Trophies. Titles. First place finishes.
These rewards and accolades are the focus of many people, athletes and champions: the big carrot on a stick to what they’re doing and what they hope to achieve.
Big or small, they’re all motivators. This particular class are external ones, as they’re set things that lie outside of our influence (if you’re planning on sabotaging people, then shame on you).
Motivators are great, they can help us keep on track, go the extra mile and get back up if we fall down. It’s always good to have motivators, but some are better than others.
The external ones, for example, can keep you from your reaching your full potential.
FROM LIMITLESS TO LIMITED
The problem with these external motivators is that they’re ultimately limiting.
They might seem all conquering - “World Champion”, “World Record Holder”, “Gold Medal Winner” - but at the end of the day you’ll only be as good, maybe a little better, than this ultimate goal you’ve set, or the person who currently holds the title.
No matter what or who you aim to beat, that’s as good as you’ll be.
Now it can work exceedingly well - at first. If you’re training, will you work harder in a group that’s better than you, or that’s worse? Will you run faster in a group that’s slower than you, or in one you’re struggling to keep up with? Almost every time, we work harder and get better in the group that we’re struggling to keep up with.
It might not be fun being at the bottom, but it does make it easier to find the drive to make progress.
However, with enough work there will come a time when we’re at the head of the group, vying for the title of top dog. Here, we don’t have to worry about our progress, just beating whoever else is competing for the title.
Want to win the gold medal? Then you just need to beat second place. A new world record? Beat the old one. Win a World Title? Yep, just beat the other people there.
That’s not to say it’s easy or a pointless goal, far from it. It’s still a huge achievement, and it’ll still take a lot of work and dedication to reach - but as soon as you’ve reached it you’re done.
Yes, there are other groups and bigger opponents out there, but what happens when you beat them too?
You’ve beaten your fastest opponent, but could you have gone faster? You’ve beaten the old record, does that mean you’ve done all you can? You’re the strongest in the country, but does that mean that’s all you can lift?
The title and accomplishments still stand, but could you have done better?
This is how external motivators are limiting - if you’re goal is centred on, say, running a 3 hour marathon, then you just need to get 2:59 to beat it. Your training could be centred around this goal, tailored to this specific endpoint, without any thought to doing more.
Why bother? It’s just extra, unnecessary work.
You could have a 2:45 in you, and never know it. You could aim to beat Jo Bloggs in the race, mapping out all their strengths and weaknesses without a thought to your own, not knowing what you could have achieved if you focused on your own race.
You could beat the top team in the league, but if they’re having an off day then how much of a win is it?
Technically you’re the best, but are you the best you can be?
FROM LIMITED TO LIMITLESS
The problem with external motivators, is that they begin by getting us focussed on set things, outside of our influence.
What we should be doing instead, is looking within.
Instead of trying to get first place, we should be trying to beating our old time. Instead of getting the world record, beating our own record. Instead of looking at your opponent's weak spots, taking a good look at your own.
Rinse and repeat. Each time you get better, find a way to beat it.
No, it’s not as glamorous or cool sounding as the external goals and motivators from above, but stick at it and the accolades and titles will come along as part of the process.
If you’re finding ways to build up your weak areas, then you’re getting stronger. If you’re finding ways to improve your form, then you’re getting better at the movement. If you’re finding ways to beat your old time, then you’re getting faster.
Keep at it - strengthening weak areas, improving the quality of what you’re doing and beating your old records - and who knows how far you’ll go.
It all adds up in the end.
By focusing on the process and developing your own weak and strong areas, you’ll be a well-rounded juggernaut in whatever you do. The limit is removed, and there is no end point, just keep doing better and better.
If you surpass the world record, surpass it. Keep pushing forwards.
There is no ceiling.