But this is the pivot point of motivation. The question of, “Why?” There are only a few deep sources of motivation as it is fundamental to life. To live without some sense of principled motivation is to embrace entropy, a slow death spiral, or to place the digestive system at the pinnacle of effort. The pure moments described as flow or peak experiences are the essence of the feeling of “being alive.”

Honnold’s ascent, to me, represents a string of perfect moments in flow, a linked crescendo of peak experiences. How many and how long? It’s impossible to quantify, for in these experiences time disappears. The climber and the climb become one, as do granite and flesh.

green pine trees in front of a rock mountain
Photo by André Cook on Pexels.com

The documentary, Free Solo, comes at the event from a few angles to dig into Honnold’s persona and create cinematic tension, an arc to an amazing story. This is where we go above the field of play, in this case over a half-mile of steep granite. The backdrop of Honnold’s life, family, friendships, and his significant other makes for a good story, but in no way touches the “why?” Honnold attempts to explain the pull of motivation of such a momentous task, but it remains for the most part indescribable.

It doesn’t matter that on film Honnold comes across a quirky, at times insensitive (even to fear and death), awkward in love and relating, and a host of other adjectives that, also, do not matter. For the true depth of his motivation remains unplumbed by what is recorded on film. Only he knows the “feel”, the emotion that motivates for he is the first and the only. This probing into character will not reveal the essence of Honnold’s motivation or ability. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times that we seek simple formulas for excellence, and attempt to codify a process that is complex and becomes a part of the fabric of one’s being…

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It’s no secret that one of the stars of the event, the documentary, and the personal quest is Death. And it hovers ever so close, on some level, a feel quite like the curiosity of passing the scene of a gruesome accident. Death is imminent and present in every move along the climb, and in every nub, nook and cranny of El Capitan. And for those (which is over 7+ billion and counting) who do not have Honnold’s sublime gift, Death would be the last acknowledgement before the credits roll…

Motivation’s pull is an agreement with a vision, one that comes from deep within, at first formless just as the infinite from which we come. Over time, the vision takes form, but it is the feel that gives rise to power. Like opposite poles of a magnet the pull is real, and its ample force is felt in trying to deny the connection. Honnold’s ascent seems fueled by such a pull. A thing of art and beauty, wonderfully defying odds and logic—for his logic was a personal one.

But, we all can feel the pull on some level, in some space. And that is the point of aspirations and of being alive. To give birth, to raise a child. To comfort a friend. To bury a loved one with grace when your heart is broken. To love another fully and completely. To do good work. To play. To forgive flaws and trespasses. To get up off the floor one more time. To play a sublime melody and a melody sublimely. To listen with a beginner’s mind…

All of these could make someone somewhere sigh, Why? How? For Honnold, I imagine it was El Capitan whispering in his ear, Why? How? All the while offering subtle clues along the razor’s edge that is being and non-being. For a little under 4 hours he reminded us what it means to be fully committed to a vision, and that being fully alive acknowledges the brackets of time, markers we submit to in moments of clarity, despair, and awe.

Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

Motivation and Effort

There is a connection between motivation and effort, one that requires a clear, honest, and personal vision. The connection is a dynamic current that only one person can truly express, explain, and observe. That person is you. Not the coach, the spectator, the parent or sports psychologist. As an athlete, competitor, or performer, only YOU know the health and vitality of this current.

low angle view of woman relaxing on beach against blue sky
Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Why answers the compelling question of motivation. It fuels the passion required to do what many will not do. Clear motivation allows you to be truthful in the hard moments, in the seams of the day-to-day effort towards improvement. It’s what separates the good from the great. Only you know if you have given your best. Only you know if you are being honest with yourself.

This current between motivation and effort connects to the intrinsic nature of performance for it is the drive, the execution, and the output. On the deepest level, only you can want your vision the most—whatever it is, for it is your path and nobody can want it for you. To me, that is the incredible gift of being a unique being. You get the freedom to choose.

rope jumping ropes human training
Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

And it takes effort. There is no such thing as extra effort, for it means you are not giving what is required in those other moments. It matters. There is no such thing as 110%, but there is the honesty of giving only 90%. And only you will know—even when others assume you are giving your best. This is why the why is first and foremost. Your want to has to be compelling to fuel the drive through the not-so-glamorous moments along the path to worthy and meaningful goals.

So, today and at intervals along the way, ask:

Are you clear on your motives?

Are they true? And are you clear about your reasons for your goals?

These reasons have to be connected to what matters most—for you. Not for someone else although you will and must have relationships and support for the endeavor. But without clarity and commitment, you will not give the effort—your 100%. For you will leave some in the tank. And a little left in the tank each day leads to the off ramp, the plateau, and a feeling of being unfulfilled. This is dangerous territory for soon to follow are the thoughts that identify with and rationalize the feelings, all of which on a deep level explains, “I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

Motivation

At the heart of peak performance, we find the energy source for the demands that are an inherent part of the day to day challenges. Doing, playing, and competing at your best all flow from who you are in the moment and are pulled by the vision of who you are becoming. This is a dynamic process and simply writing a few goals will not get it done.

For many, motivation appears to ebb and flow evident in the ebb and flow of results. While focusing solely on results is a dangerous game, outcome does give a hint of the level of motivation. At the core of this, there is an important word I do not often hear as frequently when listening to competitors: passion.

brown and white track field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When we take apart motivation we find words like motive, motion, emotion. The energy source for all of these words, fundamentally, is passion. It’s the why in what we do. And when we dive down into the why of what we do, we end up at a place where the answers are often very simple: love, fun, enjoyment, challenge… At the core, the motivation comes from a basic part of who you are and who you are becoming. Like the feeling of being with a best friend, when you enter the practice or competitive arena, it feels like home.

Keeping passion high is a difficult task if you don’t center on a compelling “why?” If you focus on what the sport or performance will get you, then the expectations do not align with your motivation. On some level, it won’t feel right.

We will talk quite a bit about motivation in the days to come, but for now, go back to the start. Why am I doing what I am doing? Does my plan reflect a path that I can simply feel good about? Is it exciting? Fulfilling? See what you come up with.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology book: Above the Field of Play. Or visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.